Why are diversity, inclusion and belonging important in the legal industry?
Diversity and inclusion are important especially in a society such as ours where we’re used to seeing people from different cultures, colours, religions, genders, races, sexual orientations and walks of life. We all know that, for firms to serve their clients better, they need to create a better reflection of society as a whole. After all, people from all walks of life may require legal assistance in some capacity. It’s expected and important that potential clients and employees see someone within a firm who they feel comfortable with and can relate to.
Are there racial biases that make it difficult to get into the legal profession, or the wider workforce?
A lot of biases – both conscious and unconscious – thrive in our society and make it harder for disadvantaged groups to enter the legal profession. What makes biases so difficult is that they’re not always immediately obvious. It starts with a person’s name, where they went to school, what university they attended, what grades they achieved, their race, gender, disabilities, where they are from.
It extends all the way to how job descriptions are written, the types of interview questions that are posed, and how a company’s referral system is set up. Other biases come into play due to recruiters going to the same sources for talent, lack of diversity in hiring panels, recruiters and hiring managers, and other discriminatory factors.
How can law firms ensure better diversity in their workforce?
Organisations need to tackle the issues that prevent them from attracting and retaining a diverse and inclusive workforce. True diversity doesn’t mean focusing on one group. True diversity means fostering an environment where everyone feels like they belong. Hiring people who think and act like you do is comfortable, but it stifles diversity and makes it harder to create a sense of belonging when you eventually hire someone outside the norm.
The problem needs to be tackled from the top down. How representative are senior management, the talent acquisition team, and hiring managers? Organisations need to conduct a diversity hiring audit on current hiring processes. It’s also important to show the diversity you aspire to – diversity attracts diversity. Are the pictures and videos on your website representative of the diversity you’d like to see in your company?
What, if any, procedures and practices are in place – at the government level as well as in law firms – to ensure diversity?
The importance and advantages of diversity and inclusion are widely known, but no one organisation has it 100% right. Action from leadership is needed to ensure that the legal profession (and beyond) are as diverse as possible. The following must be done:
- Measures need to be taken to increase the numbers of minority students in law schools and law firms.
- Training needs to be provided to all staff, especially those who are involved in the recruitment process, so they’re aware of issues of bias in the recruitment process.
- The recruitment talent pool needs to be widened to create new pipelines of diverse candidates.
- Firms can partner with schools and colleges to provide internships and mentorships for minority students.
- Firms may want to work with specialist recruitment consultancies who specialise in diverse candidates.
- Data is needed to monitor diversity and ensure hiring managers and talent acquisition know what the company’s diversity requirements are.
- Mentoring can be offered so that minority candidates and employees can see themselves in positions of leadership within the firm. Progression is key.
What advice would you give to the current crop of graduates looking to build a career in law, or dreaming of an executive level position?
The current crop of diverse graduates are in a much better position than the graduates before them. They need to continue to work hard and aspire to those senior positions. The more representation we have in all levels, the more positive change will happen.
The legal profession is now, more than ever, aware of the impact of a lack of diversity and are ensuring that systems and procedures are put in place to attract, retain and progress diverse candidates.
Those coming from more privileged positions need to understand the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and, to serve their clients better, representation is key.
In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers to creating truly diverse and inclusive companies and workspaces?
Some of the biggest barriers are:
- Workplace culture, including companies or individuals that are resistant to change
- Unconscious bias, and inexperienced hiring managers
- Lack of mentors for candidates
- The ‘glass ceiling’
- Inequality in recruitment practices
- The industry not being portrayed as attractive to minority groups
- Lack of a diverse candidate pool
- Lack of minority students entering the profession
- Organisations not doing enough to attract diverse candidates
- Lack of employee involvement in diversity activities
- Lack of belonging when diverse employees are in the workplace