Why You Need to Value Inclusion Before You Can Achieve Diversity.

With the growing focus from boards and organisations on Environmental, Social and Governance [ESG] and within this the subset of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, it is with some degree of scepticism that I wonder whether organisations have at times stalled in their push for diversity.

I believe this to be as equally true for the legal sector as any other, and my belief is that this is in large part due to the fact that we have approached this the wrong way for many years. We have often heard phrases such as pushing for diversity, hiring for diversity or creating quotas [which I believe in, but that’s another piece]. And that with diversity will come both equity and inclusion or inclusiveness. The race for diversity in my experience is often poorly executed and a numbers game, or that often repeated phrase “lip-service”.

The more thoughtful and rewarding approach for businesses who want diversity of thought and lived experience is to focus on creating an inclusive environment first. But what is an inclusive environment and why is it so important? For me, inclusive environments are about creating a space where everybody can safely and proudly bring their whole-self to work.

To be genuinely successful at this, companies must value inclusion, not just talk about it. When a company values inclusion it creates an environment that promotes a sense of belonging, an inclusive environment values and encourages open and robust conversation, differing opinions and the knowledge that these opinions will be heard.

Studies show that the law and law firms are still majority white and majority male (ABA National Lawyer Population Survey). If we subscribe to the old adage of “You can’t be what you can’t see”, then what hope do we have of tipping the scales in the legal sector in favour of environments that are naturally diverse because we’ve created a set of conditions in our environments that openly encourages and promotes the importance of difference. It takes very deliberate steps to be successful. Such as:

  • Understanding both your conscious and unconscious bias
  • Training team members on the above
  • Leaders are prepared to be vulnerable and lead with conviction when it comes to their own lived experience
  • An understanding that to create an inclusive environment, we need to look well beyond the idea of just gender as a primary indicator
  • Make sure your workplace is equipped for inclusiveness in terms of infrastructure – make sure it’s not ableist, or make sure it has feeding rooms, or that it can be sensitive to particular religious festivals/celebrations and that it celebrates these
  • Ensuring psychological safety within your environment
  • And yes…Policy and Procedure must also come into play

Creating environments that promote and simply are inclusive is not just good for the people that work with you or for you, it’s also great for your brand [and no this isn’t about brand per se] - in terms of how people feel about your organisation, what does your company evoke in others. People talk and people talk about culture, and if you are well known for how you treat people, the environment you cultivate and the lengths you go to ensure that your people are looked after, encouraged and supported then word gets around.

I’ve had the good and bad fortune of working with companies where people literally come through the door because they’ve heard about the environment you’ve created and they want to be part of it. Equally I’ve been part of organisations where the environment was toxic and there was no effort made to nurture talent, encourage diversity of thought or experience.  One clearly wins over the other. And news travels fast these days, the amount of discerning job-seekers who will say no to opportunities because they’ve done their homework with regard to what a workplace and importantly what a leader has to offer is growing. And whilst I’d be foolish to say salaries are not important, [numerous surveys’ still confirm they are somewhere near the top], workplaces that talk the talk and walk the walk on the value they place on inclusiveness will always win. The organisation that ignores this loses in the long-run.

Natasha Norton