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Legal Talent & Inclusion

How to identify and benefit from your law department’s diversity

Audrey Rubin  Senior Advisor / BarkerGilmore

· 6 minute read

Audrey Rubin  Senior Advisor / BarkerGilmore

· 6 minute read

In the latest Forum magazine, we look at how diversity & inclusion has been important to justice, the legal profession, and our workplaces for decades

We know that diverse teams bring differing perspectives to problems, so more informed decisions can be made. We realize diverse teams are more engaged and have an easier time finding mentors and work friends. We understand better legal counsel is provided when people of different ages, genders, races, abilities, nationalities, and backgrounds collaborate.

But how can we assess the state of the D&I in our law departments? Just as importantly, how do we know whether we are improving our work culture?

Lawyers are word persons — words are their tools. They don’t always feel comfortable with numbers, and many were not taught in law school how to recognize data, much less generate data-driven plans. In fact, many professionals — lawyers as well as others — have little background in measuring workplace culture baselines in order to determine whether improvement is being made.

Practical guidelines

Here are some practical guidelines for embarking on a successful, data-driven program of D&I improvement within your department. It is data-driven because without the factual data, you can’t be certain that improvement is being made. In fact, you can’t even be sure where you started.

It’s like anything you care about — a workout regimen, a diet or a budget. Without understanding and recording your starting point, planning for the next steps in order to improve, then measuring your results, it is nearly impossible to determine whether your objectives are being achieved. And leaders of corporate law departments especially want to be able to prove their department’s success to the company’s business leaders.

First, try to think of the D&I workplace issue as a practice with several mini-practices or processes within. It is easier to measure pieces of a system than try to fix everything at once. Indeed, it may be easy to think of D&I as a practice because it should be viewed as one. It is akin to any other routinized department practice like hiring outside counsel only with the general counsel’s approval, or needing two people to sign off on an expense. D&I can be a measurable, fact-based practice with its own defined rules and procedures.

All data that is relevant to your department’s diversity initiative should be continuously tracked and analyzed.

Another requirement is that your department’s efforts to become and remain more diverse should be led from the top. Little permanent progress can be made if senior-most leaders don’t regularly and vocally push and lead the initiatives.

Finally, permeation of diversity within your workplace is largely quantifiable with real numbers. You need to continually check and communicate those numbers and ensure the stated measurable objectives are being met.

What data do you have?

Nearly everything can be viewed as measurable data — seriously. Your department may already have important data at its fingertips, even if it does not realize it or know how to deal with it. Examples of easy data sets involving cultural progress in your workplace include:

      • the number of diverse lawyers in your department — note that diversity is defined differently in different parts of the world
      • the number of diverse professionals that are not lawyers in your department
      • the total number of diverse employees in
        your department
      • the number of people by work level, title, category
        or role that have joined your department over the
        past year or two
      • the number of people in the above categories that
        have left your department within the same time frame
      • the evaluation grades for various skills and
        aptitudes of diverse colleagues

Data like this is just a start. You can establish baseline measurements of salaries, bonuses, titles, overall new hires, and a myriad of other important factors that will give you a picture of the department’s organization and practices. You can also apply process improvement tools to stages involved in the D&I practices, in order to better understand what the department is doing right and what it could do better.

Now, what should you do with the data?

Once you have some baseline data, record it, and share it with your leadership team. After review, select one or two aspects of the D&I practices on which to focus, and then apply some process improvement constructs or announce revised practices while tracking the resulting numbers. Examples of systems with these D&I ramifications are:

      • Hiring — This process is critical, and measurable from start to finish. You can track the diversity and inclusion factors of the people who conduct the searches, the type of pools in which recruiters place ads and the educational pedigrees involved early in the processes.
      • Mentoring — Who mentors? Who are the mentees? What is the fact-based impact of the mentoring? Are people more engaged? Are diverse candidates staying in the department longer? Are they taking on high-level jobs more frequently?
      • Sponsoring — Sponsoring is different than mentoring as it involves putting people in front of leaders, assigning them to task forces, getting them involved in not-for-profit boards, etc.

When I was COO of a global law department, all hires made over a two-year period were diverse because we implemented a change in our hiring approach. Guidelines were set for the diversity of candidate slates, diversity of hires was counted and quantified, and hiring managers were not able to hire without the approval of a senior leader who noted the diversity of the slate. These are relatively simple examples of data-driven practices that can be easily implemented and measured.

Make data your friend

All data that is relevant to your department’s diversity initiative should be continuously tracked and analyzed. Your department may want to bring in a consultant or person from outside your department who has the objectivity to facilitate this data collection, determine which pieces of the puzzle to address first and monitor progress. Identifying and counting data takes some discipline, so asking people to do it “off the side of their desks” is probably not the best approach.

Once your leaders learn how to spot and track data, and understand most activities and conditions can be measured, no one will ever look at your department’s practices the same way.

Your teams will notice that some habitual activities are now measurable tasks. Leaders will observe how outcomes can be changed by closely examining and numerically measuring your processes and practices. And all will realize meaningful progress can be made by institutionalizing some thoughtful new ways of operating.

Your department and your company will know the progress is meaningful because they will have data to prove it.