The Importance Of Diversity and Inclusion in In-house Legal Departments

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In today’s ever expanding global business environment, diversity and inclusion have gone beyond standardized policies and programs. Legal professionals seek employers that truly respect their unique identities, needs, and perspectives. They want to feel valued, understood, and are able to embrace a sense of belonging. The outcome of creating this kind of in-person and virtual work culture? A high-achieving and committed team with a clearly defined purpose. The effectiveness of this notion is strongly supported by extensive research on the topic. For one, the findings of a study carried out by international research firm McKinsey and Company indicate that racially diverse executive teams alone have generated 35% more revenue than those with the least racially-diverse teams. This is just one of the many benefits of a diverse and inclusive company culture.

To succeed in making their place of work as diverse and inclusive as possible, employers must enforce effective, long-lasting change and place employee needs at the core of the business.
Diversity and inclusion – what is the definition and which one is more important?

Diversity and inclusion are connected, but by no means are they interchangeable. While diversity is concerned with the physical make-up of an organization, inclusion runs much deeper. It goes beyond the genders, races, religious beliefs, or nationalities of legal staff.

In its essence, an inclusive workplace is one where everyone feels equally involved, heard, and supported, no matter their role within the company. An inclusive environment will allow all staff to have a say in the decision-making process and feel respected and trusted, regardless of their background.

While both aspects are hugely important, it goes without saying that inclusion is the one that’s more difficult to achieve. Conscious effort can be made to ensure that staff receive training on unconscious recruitment bias, but it is much more difficult to measure inclusivity of ideas or cultivate a sense that everyone has an equal opportunity to weigh-in on important department or company-wide decisions.

Inclusivity may be viewed as a challenging goal when everyday situations and practicalities are considered. For this reason, an inclusive business strategy is one that employers must spend more time planning and executing. In effect, it becomes the aspect that must be planned and prioritized beyond diversity alone.

Company culture comes first

Company culture is not invented. It must be established and nurtured as it evolves constantly. Though diversity and inclusion may be different, a company can’t have either without first setting down a culture that embraces different perspectives and values its employees.

From a wider perspective, a general culture of change must be promoted internally. An organization resistant to change will not look forward to new protocols on diversity and inclusion or any other aspects of the business for that matter. A culture that celebrates change must be created and become a collaborative effort.

Culture change can’t be achieved through a top-down mandate. A CEO might enforce compliance, but he or she will not have the power to dictate trust, optimism, or enthusiasm. There is one solution here: strategic conversations across different areas of the organization, that will correctly assess the status quo and next steps. This goes beyond the legal department and must be a company-wide initiative.

Implementing long-lasting change and measuring results

Promoting and measuring change is extremely difficult. First, leadership must clearly define the changes. Next, teams must consistently gather feedback from all employees regarding the currently proposed efforts. A vital step, especially when setting down new rules regarding diversity and inclusion, as everyone’s opinion must be heard to have any chance of large-scale buy-in across the organization.

To drive change successfully, one must understand the values of the company and apply them to business. The application of change requires consistency all throughout. From communicating the urgency of change, developing the vision, and building a pro-change army of legal professionals, to addressing all issues as they arise, gathering feedback, and making the change stick.
At their core, game-changers must be determined and resilient in achieving the objectives and handling internal pressure and ethical challenges. A disruptive business agenda is prone to scrutiny; however, with a strategic, forward-facing plan, reputational risk is minimized.

After nearly two years of working under difficult circumstances for many, employees are much less willing to accept the status quo. They are looking to organization leaders to invest in them and create an environment they willingly take part in. A key indicator of successful change management? A team of engaged staff, who feel a sense of pride and are invested in working for a company they see leading and engaging on these critical issues of today.

To learn more about this topic, these ACC resources might inspire you:

  • Browse the I.D.E.A.L. collection of the ACC Foundation with carefully curated programs and resources on race, equity, social justice, diversity, and Inclusion. The goal is to inform our networks about the inequities that plague our profession, provide opportunities to Discuss these inequities, and Equip these networks with solutions that will enable them to Act and Lead for change.
  • Check out the brand new ACC Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Maturity Model that outlines clear descriptions for three levels of maturity for each DE&I function – early, intermediate, and advanced – providing leaders with a critical snapshot of where their department is currently and a roadmap of how to achieve future goals.

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