MEN ARE PERCEIVED AS BEING COMPETENT FROM THE BEGINNING, WHILE WOMEN AND
OTHER UNDERREPRESENTED GROUPS ARE FORCED TO PROVE THEIR ABILITIES REPEATEDLY.
they do not have (or perceive they have) the opportunity to rise
to the top.
WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
There is a litany of reasons as to why things are the way they are.
Some are fact; some are assumption; some are pure fiction. One
thing we know for sure is unconscious bias and systemic barriers
play a significant role in keeping these groups from progressing.
Men are perceived as being competent from the beginning, while
women and other underrepresented groups are forced to prove
their abilities repeatedly.
How many times have you been in promotion conversations
and when speaking about a man, you talk about his skills and abil-ities,
and when talking about a woman, suddenly you need to take
her family situation into consideration? Bias in the workplace that
goes unchecked results in senior partners hiring and promoting
people like themselves, rather than basing promotion on ability
Ensuring that performance assessments, promotions and work
assignments are based on merit is the first step to addressing the
issue in the legal profession. It is important that everyone under-takes
this work – not just those from minority groups. Addressing
unconscious bias cannot be an exercise in “preaching to the choir.”
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
There are several reasons why looking at diversity in the legal pro-fession
is important, but there are a few key motivators:
1. Clients care. Clients and potential clients are putting
increased importance on diversity and inclusion, and
are frequently seeking out firms that demonstrate active
engagement in the area. How many RFPs has your firm
responded to that ask about your commitment to diversity
and inclusion? And how many times do you think you
can respond with a lame excuse about “hiring the best and
brightest,” as if the best and brightest are apparently all white
2. Talent cares. New lawyers are often drawn to firms that
have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Generational change has resulted in conscious awareness that
a commitment to diversity and inclusion is usually indicative
of a workplace culture that will be welcoming, even by those
who have not historically been marginalized or affected by a
lack of diversity. This plays out in firms that top talent apply
to and by not recognizing this, your firm may be missing out
on recruiting the true best and brightest talent available.
3. The talent looks different. The numbers don’t lie. The only
thing a firm can do is hire from the available talent pool of
students and associates. But if your new hires are all white
men, statistically you aren’t hiring the best and brightest.
You’re hiring the best and brightest of either 1) the people
that apply (and you may be missing out on top talent who
don’t perceive your firm to be inclusive); or 2) the people
you feel will “fit” at your firm (and “fit” is usually code for
4. The client looks different. Remember all those associates
who left your firm that went to in-house counsel jobs?
They’re bound to be influenced by their own experiences.
That can work to your advantage or disadvantage, depending
on your commitment to diversity and inclusion.
5. You can reduce your bottom-line and increase your
top-line. Studies have shown that the cost to replace an
associate can be as much as $300,000. Why would you
bother investing in your people, only to create a culture
where they can’t succeed? If a person leaves your firm because
they don’t feel included, that’s money walking out the door.
And imagine losing out on a bid because you assigned a
homogeneous team to a client, when they’re expecting your
team to be reflective of Canada.
And, of course, it’s the right thing to do. However, focusing on
diversity and inclusion because it’s the right thing to do is a mis-take.
That kind of motivation doesn’t get people out of bed.
The reason to focus on diversity and inclusion is because it’s the
right thing to do for your business. This isn’t a war on white men.
Diversity and inclusion is about making smart business decisions.
If you don’t adapt to the change that is already here, your firm will
cease to exist.
Knowing all that, what are you going to do to make your firm
more diverse and inclusive? n
Michael Bach is the founder and CEO of the Canadian Centre for
Diversity and Inclusion.
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52 ❚ OCTOBER 2017 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL