Diversity and inclusion are now top strategic priorities for 21st century business leaders. Across the globe, many general counsel and law firm managing partners are engaged in the debate and committed to creating the conditions for diverse and inclusive organisations.
Yet at all levels and branches of the legal profession, certain groups and demographics remain hampered in their entry and progress through the sector by systemic barriers and unconscious biases.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. With that knowledge in mind, over the course of several months we have interviewed a number of prominent general counsel and thought-leading diversity and incluSion consultants, compiling their wide-ranging experience and wisdom into the following toolkit.
We hope that GCs of all sectors will be inspired by the variety of perspectives and viewpoints contained here, and find them a source of fresh and thought-provoking ideas for their own inclusion efforts.
Set a clear vision
Think: What does a diverse and inclusive workplace look like for your organisation?
Top tip: Approach other thought leaders, think tanks or not-for-profits to help define and refine your vision and understand what best practice really is.
- Understand your own organisational challenges and determine what best practice might be applicable for your company.
- It’s not about building quotas or hitting numbers, but rather creating an environment where the message is embedded in your corporate DNA.
As Lisa Kepinski, founder and director of Inclusion Institute states: ‘When I talk with heads of organisations, I ask general questions around the strategic direction of the organisation, the trends and shifts happening externally, the talent initiatives and the cultural initiatives, and the CEO will say, “We’ve been talking for 20 minutes but you haven’t yet raised diversity and inclusion.” But in fact, that’s what we’re talking about. Diversity and inclusion are the enablers for achieving the goals of the organisation.’
- Targets and measures can be helpful but are often more effective when approached as a product of, or in tandem with, cultural change.
- It’s not a beauty contest – your commitment and strategy has to be more than skin deep. Employees and clients will see through this.
Getting strategic buy-in
If diversity is to truly take root within an organisation, it has to be a core business initiative – not an addendum tacked onto the tail end of a human resources policy. To achieve that, strategic buy-in from the top table is essential.
At Dell, EMEA GC Benedikte Leroy says that ‘It really starts at the top – we have a global diversity council that Michael Dell, our founder and CEO, chairs and our two presidents in EMEA, Aongus Hegarty and Adrian McDonald, are also very much engaged. You’ve got to have buy-in from the leadership. If they’re not fully committed, you will struggle to make any change.’
- Knowing the touch points for your industry and business is crucial here. Decide what will be more compelling – internal or external drivers.
From an internal perspective, embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been proven to improve employee engagement, creativity and innovation.
Top tip: What tends to be universally convincing, regardless of the business and industry, is the overall impact on the bottom line.
EMPLOYEES NEED TO KNOW THAT INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY IS TRULY IMPORTANT TO MANAGEMENT.
When McKinsey & Co investigated the effect of diversity on the composition of boardrooms in Europe, those which ranked in the top quartile for executive diversity handily outperformed their less diverse peers, earning on average 53% higher ROE (return on equity) and 14% higher EBIT (earnings before interest and tax).
Take stock of where you stand now
Think: How do your current policies operate in practice? Consider both soft and hard rules.
- There is sometimes a gap between policy and practice so be aware of both sides when assessing the picture.
- Evaluate all policies that relate to the employee life cycle: recruitment and attraction, on-boarding, performance assessment, training and development, and career advancement. Think – how do these align with the organisation we are now and the diverse and inclusive organisation we want to be?
- Surveys and focus groups may help with this process of evaluation.
Top tip: Set limits and rules for this process so that it does not spiral out of control.
Track, monitor and re-evaluate
It’s an old management cliché, but ‘what gets measured, gets done’. With a baseline to work from and goals for the organisation in place – both aspirational and tangible – progress can be tracked and successes shared.
Top tip: Remember you have to be counted to count, and diversity goes far beyond our visible differences. While characteristics like race and gender are outwardly visible, factors like sexuality, socio-economic background and disabilities are not necessarily obvious.
- Be prepared to engage in a constant process of evaluation, re-evaluation, repositioning the goal posts, etc.
Legal director Donny Ching described to us the ongoing nature of the learning process and work at Shell. ‘We are quite proud of how we track, how we measure and how we embed,’ he explains. ‘Business leaders have D&I goals and plans, and these also cascade down in the organisation. Employees at all levels are involved in a broad range of D&I activities, such as attending a lunchtime awareness-raising session, participating in a “deeper dive” leadership programme, or mentoring staff from underrepresented groups. Last year around 10,000 of our 90,000 employees were involved in some kind of formal D&I learning activity.’
- Don’t let the measurements obscure the importance of more subjective indicators and the need for cultural change. The numbers can be good but the experience can be awful if cultural change has not really taken root.
‘A blueprint doesn’t work,’ says iCubed’s Nia Joynson-Romanzina. ‘You have to understand your own organisation holistically – how it works, why it works that way, the weak spots and the strengths. What is the culture? It’s not just the numbers. The numbers are a tool and a baseline indicator, but they cannot be a goal in themselves.’
Communication is key
Employees need to know that inclusion and diversity is truly important to management and this has to be displayed by actions, not just words.
Top tip: There need to be forums accessible to people throughout the organisation that enable them to communicate what is working and what isn’t – affinity groups on a departmental or company-wide basis can be fundamental here.
‘First and foremost we have what we call employment resource groups (ERGs),’ says Benedikte Leroy at Dell. ‘[These] are designed to engage members in their careers. Built on our culture of inclusion, we’ve established groups focused on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sustainability, and others, but any team member can join any group. In fact, 25% of our global workforce has now joined one of our ERGs and as part of our 2020 Legacy of Good plan, we have a goal to have 40% of our global workforce in an ERG by 2020. We have learned a lot from them, and they are really driving the D&I agenda and inclusive culture at the local level.’
- Don’t assume that managers know how to manage diversity and inclusion. Many issues can arise from discomfort, lack of knowledge or mistakes rather than bad actions. Training for managers is a key component.
- Unconscious bias can be one of the biggest issues in curtailing diversity and inclusion. It can stem from well-meaning intentions. Training in this area is fundamental in trying to advance inclusion and diversity, and should be mandatory for senior managers.
- Research carried out by Harvard and Tel Aviv universities shows that merely using a stick approach can have adverse results. Managers need to feel invested in such programmes for them to have the best effects.
Lisa Kepinski warns against the baggage that can be generated by mishandled diversity drives: ‘If I’m part of the majority population and I have felt targeted because of the way diversity has been handled in the past, I’ll be less likely to engage in this work. I will have all my defences up. I may not want to go to a course on unconscious bias if I feel like I’m going to be the target. You should frame the conversation in a way that is not going to activate negative associations.’
Expand your talent pool
Many of the companies we interviewed are trying to be more creative in how they find talent. Looking outside of the usual places is a key starting point.
Top tip: Build a diverse pipeline programme – thinking strategically, but also creatively, is the best way forward.
- Make your own opportunities through internships or fellowships, and be assertive about this, both internally and externally.
- Bring diverse candidates to the sector via your organisation.
For example, in the engineering field, BMW is seeking to diversify the gender balance of its talent pool, says GC Juergen Reul: ‘We actively support programmes for young women. We have “girls’ days” every year where girls in Munich schools are invited to have a look at typical “male” engineering jobs. We are also working with universities on an intern programme to help women make a career in BMW, and female role models are obviously a very important component of this.’
EVALUATE WHETHER YOUR WORKPLACE IS CURRENTLY SET UP TO ALLOW FOR TRULY AGILE OR FLEXIBLE WORKING.
- Focus on more than grades and which schools candidates went to.
- Consider techniques from contextual recruitment practices, which view the candidate and their background holistically, rather than isolating individual portions of their skillset and qualifications. For example: is that person the first from their family to attend college? How do they measure up comparatively with other candidates from a similar socio-economic or demographic situation?
- Don’t just rely on inbound approaches. Look for the candidates you need, and look where diverse candidates will be.
- Consider using blind applications and CVs.
As Tinna Nielsen, founder of Move the Elephant for Inclusiveness, explains, ‘…if you know that you’re biased in recruitment situations, then anonymise candidates when you screen them, so that you’re making it difficult for people to be influenced by bias and easy for people to focus on the performance, skills and potential.’
- Be assertive with outside recruiters and don’t accept non-diverse slates.
Top tip: Broaden your point of view – part of the pipeline challenge is that those evaluating candidates sometimes have the tendency to gravitate to people like themselves.
The internal pipeline
You can’t fill senior positions with diverse candidates if those candidates are leaving your workforce. Many of our interviewees cited examples of working practices that helped accommodate the needs of diverse employees and give them a voice, which in turn made them more likely to stay in the workforce.
- Be aware of differences in working styles and take care to avoid prescriptive models of leadership success.
- Reconfigure feedback forums to account for the views of all personality types and styles.
Top tip: Consider flexible working arrangements – a rigid culture of presenteeism can alienate those with caring responsibilities and limit the talent pool.
- Think about how traditional working practices may be impacting your attraction and retention of talent.
- Technology can be your best friend. Evaluate whether your workplace is currently set up to allow for truly agile or flexible working.
- Thinking in terms of hours worked over a week or a month, rather than on a daily basis, can be liberating in determining what is needed to do a job.
- How much does it come down to outcomes versus time? Increasingly companies are focusing on outcome-based approaches versus time in the workplace.
Says Nilfisk’s Lena Malmberg: ‘In general, if you’re flexible, allow people to go and pick up their kids from school and work via different platforms, I bet you that most employees (men or women) will not have any problem with opening their laptop at night when the kids are asleep. I think it’s a whole different issue than diversity – really it’s a matter of changing culture.’
Mentoring and sponsorship
Individual fit between the mentor and mentee is the most significant aspect. Both formal and informal mentoring can be effective, but don’t skimp on the time and energy invested in this part of the process.
On the formal side, Benedikte Leroy explains the automatic ‘Mentor Connect’ programme available at Dell: ‘You go online and enter what you are looking for, for example certain competencies, and it will actually pair you up with someone who says they are strong in those skills.’
Sandoz GC Barbara Levi Mager contextualises her team’s informal approach as a complementary element of the broader mentoring offering: ‘We also have a lot of informal mentoring within the legal function. Sometimes I see people who have a lot of potential but are not at the right level yet, so I put them with someone more experienced. People might say, “For the next six months, let’s meet once in a while over coffee, and talk about the challenges of the role.” … Informal mentorship by someone who has been in a senior leadership role for a long time can help them by discussing the challenges of the role and how to overcome them.’
Or mentoring could address specific diversity-related challenges, as Levi Mager additionally notes: ‘We also offer mentoring for women who are about to go on maternity leave. That is often an area where there is a lot of anxiety – people think, “Oh my god, I’m going to lose my job”, and “When I come back everything will be different” − and so we provide the opportunity to talk about and overcome those issues. We also offer mentoring when someone comes back from maternity leave, to help them get up to speed.’
‘A BLUEPRINT DOESN’T WORK,’ SAYS ICUBED’S NIA JOYNSON-ROMANZINA. ‘YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN ORGANISATION HOLISTICALLY.’
- Talk to architects of successful mentoring programmes to find out what works.
- Think laterally – mentors don’t have to be in the same business line as their mentees. In certain cases, going outside of the organisation may even be best.
- Mentors of diverse candidates needn’t be diverse themselves.
- Make sure you set really clear boundaries for both time and outcomes.
- Don’t come with preconceived ideas as a mentor or assume that the only right way is the way you have chosen.
- Be prepared to talk about failure as well as success as a mentor.
- Let the mentee set the pace of communication but also be aware of your own limitations in regards to time.
- Be aware of cultural differences in communication styles when mentoring. Double check that the other person has understood you and that there is no misunderstanding by checking in with neutral questions.
- Setting a reasonable but finite time boundary for the relationship can be helpful in terms of both manageability and measuring effectiveness.
Creating an inclusive workplace
Think: When people don’t feel comfortable being their true selves, they’re investing emotional energy into censoring themselves and adjusting their behaviour to fit in. That energy and thought power could be harnessed far more effectively into productive areas once those barriers are removed.
- Role models can be key here; they illustrate the possibility of success and are a fantastic way to inspire hope.
For Miral Hamani-Samaan, director of M&A, corporate transactions and international governance at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, ‘Promotion is important; having women speaking up from the inside, saying “I made it”. This may plant seeds in the minds of other women to realise “I’m able to do that”.’
- Network groups are a good method of creating a dialogue with key identity groups.
- But remember, network groups don’t just have to talk about diversity and inclusion. Some companies use their networks as a great way to get employees’ perspectives on strategic issues and approach problems in a different way. This can then be a clear example of the strategic benefits of diversity in avoiding groupthink.
- Ally programmes show that the initiatives are about everyone and are fundamental to promoting the idea of a safe workplace. This can be especially key in jurisdictions where, for legal or cultural reasons, certain identity groups have to be less visible.
Remember, fostering an inclusive workplace can have knock-on implications for the majority talent pool, as well. Out Now’s Ian Johnson is speaking in the context of LGBT inclusion, but his comments could easily apply to inclusion more generally: ‘…you don’t just want to consider the impact of diversity upon LGBT individuals, you actually need to be focused on the fact that there is a very credible benefit throughout the organisation to positively influence the millions of people who are now happily identifying as allies of LGBT people.’
As a client, the in-house department is in a unique position of influence among the wider legal community – use your leverage.
- Ask for diversity statistics from law firms: find out how many partners are diverse and whether they are equity partners; ask how many diverse lawyers will be on your matter.
Kirsty Cooper, group GC of Aviva, underlines the integral role that in-house departments can play, even outside of their own organisations: ‘Obviously as an in-house legal team we have our power as a client to effect change among suppliers,’ she says. ‘When we have our panel review, it’s one of the criteria we look at quite seriously, and it is part of ensuring that panel firms reflect our values. It goes back to the importance of diversity of thought, and that means we value diverse teams.’
- Consider supplier diversity certification schemes as indicators of good practice.
- Share best practice with panel firms where gaps in knowledge are identified.
Don’t underestimate your power as a knowledge gatekeeper. As Ian Johnson at Out Now argues, ‘In-house counsel bring awareness of law and its role in society generally, but they also bring specific industry focus that is not as easily known by the wider profession. When a GC feels that there is either a problem or something good going on within their particular industry, they potentially represent a bridge back to the broader legal profession to help educate them about that.’