Firms are looking in the wrong places for answers, that was the finding from our recent Diversity Study which marked one year since the publication of The Class of 2002. The Class of 2002 report tracked the intake with whom Claire Rason started her legal career. She set out to find out whether, if she hadn't quit the law, she would have made partner. The results were surprising and shed new insights into why women might not be making it to the top of the profession.
One year on, we are sharing further insights. We have gone deeper with our initial conclusions. We have also thought about some of our findings in the context of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives more broadly. We explore the initiatives that are working and those that aren’t. We also restate why we believe that the power to change lies in each and every one of us.
Stories are important for diversity initiatives
Thank you for writing this report. You have managed to put on paper all the thoughts and concerns that I have been having for the last 5 years.
What was said in The Class of 2002 resonated. Agreement with it, was often accompanied by frustration about why “we haven’t solved it yet” (“it” being gender parity at partnership level).
There is a lack of visibility of individual journeys and stories. People are quick to dismiss the power of their own individual stories. The problem seems too big. But stories can provide inspiration to those coming up. They can shine a light on the barriers that influence individual decisions. Without these stories, how will cultures and working models change?
We found that stories are being lost, or go untold. Most firms’ approach to diversity and inclusion is informed by internal perspectives rather than external ones. Not only that, these internal perspectives are at times narrow, focusing on specific sets of people within the firm. Firms are missing insights into what is not happening, not speaking to clients, and not speaking to leavers.
Almost all respondents said that the biggest challenge to achieving diversity in their firm is getting authentic conversations going and real engagement from the top.
What is DEI best practice?
Respondents were split in terms of whether or not they felt their firms were diverse. Identifying their firm as diverse did not always go alongside a sense of inclusion. Do not assume that everyone in your firm feels the same way and do not assume that everyone understands what is meant by “Diversity” and “Inclusion”.
We found that diverse firms tended to have:
A formal DEI strategy;
Clear and measurable objectives;
A focus on recruitment AND retention; and
Professionals recognised by management for their efforts in delivering DEI strategies
There are clear reasons why these things can make a difference and in our report, we provide thoughts on how to approach them in your firms.
How to achieve honest and open conversation
One of the reasons that coaching has been found to help in DEI initiatives, is because coaches are trained to hold a space for non-judgemental and open conversations. Here are some tips from our coaches to ensure that the conversations you hold are as productive as possible.
1. Psychological safety shouldn’t be taken as a given. Not everyone will experience the culture in the same way. Whilst you might think that there is psychological safety, others might not. If they do not feel they can take risks, they will not be open. Start will the assumption that there is work to be done. There are things that you can do to measure and build psychological safety. Make sure that this is something that you are constantly working on.
2. Involve everyone and ensure all voices are heard. Move from 80/20 (where 20% of the participants take up 80% of the air time) to 100/100 meetings. There are tools that achieve this (it is one of the reasons we use Lego® Serious Play®). An easy technique to use is a check-in at the start. If you make sure that everyone’s voice is in the room early on, it is more likely that you will hear from everyone as the meeting progresses.
3. Set the boundaries – how will information be played back? What will happen if people disagree? What if you want to ask or say something that you know will be unpopular? Make sure that the conditions are set for honesty.
4. Listen – being able to actively listen is a core skill of a coach. It is through this skill that empathy is shown and deep listening is generative. It can tap into unconscious thoughts and ideas and it can be a catalyst for change. Make sure that your facilitator is skilled in listening.