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Talent & Culture

TREDI Advisory Board: How to make a hybrid environment work for underrepresented professionals

In a wide-ranging discussion with the Thomson Reuters Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (TREDI) Advisory Board, we look at how to best retain accountants and lawyers from underrepresented backgrounds

Retention of accountants and lawyers from underrepresented backgrounds is a function of culture, well-being, and career development, according to research conducted earlier this year by Thomson Reuters, some previous insights from the Thomson Reuters Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (TREDI) Advisory Board, and perspectives of lawyers and accountants from diverse backgrounds surveyed in our Pandemic Nation series.

Many continue to view culture through a pre-pandemic lens that is attached to physical space and usually described with words on a web site, referred to as the articulated culture. In reality, however, culture lives in the hearts and minds of all employees and team members.

This lived culture is the daily occurrence of specific performance outcomes and implied behaviors that drive norms of what is rewarded, permissible, intentionally ignored, and penalized in a work environment. It typically occurs through a series of daily gatherings of team members and management in group settings and in one-on-one meetings about work activities, whether happening in person, on video, or a hybrid mixture of both. For the sake of our own market insights research, we consider an employee’s well-being to be represented in the three pillars of clarity, control, and support.

Members of the TREDI Advisory Board shared their perspectives on how to build a culture of appreciation, well-being, and belonging and how to address the lack of career progression for lawyers and accountants from underrepresented backgrounds.

Intentionality is required to close the connection gap

It is no secret that relationship-building with influential people within an organization is critical to one’s career trajectory. It was a common difficulty for accountants and lawyers from diverse backgrounds before the pandemic, but it has been exacerbated in the post-pandemic environment with most employees working at least some of the time in virtual environment for the past two years.

Before the pandemic, accidental opportunities, such as an impromptu chat or spontaneous invitation to dinner, occurred more readily with everyone housed together in the same office. Now, opportunities that might have come from fortuitous accidents in the past need to be purposefully created in a hybrid or virtual environment, according to George Chen, a Partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.

Jordan Howlette, Managing Attorney at JD Howlette Law, also points out that repetitive intentional effort is required. “It is really much more the responsibility of senior leaders of organizations to be intentional about how to build a culture of belonging,” he says.

Indeed, individuals with underrepresented identities, who tend to have increased representation at more junior levels within the organization, don’t have the power or the access, relatively speaking, to the most senior people. Therefore, it has to be up to those senior leaders to really own the responsibility of establishing culture or exerting positive change on the existing culture.

In the context of a law firm, for example, partners need to think equally about the culture of the workplace just as much as the managing partner does, observes Gary Zhao, a Partner at Smith Amundsen. Senior partners have traditionally only had to focus on the work and product quality, but now more than ever, it is critical for everyone — especially the partners — to demonstrate the articulated culture and enhance the lived culture of team members in their practice group and beyond.

Finally, it may be unreasonable to expect that the managing partner and members of the partnership will have all of the answers to address this access issues. As an alternative, Howlette emphasizes the need to convene team members to brainstorm further possible solutions, simply because there is no easy answer to figuring out what works for each individual organization, whether a law firm or a tax & accounting firm.

Celebrating each person as a unique individual

When the TREDI Advisory Board discussed what behaviors lead to increased feelings of appreciation, demonstrations of respect and a genuine regard for employee well-being were highlighted as ways to celebrate the viewpoints of those with underrepresented identities. More specifically, organization leaders each should take the following steps:

      • treat each person as unique and learn their individual preferences of which behaviors make them feel appreciated and valued by asking certain questions;
      • show gratitude to each person as an asset to the overall final output or outcome of the team when celebrating the viewpoints of those who don’t look like you; and
      • invite perspectives of colleagues of underrepresented identities first in meetings.

Display a shared ownership of the organization’s DEI

Ensuring that leadership, management, and all employees share the responsibility for the organization’s diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) is a pivotal way to show that those from diverse backgrounds are genuinely valued, respected, and appreciated, according to TREDI Advisory Board members.

Historically, most of the responsibility for DEI recognition was seen as that of those from underrepresented backgrounds themselves. Now, some firms are moving to change that by giving billable hour credit for these DEI activities. For example, accounting clients — under the leadership of diversity consultant Tenaya Taylor — can give 75 billable hours credit to client-facing employees to signal that DEI-related activities are an essential part of engaging people and culture. Finally, displaying appreciation and a genuine regard for well-being requires consistency that occurs over a series of conversations, whether in person, video, or some combination of both in a hybrid environment.

This, among other critical components, is the key ingredient needed to shrinking the difference in the articulated culture — the words written on the organization’s web site and how the partners describe it — and the lived culture that reflects the daily workplace reality of those with underrepresented identities.


You can learn more about the Thomson Reuters Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (TREDI) advisory board here.

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