Nowadays, it is increasingly becoming an integral part of creating a more inclusive work environment in any organization. While you will find a diversity trainer expert on DEI best practices for larger organizations, other factors can help your firm get started with this critical initiative.
According to the American Bar Association, the legal profession is generally lagging behind other disciplines in DEI. Although diversity has increased in recent decades, it still only represents about 21% of the legal profession. This is compared to more than 40 percent of all workers made up of women and minorities combined. Understanding this disparity between what should be done to boost diversity and what is currently contained can help us move forward.
In the world of small law firms, diversity can be challenging to come by. With so many attorneys in such a small space, it can seem like there are not enough people who fit the bill for diversity hires. Fortunately, DEI does not just happen overnight merely through simple tolerance. It is a comprehensive process that means understanding and propelling open perspectives. It must be nurtured over time with constant vigilance and attention paid to every aspect of the firm's culture.
This article discusses how DEI encompasses rich dimensions and specific aspects to push a nurturing environment in the middle of differing elements. The article focuses on strategies that small law firms can use to implement DEI into their workforce while still maintaining profitability within the company.
What Exactly is DEI?
DEI is a concept often used in the business world to describe policies and initiatives organizations put into place to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment.
Diversity means the inclusion of individuals who come from different backgrounds and experiences. This can include race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and ability.
Equity means that everyone is given equal access and opportunity to succeed. It is about leveling the playing field so that everyone has a chance to participate and contribute, regardless of the difference in educational background, marital status, or national origin.
Inclusion refers to creating a space where all individuals feel welcomed and respected. Inclusion embodies unconscious biases towards different races and communities that represent minorities.
More than the definitions, it is essential to remember that DEI is not just about ticking boxes or making numbers look good. It is about creating well-meaning and diverse companies with work environments where everyone, regardless of their difference, education, and culture, feels involved, valued, and supported.
How Does It Matter in Law Firms?
Under the rules and regulations enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), most U.S. companies are required by law to develop a diversity management strategy to comply with hiring practices relating to discrimination based upon sex, race or ethnic groups, parental status, health or disabilities, among others.
But more than the law, minority groups faced persecution in the long line of history. As mindsets and cultures progressed, so have the demands for civil rights, racial equity, and good reasons. Black communities only account for 5% of the legal world, while women lawyers have slowly increased to 37% of the lawyer population. Other disciplines are faring considerably well, but the legal world lags.
Thus, the message is clear: there is a moral obligation to do better.
So what is the problem?
The lack of diversity in small law firms is a problem for several reasons.
First, it means that some attorneys are being excluded from opportunities they might otherwise have access to if there were more diversity in the workforce. It also creates an environment where people feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable because their identity is not represented within the firm.
Further, research shows that only one-third of employees believe that they can influence inclusion in their workplace.
In this sense, leadership plays a critical role in diversity and inclusion. Leaders must create an environment conducive to diversity and model the behaviors they expect from their employees. Education forms a massive role in an organization, leading to a better understanding and appreciation of cultural differences.
Leveraging on differences and the inclusion of minority communities should not be used merely as a tool to garner more customers. More importantly, DEI is a continuous process that does not stop with diversity training and should be taught and reinforced on an ongoing basis.
The Importance of DEI
There are many reasons why DEI matters in the workplace.
First and foremost, diversity is good for business. A diverse workforce can lead to new and innovative ideas, and it can also help a company tap into a more extensive customer base. Companies endeavor a diverse and inclusive workplace not only because it is the right thing to do but also because diversity's benefits are vast and well-documented amidst the difference.
Companies with diverse teams make better decisions, are more innovative, have higher retention of the best talent, and generate more revenue than their homogeneous counterparts. A more inclusive workforce means better problem-solving, more robust decision-making, and enhanced innovation within the group. It also makes strong business sense. Diversity can boost creativity by bringing different points of view to bear on issues at hand, which leads to greater profits across multiple industries, including law firms.
It should be noted that diversity in small law firms should not just encompass gender diversity but also ethnic diversity. Ethnic diversity is often overlooked in business, even though it is an important issue that should be addressed. Law firms need to make a conscious effort to hire attorneys from different racial backgrounds to create a better definition of a more inclusive workplace. Women should be encouraged to enter a legal organization, and firms should make an effort to promote cultural diversity at all levels.
Finally, diversity is crucial because it allows different ideas to be brought forward. It fosters innovation and creativity within the workforce, which can only positively impact the group and business.
Examples of Effective DEI Programs
Many companies have implemented successful DEI programs, including Google, Facebook, and Intel. These companies have seen various benefits due to their diversity initiatives, including increased innovation and creativity, improved employee retention rates, and enhanced customer satisfaction.
Google offers mentoring programs for women and some underrepresented communities, invests in STEM education, organizes networking events for a diverse group of professionals, and collaborates with diversity-minded companies to support the community it serves.
In addition to its diversity training courses, Facebook also offers an employee resource community, diversity-focused recruiting, and a "diversity scorecard" to track progress. It also ensured equitable pay among gender identities and people with two or more ethnicity.
Intel has long been a diversity leader with an impressive history of initiatives that promote DEI in the workplace. Intel's diversity strategy is based on three tenets: inclusion, opportunity, and accountability. They have implemented several initiatives to promote the company's diversity goals, including leadership training and community development programs for women and other underrepresented groups; and scholarship opportunities for minority students entering STEM fields.
Definitely, these companies have forged a better definition of DEI. Small law firms can learn a great deal from the diversity initiatives of larger companies. Still, it is important to tailor any diversity program to fit the firm's specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to DEI, and firms must assess their strengths and weaknesses to create an effective strategy.
So how can small law firms foster a diverse and inclusive workplace?
Small law firms can learn from the examples and implement their own DEI programs. For starters, they should ensure diversity at the top by hiring people with different backgrounds and identities to add diversity from the beginning. In addition, companies must be committed to creating inclusive office spaces where everyone feels welcome and valued for their active role.
Small law firms can also start by assessing their firm's current diversity and inclusion levels. This will help identify areas in which you need to improve and better definitions in the workplace on how to move forward with the DEI goal in mind.
Diversity and inclusion goals must also be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Any management endeavor is encapsulated by this definition of having a tangible metric to track the success of the diversity and inclusion efforts.
Cultural Diversity and Sensitivity Training
Cultural diversity and sensitivity training is one of the most straightforward ways to promote diversity in a law firm. This type of diversity training teaches employees about different cultures to be more aware, cooperative, and respectful when interacting with people from other backgrounds. Training sessions should focus on what constitutes discrimination and how it should be reinforced in the workplace.
This type of training is beneficial because it helps managers identify potential bias in their decision-making and provides them with the tools needed to manage a diverse workforce effectively.
Sexual Orientation in Gender-Diverse Companies
In addition to diversity training, small law firms need to be committed to creating inclusive office spaces where everyone feels safe and valued.
Through sexual orientation, small law firms can foster a more open definition of diversity and inclusion by removing barriers that prevent diversity from flourishing. This can be achieved through various steps, such as implementing clear policies against harassment and sharing leadership opportunities across genders.
Employee Resource Groups
Small law firms can also promote diversity by establishing employee-initiated resource groups. These are voluntary, employee-led groups that provide a forum for employees to connect with others who share their backgrounds or interests. These groups can help foster a more inclusive workplace by providing a space where employees can discuss diversity and inclusion issues openly and without judgment.
Additionally, these resource groups can help develop the skills and networks of employees of underrepresented groups, which can lead to increased job opportunities and career growth, leading to better business outcomes.
Challenges for Smaller Firms
Smaller firms may face some diversity and inclusion initiatives challenges, but its implementation is not impossible. Just because they are small does not mean they cannot implement DEI programs successfully.
Some of the most common hurdles include lack of resources (financial or human), resistance from staff members who do not support DEI, and lack of diversity and inclusion expertise.
Small law firms should educate themselves about addressing differences and implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives by attending conferences to overcome these obstacles. Hiring consultants who can provide them with the resources they need and develop an action plan that includes specific goals for diversity and inclusion efforts can also help.
DEI should be a long-standing priority for small law firms, not just a passing fad. Taking the time to assess these efforts can help ensure that they create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable and empowered to succeed in their work.