Driving diversity, equity and inclusion remain firmly on the agenda within the legal industry and firms using best practices will see real commercial and reputational benefits, writes Funke Abimbola MBE, Partner at Korn Ferry (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consulting, EMEA) and special advisor to Byfield.
Driving diversity, equity and inclusion remain firmly on the agenda within the legal industry.
The recent news that it was Addleshaw Goddard’s focus on DEI that led to the firm securing a place on the BT Group’s legal panel was a stark reminder of this. DEI remains a top priority for clients and firms using best practices will see real commercial and reputational benefits.
To win its place, Addleshaw Goddard had shown that it was playing an effective role in driving DEI across all areas of its organisation. A number of other law firms (including BCLP, Osborne Clarke and CMS) were also recognised and commended for their efforts, being named as D&I champions within the BT Group’s existing legal panel.
But when it comes to DEI, the important question to ask is this:
How do firms avoid their DEI activities becoming a box ticking exercise?
I have found myself reflecting on my time spent as general counsel within the global pharmaceutical industry. For the best part of a decade, I was general counsel for two global organisations and was responsible for selecting the firms that would form our external panel of legal advisers.
There were three key things that I looked out for in making my final selection:
- Targets: had the firm set time-specific DEI targets (preferably at all levels within the organisation, from entry level to senior leadership)?
- Transparency: was the firm transparent about its actions in meeting those targets? This should, at the very least, involve data collection and analysis and committing to a clear action plan built around recruitment and talent development.
- Inclusive culture: what was the firm doing to foster an inclusive culture that brings out the best in its people? Clear signs of this would include the creation of safe spaces to develop psychological safety, well-supported staff networks, mentoring, coaching, sponsorship and a robust supplier diversity programme.
For me, a successful DEI strategy results in a firm’s people becoming passionate ambassadors for the firm’s brand, enhancing its reputation. As a general counsel, I wasn’t at all swayed by whether or not a firm had won diversity awards because awards aren’t necessarily a good measure of what is going on within the firm itself.
The firms that won a place on my panel viewed DEI as a commitment towards developing their culture with talent and people development lying at the heart of their DEI strategy.
I would often find myself asking prospective panel members these questions:
- How do your staff feel about working at your firm?
- Are they engaged?
- And do they see inspiring examples of inclusive leadership within the firm?
It’s all too easy to be driven by a compelling business case for DEI but let’s not forget the moral case too.
A great DEI strategy will reduce and minimise blind spots and group think, unleashing innovation and creativity.
This then enhances the quality of problem-solving and solutions.
When people feel included and heard, staff engagement improves and staff turnover goes down.
And the end result is a much better outcome in terms of the service or product being delivered to clients.
But there’s no getting away from the way people feel working at a firm and this is often the best measure of a successful DEI strategy.
As Maya Angelou famously said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”