Now is not the time to demote diversity in business

23rd February 2021

As many words as there are to define 'diversity'; as a profession we must now, more than ever, be looking to absorb and embrace as many forms of diversity as possible into our culture and workplace. The rewards will ensure those firms with the vision and courage are able to positively adapt following the initial shock waves and ongoing challenges a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, innovate and eventually flourish in a very different working world for our people and our clients.

Inclusion must continue

It would be tempting during the pandemic to ‘park’ or push diversity and inclusion down the business agenda. However; if this happens it will not only impact the numbers, but also the lives and livelihoods of its people that businesses are working so hard to protect, and in turn the service provided to clients. As we continue to work from home, we must ensure that inclusion is not undermined by exclusive behaviours and our own unconscious biases.

Let’s continue to include our younger colleagues who may live and work in shared homes with less physical separation between home and work. We need to ensure that with virtual meetings and less face to face time everyone has the confidence to speak up. Also, with such a large proportion of our profession being female – the current challenges are day to day to survival, with the disproportionate responsibility of childcare and homeschooling, we don’t want to lose this talent from being further disadvantaged in the ‘remote’ work place.

Benefits of diversity in business

Let’s remind ourselves (before COVID) that robust reports from McKinsey and the SRA confirmed the compelling business benefits for diversity in the workplace – for example; “Companies with leadership in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability…and 36% for ethnic diversity[2]. Whilst it may seem premature at this point in 2021 to be referring to profitability when most firms are recovering from 2020 cash conservation and crisis mitigation mode, innovation for survival will only be achieved through a diverse workforce and leadership which makes sound economic sense.

Christina Blacklaws (the immediate past president of the Law Society of England and Wales and Non-Executive Director at Blake Morgan) in an interview with Said Business School clarifies that when she speaks of diversity:

I mean not just the diversity that we think of as evident, protected characteristics, but also the type of people we are looking at  ……we should be moving away from that very monochrome, uniform approach to building a leader and towards seeing the potential in people and developing that……Also I think it goes hand in hand with innovation.

Diversity needs to extend throughout the organisation with its thought and skill set, and not just the leaders but have an inclusive approach to all employees (whether they are the lawyers or our ‘key’ workers supporting and growing the business).

Pre pandemic much work had been invested in the legal sector with firms recognizing the need for diversity and inclusion professionals, training on unconscious bias, publishing gender pay gap reports, adopting agile working, supporting LGBTQ+ networks, pledges for social mobility, implementing mentoring schemes and recognizing the need to increase BAME representation across the industry.

As we are encouraged as a nation not to lose the gains made during this third national lockdown by saving lives and protecting the NHS and waiting patiently for the vaccine rollout across our society, we must also not lose the gains made for diversity and inclusion in the legal sector and approach this next phase as lockdown is lifted in the Spring with a more nuanced but still highly committed approach, as being responsible for our own behaviour will benefit everyone.

[1] Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus
[2] Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters – McKinsey Report May 19, 2020

This article is part of Private Client Issues – March 2021


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