By Anja Skvortsova & Melinda Wallman
All across the United Kingdom, increasing gender diversity is a prominent focus for organizations, particularly at the executive level where the gender imbalance is most pronounced. In 2010, the 30% Club was formed with a goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards by 2020. That goal then expanded to other industries, challenging professional services firms to close the gender gap, including in legal departments and at law firms. To meet that challenge and increase the number of women amongst their ranks, corporations and law firms need to look at how they present themselves in the market and throughout the hiring process.
Starting at the Top
The gender diversity message needs to come from the top of the organization. Senior law firm leaders and legal department managers need to understand the importance of having a diverse team and make a genuine commitment to balancing the numbers in their organizations. Without a truly supported commitment, the organization will never make in-roads in this area. Leadership can be held accountable for hiring more women by linking their managerial responsibilities to performance. In a law firm as well as a corporate legal department, hiring partners and legal team leaders should be evaluated on the diversity of hires and of team members. This would allow executives to actively investigate why it is hard to hire and retain women and to tackle these specific issues head on in order to do better in the future. One way to do that is to tie diversity hiring and retention directly to bonus pay-outs. Not only does it acknowledge the importance of hiring and retaining top female talent, but it provides added motivation and accountability to leadership. Only when leadership is held to a higher standard and action points are visible will the rest of the firm take notice and follow suit.
Spreading the Message
Having a clear message about your commitment to gender diversity hiring throughout your organization will allow your external recruiters and internal hiring team to act as diversity champions in the market. To make sure your message is clear, begin by holding training sessions for your hiring committee team, practice group and team leaders and recruiting coordinators. Explain your organization’s diversity policy in detail. Connect them with successful female hires within the organization that can be resources when talking to potential talent. Provide them with specific examples of successful hiring that can be used when talking to potential talent in the market to further demonstrate your commitment. If your diversity record is not good, then explain the specific steps your organization is taking to improve it.
Educate any recruiters used by the firm on your gender diversity policy as well. Be clear that they must be committed to presenting qualified female candidates for consideration. When choosing external search firms with which to partner, you should always do your own due diligence and check their diversity credentials both organizational and in terms of their placement records. It is equally important for them as it is for you to “show and tell”.
Keep in mind that your commitment to gender diversity should not only exist when hiring for full-time positions but also for interim/contract positions. Because interim roles are usually not treated as headcount, diversity is often overlooked. However, it’s just as important to ensure the same hiring criteria apply to contractor lawyers or other legal professionals as they can turn into permanent members one day. They also play an important part in forming company culture and can be the perfect ambassadors of your culture in the external market.
Interviewing with Intention
We have all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus; these essential differences can make the hiring process look different. Compared to men, women tend to:
- Be more loyal to their company and therefore are more difficult to engage in discussions about external opportunities.
- Take longer to build trust, which means they require more contact and information sharing throughout the hiring process.
- Consider fewer options when making a career move.
- Shy away from selling themselves. They often downplay their abilities and experiences, and attribute credit to a wider group by using ‘we’ vs. ‘I’ when describing their achievements.
- Emphasize whether an organization’s culture is the best ‘fit’ over the possible financial gain of making a move.
- Place more importance on knowing someone at the organization they are considering joining.
- Negotiate less during the offer process.
- As the interview process begins, make sure the interview panel has an understanding of these differences and addresses them.
- Make sure top female and male leaders who act as your diversity champions are brought into the recruitment process and are on the interview panel.
- Train your interview panel to conduct structured interviews and to ask for demonstrable examples of leadership competencies to prevent bias.
- Sell the company’s or team’s culture and career path, moving away from ‘the way we work’ being one-size-fits-all; this will help you attract a more varied group of talent.
- Provide specific examples of successful female hires and promotions within your organization.
- Address flexible work options. Don’t wait for the candidate to ask.
- Discuss the percentage of travel and relocation requirements upfront. Addressing these early on and talking about how they can best be managed will avoid problems later in the process.
- Women shouldn’t be expected to change their communication style in order to convince you of their value. It is incumbent upon the organization to operate with requisite cultural intelligence to evaluate candidates of all genders and backgrounds without bias.
After a hire is made, continue to emphasize and live your message of diversity. Hold regular reviews of your hiring process to understand what works and what doesn’t. By tracking this process, you can focus on any issues and roadblocks and implement steps to correct them. That is when you will see results.
It is also important to be aware of your internal messaging to the rest of the organization when bringing on female talent, focusing on why this individual is best qualified for the job and not over emphasizing their gender.
Gender diversity hiring is successful when purpose and attention is paid to the process. Having a clear message, holding leadership and the hiring team accountable, addressing interview process bias and holding regular reviews with new hires will help your organization successfully build a culture of diversity.
This article was originally featured in Of Counsel, Volume 37, No. 2 - February 2018.