On April 16th, ChIPs hosted our first Virtual Roundtable, “Why We Should All Double Down on Diversity & Inclusion Right Now,” with Diversity Lab’s Caren Ulrich Stacy and Leila Hock.
The 2008 recession increased gender and racial minority inequalities and the pay gap among those groups significantly. As a profession, it has taken us almost 11 years to recover and make progress towards greater equality. Data from the recession proves that when the legal industry turns its attention away from increasing diversity and building an inclusive workplace, historically underrepresented populations suffer for years to come.
Here’s what you can do now to prevent history from repeating itself.
For Your Firm or Legal Department:
Develop Strong, Structural Supports for Diverse Lawyers: Now is the time to make sure your organization has formal processes in place that support diverse lawyers so no one falls through the “remote-working” cracks and crevices. Programs that require systemic changes to how your organization makes talent decisions, like the Mansfield Rule, have demonstrated positive results when implemented on a consistent basis. The Mansfield Rule’s accountability mechanism ensures that the Rule’s principles become integrated into the culture of the organization so the Rule doesn’t become a mere “check-the-box” process.
Communicate What You Can: We live in uncertain times. Uncertainty and fear of the unknown trigger the same stress hormone in the brain as the fight or flight response, typically activated by tangible threats such as an earthquake. Communicate with your team early and often – even if you don’t have concrete information to provide. To the extent you can give assurances, give them. If you can’t, let your people know what you are doing and thinking through during these tough times so they understand you are keeping them and their wellbeing top of mind.
For your Team, Division, or Practice Group:
Pay Special Attention to Work Allocation: The various areas of the law are impacted in different ways by this crisis. Watch the workload of all of your lawyers – and especially the diverse lawyers – carefully during this time. To the extent necessary, step in and redistribute the workload so those who want more work now have it and those with other responsibilities can have a break, if needed.
Retool and Retrain: No one was born a “deal lawyer.” Lawyers and specialties are developed one case or deal at a time. Allow your team the opportunity to develop new skills and specialties, as needed, during this time. In addition to making your firm or legal department more agile for future crises, it shows your diverse lawyers that you care about them and are willing to invest in the development of new skills. If one practice area is particularly busy and another is scrounging for work, ask those in the slower practice group if they would be willing to try a new area to help out and stay busy.
Remote Pulse Survey: It’s challenging at this time to get a pulse on how your team is feeling, whether their workload is appropriate given their circumstances, and how you can better support them. An easy way to gather data – and show your team that you care and are listening – is to conduct regular pulse surveys for your team. The data you collect through consistent pulse surveys will show how you are doing from your team’s perspective and allow you to course correct along the way. Qualtrics, a data analysis and survey tool, has a free remote pulse survey you can use to get started.
For the Humans On Your Team:
Check-in Often: In addition to wide-scale team surveys, the best way to understand how your colleagues and team members are feeling is to simply ask. Research shows that diverse team members already feel isolated and disconnected at the office. This feeling is likely to be exacerbated in a remote work situation. Don’t be afraid to take the first 5-10 minutes of each call to check-in with your colleagues. Ask how they are managing the current situation and take note of what you can do to help ease their burden or shift expectations given what you learn about their experience.
Clearly Communicate Expectations: And on that note, be sure you communicate your expectations and needs with regard to work clearly. When people aren’t in the office together, they lose the opportunity to assess visual cues that are typically an important part of communication in the workplace. If you ask a colleague or teammate for a work deliverable, be precise about when you need it and exactly what you need. Your clarity will ease the burden and simplify the work process for everyone involved.
You are a Leader in This Effort, Even Without a Leadership Role or Title
For each of the actions above, remember that you do not have to be in a leadership role to make suggestions and hold your leadership accountable for continuing to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion. There is power in numbers. During times of crisis, it is common for leadership to be blinded by what they perceive as “essential” in order to keep the business afloat. Make a case for why and how diversity and inclusion and the advancement of women and minority lawyers can actually benefit your organization during a time of crisis.
Legal Department Leaders’ Special Role in This Effort
And if you are in-house counsel that hires law firms, hold your outside counsel accountable for providing you with a diverse team and implementing the actions above at their firms and on their teams. Be specific with the actions you would like to see them take and let them know that you consider investment in diversity and inclusion to be essential. After all, lawyers are service providers – so if the service they are providing isn’t meeting your needs, it is ok to speak up and request a new team.
Careful attention to this important issue at various levels – leadership, team, human, and with outside counsel – will ensure the legal industry doesn’t backslide on creating an inclusive environment like it did after the 2008 recession. By speaking up and identifying research-backed and data-supported solutions, each of you can make a difference in the industry!