The events in the U.S. of 2020 highlighted the ongoing racial disparities in America, bringing fresh poignancy to Black History Month this February. Unfortunately, those disparities are glaring in the legal field. About 88% of lawyers in the U.S. are white, an inordinate representation compared with other professions such as architects, engineers, and surgeons. Black Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population and one-fifth of law school graduates, yet they are represented in less than 7% of firm counsels and 9% of counsels at large corporations.
The widespread demonstrations and movements for racial justice may have left you wondering how you can enhance racial diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within your own sphere of influence, especially within the legal workplace where many of us spend much of our time.
Becoming an agent of change within your organization may not be easy but with the right partners, information, persistence, and patience, all motivated by a sense of higher purpose, it is possible.
Partner with those who share your goal
Effecting change rarely occurs in a silo. Chances are there are others within your organization who share your goals but don’t know how to make a difference as a lone actor, so find each other and combine your efforts. If your organization already has a DEI committee, ask how you can contribute to the effort. If not, ask the organization’s leaders whether they would be open to starting a committee.
Legility launched a formal DEI committee last summer. Our committee is comprised of employees representing both minorities and different business departments within our global company and are based across the United States and Europe. Our goal is to assess the company’s DEI needs, determine what we need to do to stay relevant, and make sure all members of the business feel like they are included and belong, regardless of their race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Many of the conversations leading up to the committee began among a group of employees of color who started meeting to process what was happening during the Black Lives Matter protests in the spring.
Even if it’s informal in the beginning, gathering a group to discuss where your organization stands as far as DEI and what you’d like to change to make things better is a good first step.
Find the facts relevant to your organization
Before your committee makes any proposals to effect change, look at the metrics as far as recruitment, retention, and opportunities for promotion for minorities within your organization. Work closely with your organization’s HR, recruitment, and/or talent management leadership to get your arms around “the facts on the ground.”
These numbers are crucial to measure and analyze where you stand – and where you may have an opportunity to affect the most positive change. Be sure to also gather context in the form of feedback from employees from their vantage points.
Look at what your metrics tell you through several lenses to try to get as complete a picture of the landscape of diversity at your organization. Make sure to look at each department and level of your organization both as “a part of a whole” as well as individually. It’s important to understand how your organization compares with the population at large, other companies broadly, and organizations in your industry. It’s also important to understand how diversity breaks down within your organization – for example, are certain departments more or less diverse than others? What about frontline employees compared with mid-level management and executive leadership?
Proactively seek feedback
Now that you have a picture of where your organization stands quantitatively, make sure to collect qualitative data as well. How does your organization “feel” to employees on the ground? Proactively seek feedback – employees’ perceptions may tell a different or richer story that is important to consider when forming your DEI plans.
Anonymous surveys are an excellent way to gauge how employees feel about the organization’s policies and practices affecting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Use your employees as your guideposts for where you need to go.
Survey responses – whether gathered internally or via an outside consultant or specialist – can be used to help improve hiring practices, guide investments in DEI training, and launch or better manage DEI programs internally.
Spread awareness and build support
Make sure employees are aware of the effort to make the organization more diverse, equitable, and inclusive with regular communications and opportunities to weigh in and participate. Be sure to give your employee base opportunities to learn more about the issues outside the context of formal trainings. For example, Legility created a digital bookshelf of recommended readings involving racial issues in America and the opportunity to join a book club covering those works.
Communicate regularly and transparently with the organization’s leadership – and the employee base at large – about the activities of the committee and how they can help the effort along.
Focus on corporate social responsibility
Another area where an organization can make a positive and lasting positive change is in the realm of corporate social responsibility (CSR). One of the guiding principles of CSR is providing support to nonprofit organizations that align strategically with an organization’s goals. Legility, for example, regularly supports nonprofits whose goals align with the DEI committees’ goals of driving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
The DEI committee chose Black Girls Code – a grassroots organization dedicated to providing technology education to Black girls – as the recipient of this year’s monetary donation. As a new law company focused on delivering innovative technology-enabled legal services, the mission of Black Girls Code has direct relevance to Legility. We see how underrepresented Black women are in technology fields and want to support efforts to boost education in and knowledge about careers in STEM fields.
Don't give up
Assessing quantitative and qualitative metrics, communicating your goals, encouraging others in your organization to participate, and embracing corporate social responsibility will reap positive benefits both within your organization and in the greater society. By following these steps with patience, persistence, and determination, you can help boost your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Legility is a legal services company providing data hosting and management, technology-enabled services, consulting, flexible legal talent, and managed review services to in-house law departments and law firms. Legility is not, and none of its affiliates are, a law firm and does not provide legal advice as part of its services and nothing contained herein should be construed as such.