A CASE STUDY ON IMPLEMENTING A DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION STRATEGY IN A BUSINESS LAW FIRM

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Oluwabusayo Ayinde

 

 

 

 

Oluwabusayo Ayinde1

  1. INTRODUCTION

Although diversity and inclusion are interrelated concepts, each is a distinct concept on its own and must be addressed individually. Diversity refers to the existence and representation of the variations of characteristics, backgrounds, types and beliefs of people in a workplace. Diversity can relate to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religion, culture, sexual orientation, thinking style, geographic origin, family status, lifestyle, economic status, political orientation, work experience, education, language, nationality, beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, feelings, values and group norms.2 Inclusion is actively making people feel valued and respected for who they are in the workplace.

It is applaudable that a good number of business law firms have commenced the integration of diversity and inclusion strategies in their firm policies, vision and mission.3 Nevertheless, it is imperative that every law firm actively participates in and promotes diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This case study focuses on common diversity and inclusion strategies, and best practices that a business law firm can implement. It will further outline likely limitations and challenges that a business law firm may face along the way and recommends solutions on how to address these challenges. Business law firms must be proactive in their pursuit of positive change in the workplace and must remain accountable during the implementation process.

This case study makes use of qualitative research using survey reports on diversity and inclusion initiatives, progress, strategies and policies in law firms in some European and African countries.

  1. IBA RESEARCH & CASE STUDY
    1. 1 IBA European Regional Forum Diversity & Inclusion Survey Report

The International Bar Association (IBA) European Regional Forum’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Party released a Diversity & Inclusion Survey report on 13th January 2022.4 The survey evaluated European law firms’ practices and policies concerning active engagement in diversity and inclusion. Over a hundred law firms participated in the survey. The survey report revealed inter alia that:

    1. law firms associate diversity and inclusion mainly with issues of gender;
    2. gender diversity is ranked as the topic that received the most focus relative to race diversity, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation, while religious orientation scored the lowest;
    3. the majority of law firms do not have a dedicated person responsible for diversity and inclusion issues;
    4. the majority of law firms do not have an internal policy on diversity and inclusion, but claim that they apply diversity and inclusion principles in practice; and
    5. the majority of law firms expressed a desire to address diversity and inclusion principles to become better law firms and deliver better services to clients.

This demonstrates that many law firms are cognizant of diversity and inclusion issues and are intentional about internalising diversity and inclusion policies in pursuit of growth and development and improving client satisfaction.

      1. 2 Nigeria’s Report from a Longitudinal Study into Gender Disparity in Law

The IBA in collaboration with the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation (LNROLF) launched a project titled ‘50:50 by 2030: A longitudinal study into gender disparity in law’ in March 2021. Surveys were conducted in Nigeria, Uganda, Spain, England and Wales. Nigeria’s survey report revealed that:5

      1. Only 40 per cent of the corporate sector of the legal profession monitors gender balance within senior roles.
      2. Part-time work is not a common option available to legal practitioners in the legal profession.
      3. The majority of law firms that monitor gender balance in their workplace do so by employing the following initiatives: flexible working arrangements, coaching and mentoring, leadership training for women, target setting, unconscious bias training, quota setting, etc.
      4. African countries, namely Uganda and Nigeria, are yet to achieve the 50 per cent threshold for gender representation concerning total percentage of female lawyers across the jurisdiction.
      5. In Spain, England and Wales, this threshold of female lawyers has reached, forty-nine and forty per cent, respectively.

This demonstrates the need for further initiatives and innovation regarding diversity and inclusion, particularly the implementation of appropriate strategies by business law firms.

      1. 3 Case Study – A Top Tier Business Law Firm in Nigeria

In April 2023, the author conducted a diversity and inclusion survey in a business law firm in Nigeria. The survey comprised the following questions:

      1. How do you define diversity and inclusion?
      2. Do you have an internal policy and strategy for diversity and inclusion? If yes, what is it?
      3. How diverse is your management team?
      4. How do you implement the firm’s diversity and inclusion policy and strategy?
      5. Do you have a designated person tasked with handling diversity and inclusion issues?
      6. How effective are the firm’s initiatives on diversity and inclusion?
      7. What challenges does the firm face with regards to implementing diversity and inclusion policy and strategy?

The survey revealed the following facts:

      1. The target law firm associates diversity and inclusion mainly with issues of gender, religion, age and ethnicity;
      2. The firm is fairly aware of diversity and inclusion issues;
      3. The firm is fairly diverse and inclusive in terms of gender, age, religion and ethnicity;
      4. The human resources officer is the designated person responsible for diversity and inclusion issues;
      5. The firm’s internal policy on diversity and inclusion is more focused on sexual harassment and creating a safe space for employees;
      6. The firm is more traditional and conservative than progressive;
      7. The firm implements its diversity and inclusion strategy through its recruitment process, performance evaluation & management and career progression;
      8. The firm’s management team has a 2:4 ratio of women to men: and
      9. The major challenges the firm faces in implementing diversity and inclusion strategies are; culture clash, balancing diversity hire and hire based on merit, organising all-inclusive events/activities and achieving a diversity balance.
      1. HOW A BUSINESS LAW FIRM CAN IMPLEMENT A DIVERSITY AND

INCLUSION STRATEGY

A business law firm can implement a diversity and inclusion strategy by doing the following things:

      1. 3.1 Identifying resources available that would be useful tools in achieving diversity and inclusion. Some examples of these resources include:
      1. human resources (HR) (skills and knowledge, experiences and opinions of employees),
      2. fiscal resources,
      3. technology such as HR software programs, tools that use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to make better diversity and inclusion hiring decisions,
      4. social media,
      5. information technology, and
      6. other online resources such as LinkedIn’s inclusive language for marketers’ pocket guideand Google’s inclusive marketing toolkit7 which contains how to incorporate inclusivity into the firm’s marketing, hiring, and company culture as well as in-depth information about several marginalised groups.
      1. 2 Effectively utilising and managing available resources: This can be achieved by devoting human resource efforts, allocated budget, and other aforementioned resources to managing diversity and inclusion efforts.
      1. 3 Building a diverse management team: This entails embedding diversity and inclusion in the leadership of the business law firm, such that the management team would be a role model for the rest of the organisation.
      1. 4 Creating diversity-friendly and inclusive workplace policies, setting goals and a system of accountability for change: This involves incorporating these policies into everyday practice and establishing a system which focuses on identifying bias and discrimination in the workplace and addressing it accordingly. It is also important to designate an expert or someone well-informed about diversity and inclusion in the workplace as a liaison whom employees can approach to ask questions and seek guidance on how to welcome and encourage diversity and inclusion as individuals in the firm.
      1. 5 Designing a diversity-friendly and inclusive recruiting, hiring, onboarding, promotion, and executive succession process.8 This involves changing recruitment strategies to attract a more diverse pool of candidates. Also, implementing fair and unbiased hiring practices is crucial. This can involve using blind resume screening, structured interviews, and training hiring managers to recognize and avoid biases.
      1. 6 Setting up inclusion and diversity training: The training(s) should be in the form of continuous education aimed at promoting the understanding of employees on diversity and inclusion, setting standards to be met by individuals concerning diverse and inclusive behaviour and how to address unacceptable conducts (bias and discrimination).
      1. 7 Determining initiatives that the business law firm should undertake:9 The firm should meet regularly to discuss the success or failure of existing policies to ascertain improvement strategies.
      1. 8 Prioritising inclusion processes and policies: The organization should keep abreast of emerging trends and revisit existing policies to adjust them in line with emerging diversity and inclusion trends.
        1. 9 Building an effective communication system: Communication is a two-way street. As the firm communicates its diversity and inclusion policies and strategy to its employees, it should also welcome and encourage candid feedback from them.
      1. DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION STRATEGIES AND COMMON BEST PRACTICES10

    Here are examples of diversity and inclusion strategies and common best practices that a business law firm can adopt for successful implementation:

    1. Developing strong anti-discrimination policies;11
    2. Conducting diversity and inclusion surveys to assess the firm’s policies and improve on initiatives;
    3. Embedding diversity and inclusion as a core value of the organisation;12
    4. Encouraging cultural celebrations;13
    5. Organising activities that celebrate employee differences;
    6. Celebrating different holidays and identities;
    7. Adopting the use of inclusive language;14
    8. Demonstrating company-wide support starting from the management;
    9. Embracing remote and hybrid work options;
    10. Diversifying recruitment and interview process;
    11. Diversifying talent pipeline;
    12. Initiating conversations about biases;
    13. Improving the onboarding process;
    14. Improving knowledge sharing in the workplace;
    15. Incorporating gender-neutral pronouns or identifying preferred pronouns on work name badges; and
    16. Adopting flexible business models that accommodate a wide variety of individuals and career goals.
    1. LIMITATIONS AND CHALLENGES TO DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION STRATEGIES IN A BUSINESS LAW FIRM15

These are likely limitations and challenges that a business law firm may face in the course of implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy:

  1. Communication barriers:16Diversity comes with different communication styles and preferences. An example is the generational difference in communication preferences. Younger generations are known to prefer texts over calls while the older generation is known to prefer calls or face-to-face meetings. Another example is the struggle to understand a foreign accent.
  2. Cultural misunderstandings:Culture-related conflicts may arise in a culturally diverse workplace.
  3. Slower decision making:17Diverse people mean diverse opinions which result in longer discussions and possible delays in decision making.
  4. Inequitable inclusion/diversity balance:Some diversity groups and minorities may be underrepresented and less included than others.
  5. Scope of diversity:The scope of diversity is so broad that business law firms may find it difficult to keep up with the scope. Firms’ policies tend to be more focused on gender and race diversity.
  6. Structural barriers and traditional thinking:This refers to existing policies, practices and other norms that perpetuate unconscious bias as inherent mindsets of people which are difficult to change. Bias such as confirmation bias (paying more attention to the things that confirm what you already think), attribution bias (trusting people you know more than those you do not know), affinity bias (gravitating towards those who are more like you) and availability bias (relying on easily accessible information to make quick decisions).
  7. Inconsistent feedback from employees:Employees may be reluctant to give feedback for several reasons such as fear of reproach.18
  1. RECOMMENDATIONS

As recommended by the global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Ceridian, Donnebra McClendon and some other authors, the following are recommended for a successful implementation of a diversity and inclusion strategy in a business law firm:

  1. Expanding recruitment practices and strategies to be more inclusive and attractive to individuals with different traits by balancing the fit with the company’s culture while also considering diversity, not just focusing on obvious differences.20
  2. Creating an internal communication channel devoted to the topic of diversity and inclusion.
  3. Welcoming and encouraging employee feedback by creating a system for regular, unbiased, and prompt feedback and evaluation from employees, preferably after each task or assignment. Continuous feedback provides management with information about how well their plans and efforts are working and can help identify areas that require enhancement..
  4. Motivating minority individuals to provide their input by offering positive rewards or recognition.
  5. Training of recruiters on unconscious bias.
  6. Appointing a specific employee to take charge of the diversity and inclusion effort and ensuring that everyone in the organization is held accountable, regardless of their position.
  7. Establishing a diversity and inclusion committee dedicated to formulating policies and creating initiatives. The committee should have a mix of people from various backgrounds, including different genders, races, ages, and departments within the organisation.
  8. Providing internships and scholarships to individuals who belong to groups that are not typically well-represented.
  9. Conducting regular diversity and inclusion surveys to assess the effectiveness and success of the organisation’s diversity and inclusion strategy.
  10. Evaluating the present-day culture of the organisation, as well as trends in the organisation’s partnership ranks, hiring practices, attrition rates, and work schedules.
  11. Organising events such as seminars centered on diversity and inclusion.
  12. Publishing annual reports on the firm’s diversity and inclusion strategies, policies and initiatives.
  13. Making diversity and inclusion the brand of the firm.
  14. Observing collaborative practices and communication techniques based on cooperation will meet the interests of all parties involved.21
  15. Rewarding innovation and significant progress in diversity and inclusion with recognition awards to incentivise other law firms.
  16. Increasing minorities and underrepresented diversity groups’ access to social capital by discovering and organising activities that people enjoy doing together.
  17. Forming employee resource groups (ERGs) and ensuring that they are inclusive.
  18. Creating programs where experienced individuals support and guide underrepresented individuals (sponsorship and mentorship programs).22
  19. Having open discussions with firm employees on what is being done and why, thereby including them in the conversation and initiatives.
  20. Joining organisations focused on diversity and inclusion. This is an opportunity to keep up with emerging trends.
  21. Reviewing the firm’s ‘careers’ and ‘about us’ webpages and making improvements where necessary.
  22. Showing the company’s dedication to diversity and inclusivity on its career site and adding a mention of it in every job description.23
  23. Using the firm’s social media platforms to promote diversity and inclusion.
  24. Celebrating milestones and successes. This is a good way to keep track of progress and build morale.
  1. CONCLUSION

Overall, for a successful implementation of a diversity and inclusion strategy, persistent, adequate and effective communication within the business law firm which propels an increased understanding and active participation of employees is essential. The workplace can be structured to create and promote mutual understanding amongst diverse persons through the exercise of tools such as meetings and workshops to disperse relevant information and discuss emerging diversity and inclusion topics. A combination of determination, innovation, vision, values and allocated resources is also necessary for breakthrough and continuous growth. The diversity and inclusion strategy of a business law firm needs to be fully endorsed by its management and embedded into the law firm’s core values, vision and mission and applied in everyday activities and interactions.


___________________________
For further information on this article and area of law,
Please contact Oluwabusayo Ayinde at:
P. A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos by
Telephone (+234 1 472 9890), Fax (+234 1 4605092)
Mobile (+234. 09066704611)
Email:oayinde@spaajibade.com
www.spaajibade.com


Reference

    1. Oluwabusayo Ayinde, Associate, Real State & Succession, SPA Ajibade & Co, Lagos, Nigeria.
    2. Krithi and Ramesh Pai, ‘Diversity and Inclusion: Key to Improve Productivity – A Case Study on WIPRO’ (2020) 4(2) International Journal of Case Studies in Business, IT, and Education (IJCSBE) www.zenodo.org/record/3977553#.ZEK1KHbMLDc accessed 21 April 2023.
    3. Sacha Kirk, ‘Law Firm Diversity & Inclusion Metrics: A Necessity for Progress’ (Lexology, 26 April 2023) https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=2fa673c7-2bc1-4d19-8ca7-0d9838a9947b#:~:text=Law%20firms%2C%20in%20particular%2C%20have,metrics%20to%20measure%20their%20progress accessed 21 April 2023.
    4. Margareta Sovova and Antonia Verna, ‘IBA European Regional Forum Diversity and Inclusion Survey report: Building Active Engagement with Diversity and Inclusion’ (International Bar Association, 13 January 2022) www.ibanet.org/building-active-engagement-with-diversity-and-inclusion accessed 21 April 2023.
    5. International Bar Association, ‘Nigeria: New IBA report focused on gender disparity in the legal profession is published’ (International Bar Association, 12 April 2023) www.ibanet.org/Nigeria-New-IBA-report-focused-on-gender-disparity-in-the-legal-profession-is-published accessed 21 April 2023.
    6. LinkedIn Marketing Solution, ‘Inclusive Language for Marketers’ www.business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/content-marketing/inclusive-language-for-marketers-a-pocket-guide accessed 21 April 2023.
    7. Google, ‘Inclusive Marketing’ www.all-in.withgoogle.com accessed 21 April 2023.
    8. Aaron Brown, ’15 Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices for Bridging the D&I Gap’ (Quantum Workplace, 19 January 2021) www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/diversity-and-inclusion-best-practices accessed 21 April 2023.
    9. GlobeSmart, ‘Diversity Management: Prioritize Inclusion and Manage Diversity in the Workplace’ www.globesmart.com/blog/diversity-management-prioritize-inclusion-and-manage-diversity-in-the-workplace accessed 21 April 2023.
    10. Valene Jouany & Kristina Martic, ‘Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices to focus on in 2023’ (Haiilo, 1 January 2023) www.haiilo.com/blog/diversity-and-inclusion-best-practices-focus-on-in-2020 accessed 21 April 2023.
    11. Alex Larralde, ‘9 Effective Diversity and Inclusion Strategies’ (Betterworks, 11 November 2022) www.betterworks.com/magazine/diversity-and-inclusion-strategies accessed 21 April 2023.
    12. Ibid.
    13. Ibid.
    14. Ibid.
    15. Kallidus, ‘Top Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace’ www.kallidus.com/resources/blog/top-challenges-of-diversity-in-the-workplace accessed 21 April 2023.
    16. Rick Yvanovich, ‘5 Diversity and Inclusion Challenges in the Workplace and How to Overcome Them’ (7 August 2020) www.blog.trginternational.com/challenges-diversity-workplace-how-to-overcome?hs_amp=true accessed 21 April 2023.
    17. Fraser Dove, ‘Top Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace’ (Fraser Dove, 16 December 2019) www.fraserdove.com/challenges-of-diversity-in-the-workplace accessed 21 April 2023.
    18. Alexandra DeFelice, ‘Solutions to 4 Common Law Firm Diversity Challenges’ (Lexology, 26 February 2020) www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=a605868f-91c0-43b9-bc90-5a9adab23de5 accessed 21 April 2023.
    19. Donnebra McClendon, ‘How to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace’ (Ceridian, 21 June 2022) www.ceridian.com/blog/support-diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-workplace accessed 21 April 2023.
    20. Aperian Global, ‘How to Make Inclusion Stick’ www.aperianglobal.com/embedding-inclusion-how-to-make-inclusion-stick accessed 21 April 2023.
    21. Giorgio Bovenzi, Claudia Bruscaglioni, Philippe Tardif and Monique Mavignier, ‘Diversity session – 37th International Financial Law Conference’ (International Bar Association, 10 November 2022)www.ibanet.org/diversity-session-37th-international-financial-law-conference-2022 accessed 21 April 2023.
    22. See n 7 above.
    23. Anja Zojceska, ‘How to Build, Manage and Promote Workplace Diversity?’ (TalentLyft, December 2018) www.talentlyft.com/en/blog/article/246/how-to-build-manage-and-promote-workplace-diversity accessed 21 April, 2023.

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