As the country navigates through the pandemic and grapples with what the next several months have in store, law firms and their clients have become justifiably concerned about the uncertain future. But as attorneys prioritize and manage many competing agendas during this challenging and unusual time, it is crucial that law firms remain committed about maintaining their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The following are recommendations for ensuring that diversity and inclusion programs remain strategic imperatives during this time of significant change:
Keep Diversity & Inclusion Efforts a Top Priority
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs should have an assigned, dedicated champion and budget. This will support the successful achievement of the goals and milestones set by your D&I leadership. By enforcing compliance with the existing programs in place, all the firm’s hard work and positive progress accomplished before the pandemic will continue.
For those firms that do not have a D&I program in place, now is a great time to develop one. After all, diverse perspectives and experiences can contribute positively to a law firm’s success not only from an internal standpoint but from an external one as well. In fact, implementing diversity and inclusion programs can lead to a firm’s increased economic growth, in part due to its ability to attract a wider network of attorney recruits and potential clients.
Consider the Impact of Decision Making on Diversity & Inclusion Commitments
As firms make changes to staff, compensation and key assignments, the choices made could have a disparately negative impact on women and minorities, ultimately disrupting diversity efforts in the process. As such, law firms must remain vigilant to put in place a fair and equitable system that protects against any unconscious bias.
Plan to Communicate Frequently and Inclusively
With team members working remotely, lawyers from underrepresented groups may feel especially isolated. To address this, firms can make sure their communications are frequent, inclusive and keep everyone involved and engaged. Simple strategies include keeping team members copied on emails or inviting them to participate as active or passive listeners on strategic calls. By equitably sharing information and proactively encouraging access to this information, firms help bolster morale, reduce uncertainty, and make team members feel valued – all of which is vital to the firm’s culture and ultimate success.
Actively Maintain Relationships
With social distancing mandates and stay-at-home orders in place, people may understandably feel isolated and uncertain. Making a concerted effort to develop or maintain existing relationships is key to cultivating a culture of inclusion. Measures include checking in to ask how team members are doing — not just on-the-surface checking in to chat about their workload but reaching out to show genuine care and concern. This is a terrific opportunity to help establish or reaffirm a sense of belonging. Another way to actively maintain relationships during this time is to continue coaching and mentoring team members with their specific professional development goals or current challenges. Text, video chat and phone calls are all ways to show support virtually and to continue to create inclusion amongst the team.
Show Appreciation to All Team Members
Create inclusion – and ultimately, a more cohesive team – by giving thanks and showing gratitude. When team members are solitarily billing hours in the confines of their own home, they can feel forgotten. We need to remind our colleagues how thankful we are for their hard work. In doing so, be specific in that expression of gratitude and give thanks for their efforts on certain projects or assignments. By expressing gratitude, we demonstrate our appreciation and communicate how much we value each one of our team members – regardless of gender or color.
Demonstrate to Clients that Diversity & Inclusion Remain a Priority
The pandemic will not change client expectations for diverse representation among their outside counsel. Consider sending an email to clients stressing your commitment to Diversity and Inclusion and include an update regarding current initiatives, priorities, metrics or achievements. An increasing amount of in-house counsel are diverse individuals themselves. Cutting back on D&I efforts at this time may send the wrong signal to certain clients, prospective clients, and the industry at large.
As we continue to experience major personal and professional changes, championing diversity and inclusion and making D&I programs a priority during the transition will protect the positive advancements of recent years and play a critical role in building an improved post-pandemic future.