Post COVID-19: Exploring the Business Case for Why Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Are Essential to Your Law Firm and Corporate Culture.

In the wake of protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd and others over the recent weeks, companies are trying to figure out how to better incorporate diversity and inclusion into their business structures. Over the years, progress on this front has been notably slow, but many view the current atmosphere as an opportunity to enact real, systemic change for the better.

On June 30, 2020, Legal Innovators hosted a panel of leading professionals, moderated by Bryan Parker, our CEO and co-founder, to discuss the challenges for companies and firms in embracing meaningful diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives and identify key solutions on how to address them. The following are some key takeaways of the discussion.

Being exceptional means that we need to hold ourselves to an exceptional standard.

“The number one challenge we face is that companies do not treat D&I as a strategic imperative, they treat is as philanthropy,” said Joel Stern, CEO of NAMWOLF, an organization that promotes diversity in the legal profession by acting as a consortium of women and minority-owned businesses. Joel articulated that D&I must be imbedded in the company’s core values or they risk driving talent and customers away. One effective way to do this would be to institute a formal program with a senior individual as its advocate, consisting of monetary carrots and sticks, and with transparent goals and metrics to hold people accountable.

Sekou Kaalund of JP Morgan Chase agrees. His company has implemented its “Advancing Black Pathways” program to accelerate economic empowerment and opportunity for the black community. He added that companies must set tangible goals to which people can be held accountable. They must also have discipline and consistency in the measurement of data to determine how to meet those goals. He sees JP Morgan’s program as an opportunity to impact the black community and for companies to lead by building “playbooks” for other market players to learn from. “One company or firm won’t solve the issue,” he said, “but if we share what we’re doing, others can take the playbook and . . . move forward together.”

“[The legal] profession has not exhibited exceptionalism on this point [but instead has] accepted excuses for not tackling the problem head on,” said Jon Greenblatt, Chairman and co-founder of Legal Innovators and former partner of Shearman & Sterling. His view is that once people recognize that D&I is a business imperative, they will bring more commitment and creativity to the issue. “[What is different today] is that younger people can demand change like they are doing in other contexts. If everyone takes this on, we will see change coming sooner.”

Greenblatt helped found the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Shearman, hiring a diversity consultant in the process. “[The] problem was that we lacked the vocabulary. . . We need to get past being unwilling to have honest conversations [and] firms must show leadership on this issue, not just financial issues.”

Bryan Parker highlighted the business imperative by sharing a JP Morgan statistic that “If minority businesses were invested in at the same rate as non-minority businesses, nine more million jobs would be created and 300 billion of wealth.”

One firm that is taking the lead is Seyfarth. Laura Maechtlen, a partner at Seyfarth and Chair of the Belonging Project, said her firm has taken an intentional approach to D&I and has recognized that recruitment, retention, and mentoring need to be combined under one strategy or they don’t work. Seyfarth has switched their approach from one that is management focused to one that takes the “lived experience [and] journey within the firm” into account, allowing for more empathy in the process.

Implicit bias plays a role, and we can understand it with data.

Even Parker of Parker Analytics advocated that data is an important tool in quantifying and understanding how companies operate. Particularly, it can be used to understand how diversity and inclusion can be implemented by recognizing and tackling implicit bias. “Firms already collect a lot of data, and from that we can see unfortunate patterns,” he lamented. Data can show a firm where they stand currently, where to make changes, and how the changes impact their performance. It can also act as a common language across siloed D&I initiatives, and dispel myths associated with the recruitment and promotion process that might be allowing implicit bias to guide decision making.

Data can be used at every turn to better inform a firm, from determining what makes a successful associate to making sure associates are not missing out on opportunities. “[With it] we can try to determine if people are withering on the vine [instead of progressing].”

Paulette Brown, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Locke Lord, and past President of both the American Bar Association and National Bar Association, echoed this sentiment, saying that tracking is critical, and you need data to do this. “People need to be incentivized to do what is right, because some things do not come natural,” she said. She noted that women of color generally have stayed at the bottom of the rankings and took aim at how organizations rank firms. “[Organizations that rank firms] need to dig deeper and look beyond mere numbers” when ranking firms for D&I, she said. “[A firm] cannot be #1 without black partners, or [when] the only black lawyers are contract lawyers.” “Firms must be diverse and inclusive,” she said.

Brown said that now is the time to make changes and companies should not be afraid of implementing new programs. “You need to be willing to make mistakes. . . We can’t look to the future without knowing your past, so we must go back and examine how we’ve been doing things and ask ourselves the hard questions.”

Key Solutions:

  • Use clear and transparent data to drive reform and enable equality of opportunity.
  • Champion leadership through enacting D&I goals, aligning business decisions to ensure those goals, and serving as a model for others.
  • Prioritize equitable supply chain of legal spend, and publish dollars spent in women and minority owned law firms.
  • Identify individuals within your organization to champion the change management processes and prepare to receive and assimilate change.
  • Create pipeline diversity by using data to identify high-quality talent in a broader range of schools and work environments.

Watch the full webinar here!

*This webinar was hosted by Expert Webcast. A special thanks to Datasite for co-sponsorship.

About the Author:

Jared Schwalb is an attorney with Legal Innovators. Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn