Many law firms understand the importance of building a diverse workforce. The changing demographics within the United States have signaled to firms that diversity is an important goal that will affect the firm’s viability and ultimately the bottom line.
In response, many firms have launched diversity recruitment efforts designed to bring more women and attorneys of color into the firm. The problem has been that within a few years of being hired attorneys that qualify as “diverse” leave the firm in search of more inclusive, diverse and culturally competent work environments. Below are some critical reasons why attempts at creating diversity have failed.
1) Lack of Commitment at the top: In order for diversity initiatives to succeed, there must be vigorous support for it at the senior level of the firm or organization. Partners are the change agents of the firm. Committees formed to address issues of diversity, recruitment, retention and cultural competence must be lead by key leaders within the firm.
2) Failure to assess the firm’s environment: Assessment is critical in helping to create and implement an effective diversity initiative plan. It’s critically important to understand an organization’s level of development before launching a diversity or cultural competence initiative. Firms must be prepared to assess their hiring practices, overall culture, interpersonal relationships, views about diversity and promotion practices
3) Over emphasis on recruitment and hiring: Relying on recruitment as a primary means of creating diversity will prove to be an ineffective strategy. Instead, recruitment is simply an initial step in the overall process. Firms must ensure that their work environment can support a diverse staff. Next, firm-wide, culturally effective systems and practices must be implemented in order to prevent excessive attrition among women and attorney’s of color. Retention and development of a strong and diverse pool of attorneys depends upon the firm’s ability to create a work environment that values and leverages difference, mentors cross culturally and consistently measures and monitors the progress and development of all attorneys.
4) Failure to include diversity objectives in the organization’s strategic plan: Many firms fail to include diversity goals into the firms overall vision and plan for growth and development. Organizational change is a process and in order to successfully reach objectives related to diversity, goals must be included in the firm’s strategic plan. Firms successful in building a diverse workforce have implemented specific strategies in the areas of hiring, retention, professional development, communication, promotion, mentoring etc.
5) Lack of understanding of diversity phases: Many firms fail to view the creation of a diverse organization as a developmental process. Diversity and cultural competence develops along a continuum. In the early stages of the process, firms need to define diversity, identify problems and opportunities, provide education and awareness, and develop a leadership plan along with the business case for diversity, a clear vision and well defined goals. Finally firms must understand that building a diverse and inclusive work environment is an ongoing effort.
6) Ignoring the importance of training and development: Cultural competence and diversity training with a focus on building awareness and alliances vs. “blaming and shaming” is critical to creating a productive, diverse and inclusive workforce. Staff must have the opportunity to explore current views and misconceptions around issues of inclusiveness, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and individuals with physical challenges. Failing to link training and development with firm-wide diversity objectives will result in the firm’s inability to build an inclusive and diverse organization.
7) Cultural Incompetence: Many firms communicate a desire to build an inclusive and diverse work environment yet they still place a high value on “sameness”. Whether consciously or subconsciously this value for sameness is communicated to others in the firm. Instead, firms need to develop a high level of cultural competency. Cultural competence requires that organizations:
o Have a defined set of values and principles and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
o Have the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage, appreciate and leverage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of their employees and the clients and communities they represent. Think of cultural competence as fertile ground upon which to plant, grow and develop a successful recruitment, retention and firm wide cultural diversity program. Without the necessary foundation, efforts to build a diverse team of attorneys will prove to be unsatisfactory.