Advice for organizations across industries

The legal profession, like many, doesn't have a strong history of diversity, particularly in leadership positions. A recent Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) study shows that, while more women graduate from law school each year, they typically represent less than 35 per cent of lawyers in private practice and fewer than 20 per cent of partners at law firms. And that is just gender diversity. The picture is no better when it comes to overall diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession, alongside other sectors in the business world. The gap highlights the need for organizations to design and implement initiatives aimed specifically at improving diversity and, perhaps more importantly, inclusiveness performance. Lawson Lundell LLP has devoted considerable time and effort to developing a strategic plan to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, with some success to date. While more needs to be done, our work to date has provided valuable insight and lessons, including the need to focus on a few basics:

Understand how change benefits the bottom line. In order to get buy-in from leaders and senior management, you need to articulate not only why diversity is the right thing to do, but also that it can create a competitive advantage. Diversity and inclusiveness will help your organization not only attract and retain top talent, but also benefit from a broader range of ideas and varying points of view. This, in turn, will help to drive ideas, innovation, efficiency and productivity, which are key drivers for organizational success. The results are often increased profits, while at the same time allowing your organization to gain more traction when looking to implement diversity and inclusiveness policies and processes.

Review and consider your hiring practices. Start by forming a diversity and inclusiveness committee to conduct an ongoing review of your organization's diversity and inclusiveness performance. Part of the committee's role should be to compare your organization's hiring practices and educational program graduate ratios against others. Understanding how you stack up will provide a benchmark against which you can measure progress. It can also lead to greater awareness of the need for the promotion of diversity and inclusiveness within your organization. It may also influence certain recruitment decisions. An important part of this process is to recognize and understand the power and prevalence of unconscious bias, which often leads people making hiring and promotion decisions to recruit and advance people like themselves.

Benefit from other industry organizations. Another way to build sustainable diversity policies and programs is to leverage the findings and best practices developed by industry organizations. In the legal industry, an example is the Law Society of BC's Justicia Project, a precedent-setting initiative created in response to evidence that female lawyers leave private practice at a higher rate than their male counterparts in their first 10 years. The organization creates best practices policies and guidance, which have been adopted by the LSBC. Examples include flexible working arrangements and advancement to partnership.

Be open to the perspectives of younger employees. It's important to consider, understand and make certain changes based on the needs and wants of younger members of the organization. Figuring out what issues affect them, and engaging them in finding and implementing solutions, can lead to improved retention and advancement of a more diverse workforce. It helps to foster a more inclusive culture. An example of this might be the review and perhaps revision of parental leave policies to reflect and support the idea of shared parenting, a concept that is increasingly embraced by younger professionals. Understanding the values and perspectives of the more junior members of your organization is essential if you hope to retain a diverse group of future leaders.

In the long term, the success of any diversity and inclusiveness program will require the cultivation of an inclusive culture. This is no simple task and is a continuous process, but focusing on the basics has proven to be a helpful place to start.

Originally published by Business in Vancouver

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