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Corporate Law Departments

Corporate law departments must make a conscious, data-driven effort to meet DEI objectives

Thomson Reuters Institute  Insights, Thought Leadership & Engagement

· 5 minute read

Thomson Reuters Institute  Insights, Thought Leadership & Engagement

· 5 minute read

How can corporate law departments best meet their diversity, equity & inclusion goals by leveraging their data?

Several major corporate law departments have made diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments in the recent past. While these goals are noble and lofty, they may seem nebulous without any real metrics to help track progress that will show if the departments have reached their milestones.

In the third part of our series on investing in DEI within corporate law, we examine how to create aggressive, yet achievable goals by utilizing data and analyzing metrics.

“You have to make a conscious effort and track your data,” says Audrey Rubin, president and founder of Rubin Solutions, an advisor to corporate law departments on profitability, diversity & inclusion, and maximizing value through process improvement and practical technology. Rubin says she is “troubled” that many general counsels want to expand DEI efforts, but often don’t know how.

Rubin’s advice is simple — you must be a player in the game. Companies can’t expect to have diversity passively happen within their legal workforce. Instead, they must make DEI a business objective much like any other — such as profit earning or regularly innovating your products. Indeed, DEI is not simply a “nice to have.”

Name your specific diversity goals

Throughout Rubin’s career, including when she was VP and COO of Aon Corp.’s law & compliance department, she’s been in leadership roles, influencing the hiring of diverse in-house talent as well as pushing these goals in the company’s legal vendor and provider selection process.

Audrey Rubin

All corporate law departments need to figure out where they should start and not try to boil the ocean, so to speak, Rubin advises. Departments can’t do everything at once, and instead should start by looking at their own demographics and data. Then, department leaders should start asking questions about their DEI goals, such as:

      • Are we looking to hire more diverse in-house lawyers or legal operations employees?
      • Are we looking to hire more diverse legal vendors?
      • What does diversity mean in our company?
      • What does diversity mean to our local regulations?

Global diversity goals

For global companies, diversity goals should be based on local regulations. For example, if a company operates in South Africa, it might notice that diversity there may look different than it would in the United States, Rubin explains. At Aon, Rubin and her general counsel looked at the data and decided to focus on ensuring a diverse slate of candidates for open roles. For Aon Law, the data showed gender parity at the company, allowing leaders to then focus on other diversity traits including LGBTQ+.

“If you look at your data and you don’t have enough women, or you don’t have enough senior women, then you’d define your slate differently,” she says. “The key is to make sure your goals are guided by your data and your experience,”

Tactics for creating a sustainable DEI program

Rubin urges corporate law departments to look within their ranks and decide where to increase organizational diversity. Then, look to memorialize clear, measurable  metrics to track your progress in key areas such as diversity recruiting, hiring, and retention Some ways departments can jumpstart their efforts include the following:

Train recruiters and have diverse interviewer teams — If a department is using internal recruiters to source candidates, take a proactive approach. Rubin trained the Aon recruiters herself to ensure their tactics aligned with the DEI business objectives. Bring staff along on the DEI journey and help them understand the need for great candidates who happen to be diverse, she adds. Departments also should have diverse interviewer teams with a broad range of backgrounds.

Mentoring is crucial — Once the diverse candidate is hired, departments also need to create an organizational culture where professionals can thrive and feel valued. Companies can create a formal mentoring program whereby already established employees help new employees acclimate, Rubin says, adding that she formalized her mentor program at Aon by asking mentors to take a course on mentoring. She was also careful to align people, so new employees got a broader range of exposure to the company — for instance, don’t pair a mentor and mentee from the same department. Companies can also encourage sponsorship by creating a special task force to ensure that diverse employees get exposure to C-suite executives or other senior lawyers.

Hiring outside counsel — When looking to increase retention of minority and women-owned law firms, again, corporate law departments have to be deliberate. Companies should think directly how to bring in diverse law firms, as well as how to best utilize large law firms that partner with diverse, local attorneys. “You can insist your large law firm hires diverse local counsel,” Rubin says. “Large law probably isn’t going to court in small towns or provinces, but there are minority firms that can. I’ve insisted on it.” Groups like the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) can help look for firms to do the local work, she adds.

It is all about tracking

While it may sound like a lot of work, it is needed to meet DEI goals. Diversity isn’t simply the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, Rubin notes, adding that DEI is now part of most companies’ environmental, social & corporate governance (ESG) statements.

But most importantly, persons from different backgrounds help companies thrive and innovate, bringing cutting-edge ideas and knowledge to the communal corporate table.

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