Most of us are familiar with the traditional definition of diversity: the range of human differences, including (but not limited to), everything from race, gender, religion, age and more. However, this overarching definition does not always translate neatly into the real-world scenarios faced by individual legal teams, nor is it broad enough to make a meaningful difference in a company’s diversity journey. In driving toward a diverse and inclusive culture, in-house legal leaders need to take a holistic approach, which addresses both the attraction and retention of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) attorneys, as well as the requirement that each candidate (both those from the majority culture and minority attorneys) have an established track record and proven commitment to driving diversity in their organizations.
The current racial reckoning has led many business leaders, particularly those leading legal departments across the country, to more fully grasp the significant value of cultivating a diverse team. These include better idea generation, more engaging conversations, improved insight, more innovation, stronger financial results and decreased turnover. With this increased focus on building diverse teams has come new challenges—such as when faced with having to search for new talent, the definition of diversity can vary wildly depending on the industry, practice or geography. As can the approach to identifying diverse talent that, at times, can limit the pool rather than broaden it.
When legal leaders decide they need more of one specific characteristic on their team, they sometimes fail to look beyond a predetermined profile. The truth is that hiring managers should expect to interview a range of diverse candidates who each bring their own unique attributes to the table—whether that is due to their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, personal or professional backgrounds. To truly foster a diverse workplace and culture, we believe that every hire should be able to demonstrate their commitment to allyship and, in turn, inclusion.
From a practical perspective, before one can think more broadly about their definition of diversity, they need to understand what diversity actually means to them. Why? Because the hiring manager and the organization often have preconceived notions in mind, so we as search consultants encourage them to think beyond what they know and reflect in a deeper, more meaningful way. Here are a few questions to consider before starting a search:
For legal department leadership, this series of questions may help to clarify some of the team’s opportunities for improvement from a diversity standpoint, as well as dig deeper into the meaning of diversity. As search professionals, our ultimate goal is to submit a slate of the best candidates, some of whom may not fit the predefined diversity definition but each of whom can bring a new and different perspective that contributes to our client’s diversity efforts. We know all too well that the best hire does not always fit into a nice tidy box; ironically, the best hire could be the exact opposite of that preconceived profile.
This leads to our more nuanced reflections around diversity. It is not just about “the numbers” but also about what it means to be an ally and how inclusivity is a dominant force on the path to achieving a well-rounded, truly diverse function and organization. From our perspective, it is important to reflect on diversity using a two-pronged approach.
Of course, the traditional concepts of diversity are crucial, and we fully support them as a means to increasing the critical mass necessary to ensure that organizations have diverse members at every level. However, we believe that this is simply one prong of the two prongs necessary to bring about needed change. The second necessary (and more nuanced) prong rests on the concept of allyship and inclusion—requiring all hires, regardless of their background, to demonstrate an authentic commitment to diversity. Companies that don’t take this into account risk overlooking excellent candidates who can also promote diversity in meaningful and valuable ways. When we don’t consider diversity from every angle, it can be problematic and lead to superficial commitments limiting a company’s ability to make a larger impact around DEI. Without a commitment beyond attracting diverse talent in the most traditional sense, the diversity mission of an organization is at risk of failing. Our advice to hiring managers is to probe for a candidate’s commitment to diversity when interviewing every candidate. Find out what initiatives candidates have been a part of and what they are doing in the world to promote DEI. If an individual is thoughtful about this and can articulate what they have accomplished, then they have demonstrated a broader commitment to DEI—a commitment they will bring to a new organization.
We believe that developing a truly diverse environment requires both an increase in the number of BIPOC attorneys as well as ensuring that all hires have a demonstrated commitment to diversity. While everyone creates their own definition of diversity based on their existing team composition and beliefs of what is needed, expanding how you define diversity, with a genuine commitment to inclusion and allyship, will result in a team with unique perspectives and lead to more productive, innovative results. The drive toward true diversity, equity and inclusion requires a holistic approach that expands beyond the goal of simply recruiting more BIPOC candidates. It requires that every single hire be committed to building and maintaining a diverse culture and workforce – because each embraces the no-longer-novel idea that a diverse workforce can help drive toward a brighter future for the organization.