5 Ways to Build a Strong Framework for a Diverse & Inclusive Workplace

Topics: Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Whether you’re just starting to build a framework for a more diverse and inclusive work force, or trying to bring new energy and relevance to a longstanding program, you don’t want to leave success to chance. With a few strategic steps, careful planning and buy-in from the top, however, your company or law firm can fashion a diversity program that does more than pay lip service to the concept.

Here’s one suggested pathway:

Take the Temperature

The first step in starting or enhancing a diversity and inclusion program is taking the temperature — figuring out where your company or law firm is on its diversity and inclusion journey and then deciding where you want to be. This is often done by creating a Needs Assessment or Climate/Engagement Survey, an instrument that can be administered electronically and confidentially. The survey asks vital questions of the key stakeholders in your organization, ranging from cultural questions (e.g., Do people respect each other?) to questions covering the major components of your business, such as recruitment, hiring, engagement, promotion, marketing and professional development/training opportunities.

Get Buy-in

Don’t just do a survey and stop. You will lose credibility and trust. Analyze the survey results, prepare an overview/summary of the results, and then begin the process of communicating and presenting those results to key constituents. Seek their input in creatively and effectively addressing the issues and reinforcing the strengths that arise in the survey. Ensure that there is a budget for diversity and inclusion initiatives separate and apart from any other budget or department. This will be necessary for future planning purposes as noted in the next step.

Plot a Path Forward

Treat diversity and inclusion as an important strategic imperative. Many diversity and inclusion initiatives lose credibility when the focus is on activities (e.g., planning parties, cookbooks, or speakers to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Black History Month, etc.) instead of on where it should be — impact. Leaders in law firms and companies are demanding that initiatives impact the career outcomes of their diverse lawyers and help the law firm or company achieve competitive advantage. This is especially the case because law firms and companies are operating at a time of unprecedented change and challenge within their industries and in the overall global marketplace.

With that in mind, take a look at your company’s current strategic plan and whether or not it addresses diversity and inclusion. Decide what is missing or needs to be enhanced and then, based on the results of Needs Assessment/Climate Survey, outline at least five critical areas that should be addressed. Each area should have measurable goals and detailed action steps to achieve their goals. More important, each goal should identify a specific department or committee in the company who is willing to spearhead the implementation process within a given timeline. At the end of the year or before the next budget cycle, carefully evaluate whether each strategic area has achieved the outlined goal by focusing on “impact” metrics vs. “activity” metrics.

Reinforce the Troops

Ensure that you have the right people at the helm. A diversity and inclusion initiative cannot be a stand-alone program that is merely promoted by the minorities or women in your company. In order to be successful, it must be interwoven into your company’s fabric. Additionally, designating an individual within the company who reports directly to the CEO to spearhead and coordinate the initiatives (a Chief Diversity and/or Talent Officer) is often vital. This person can help to develop a strong company-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee and designate task forces and/or subcommittees as well as employee resource groups to tackle the critical areas identified in the strategic plan.

At my firm, Ogletree Deakins, we have combined the diversity and inclusion function with the professional development function. In my role as the Director of Professional Development and Inclusion, I report directly to the Managing Shareholder and oversee the activities of both the Diversity and Inclusion and Professional Development Steering Committees. We’ve found that by eliminating the traditional silos of D&I and Talent Management, we’ve created a greater return on investment for both our diverse attorneys and firm leadership.

Finally, your company’s CEO or law firm leader must not only be passionate about this, but must be willing to be a vocal advocate and help enlist the support of key constituents. The leader’s advocacy will be instrumental in bringing others along, especially middle managers who will have to implement the new initiatives that spring forward as a result of the Needs Assessment/Climate Survey.

Promote the Good

Market your successes both internally and externally. Create a strong, vibrant diversity page on your company’s website that communicates your commitment and how you measure your success. Highlight employees who promote an inclusive work environment on your Intranet/Internet site, via a company newsletter, or even through staff-recognition awards. Provide blogging opportunities for your company’s employees on diversity and inclusion. Support your industry’s diversity and inclusion efforts by sponsoring local, regional, or national events and initiatives designed to increase and promote diversity and inclusion. Send your top performers to these events for networking, training and development purposes. Partner with your clients (e.g., supplier diversity efforts) to both understand their diversity challenges and share best practices.

Using this five step process as a framework, a law firm or company should be able to begin to foster a more diverse and inclusive work force, or revive and revamp a possibly stale program. This would also allow planners to fashion a diversity program that is both vibrant and vital and contributes to the firm’s or company’s success in addressing these issues.