WHITE PAPER: The Facts About Diversity and Inclusion in Your Legal Department

This article was a Whitepaper published in 2021, click here to find our latest whitepapers.

As Canada has continued its efforts to create more inclusive workplaces in recent years, the concept of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has become a popular trend across all industries.

In December 2020, the Government of Canada launched the 50-30 Challenge, an initiative that asks all Canadian companies to commit to achieving gender parity (50%) and significant representation (30%) of other under-represented groups on corporate boards and within senior management.

Announcing the challenge, François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry commented: “We know that our economy and society cannot fully succeed if some of us are being left behind. We’ve made progress on improving equity and inclusion overall, but more needs to be done to ensure that leadership in Canada is representative of everyone who lives and works in Canada.

It remains to be seen whether the legal profession will hit the 50/30 target. Traditionally, the sector has been slow to adopt D&I, with barely 30% of legal departments tracking their internal diversity. However, a survey from the Association of Corporate Counsel shows that there is a desire for change, with 73% of Chief Legal Officers (CLOs) saying they intend to accelerate their focus on D&I.

Momentum is building, but without the right tools and approach, D&I initiatives risk becoming a futile and superficial exercise. Corporate counsel have an opportunity to model leadership by embedding D&I not just into their departments but into their organizations’ wider governance goals.

Getting D&I right

Make a plan

For D&I efforts to gain traction, there must be a coherent structure to a policy from the outset. A solid first step is to establish a diversity committee to develop departmental policy and then communicate it to all legal staff.

The plan should make room not just for value-based KPIs but also “soft” initiatives, such as mentorship opportunities, internships, and outreach programs in the community. Legal counsel should think outside the boundaries of their own departments to increase diversity not just in their own corporate sphere but throughout the profession – offering entry points to diverse graduates and/or students.

Focus on results, not box-ticking

Too many employers approach D&I with a quota mindset. This mentality isn’t just unhelpful, it’s condescending to your new staff who want to be hired on their merits, not their ethnicity or gender.

Building your legal department isn’t a box-ticking exercise. Be careful to select diverse hires who can make a meaningful contribution to the legal team and create an inclusive environment where you can track their individual progress in a supportive and empathetic manner. Use data as a guide, creating realistic metrics that give a clear picture of how D&I is impacting the department’s overall performance.

Beware of vanity metrics

When tracking D&I within your legal department, beware of focusing on vanity numbers – data that generates feel-good reports but doesn’t actually relate to performance, goals, or KPI targets.

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) has developed a ‘Maturity Model’, which legal departments can use to set useful and sustainable D&I benchmarks. The model was developed by the ACC in collaboration with D&I leaders from both the legal and business communities and sets out a roadmap for organizational goals. Categories include:

  • Governance and resourcing
  • Recruitment
  • Talent development and retention
  • Succession planning
  • Goal-setting
  • Community engagement

ACC Maturity Model is further divided into helpful tiers, covering early, intermediate, and advanced levels, so there’s guidance on what to measure at every stage.

Early – This urges departments to set clearly defined metrics from the outset and develop a ‘data collection plan’ that includes both departmental processes and systems. Don’t overlook data protection and security when compiling your plan – safeguarding employee personal information should always be a high priority, especially given recent concerns over cybersecurity. Buy-in

Intermediate – At the intermediate stage, departments should have already established their baseline data and be looking to clarify their KPIs and targets. This is when analytics become crucial – giving D&I leaders an opportunity to visibly track their progress in real-time. Quarterly or biannual reports can then be issued using these numbers.

Advanced – Advanced D&I initiatives require a more structured environment, according to the ACC, which recommends using an integrated dashboard or other platform to track trends and compile individual scorecards. At this level, D&I data can be used in departmental evaluations to recognize and reward top-achievers or motivate those who need to do more. It can also be extended to a company’s global entities, ensuring data collection across all subsidiaries.

Identify areas of improvement

Once you’re tracking the results of your D&I initiatives, you then have valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t.

These analytics can be used to identify gaps in hiring, performance reviews, employee engagement, and more. Use your numbers to look for opportunities to improve and refine D&I policies.

Dont overlook the I in D&I

Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected, and supported. Workplace inclusion means creating an environment that accepts each individual’s differences, embraces their strengths, and provides opportunities for all people in the workplace to achieve their full potential.”

-The Law Society of Ontario

A lot of organizations prioritize diversity and forget that there’s a second aspect to the concept.

Inclusion matters too. It shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought when crafting counsel policy. Inclusivity can be easily improved in legal departments through simple steps like increasing employee engagement, inviting regular feedback, and adopting a more flexible approach to the ways in which teams work.

For example, a staff member may need to take time off for a religious holiday, or an employee with a disability may need extra accommodation. These issues should be resolved quickly and considerately. 

The Harvard Business Review suggests three steps to creating a more inclusive work environment:

  1. Survey assessments

You may have employee engagement surveys already in place, but are these really honing in on who your employees are? Surveys that include criteria such as gender, ethnicity, geography, and role in the organization can help create a clearer picture of your department’s demographics and pave the way for more inclusive employee engagement strategies.

  1. Focus groups

Focus groups give employees a chance to air their concerns and be heard. This is when longstanding complaints can be resolved, and corporate counsel can gain insight into employee needs. Focus groups should be led by independent third parties or D&I professionals to ensure feedback can be shared in a neutral and supportive space.

  1. One-on-one assessments

For a more personal approach, department heads should be ready to open their doors to individual consultations. Some staff members may feel more comfortable talking directly to their managers rather than sharing in a group. These types of discussions can also be a helpful way for senior counsel to show more junior employees they’re supportive and trustworthy. By mutually sharing experiences between different levels of staff, legal departments can increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and inclusion.

Think beyond your legal department

Legal departments don’t work in silos. Corporate counsel often have to engage external partners or entities. When these situations arise, be sure to communicate your D&I expectations, and use these as a benchmark when selecting outside counsel.

Only 16% of in-house legal teams make diversity one of their top three considerations when selecting outside counsel, according to Priori’s 2021 Legal Departments Survey. In-house counsel tended to focus more on metrics such as expertise, cost, personal relationships, and firm reputation.

Improved productivity and performance

Studies show that taking a D&I-focused approach makes teams more innovative, with better decision-making that, in turn, translates to improved financial performance.

When communicating the legal department’s D&I strategy to other departments, stress the productivity benefits to ensure senior executives are motivated to model D&I elsewhere in the organization. It can also be helpful to put these policies in context, aligning them with ESG governance objectives.

DiliTrust’s Governance suite helps legal departments communicate and collaborate with boards via the integrated Board Portal. This intuitive interface brings all board documentation together in a single, secure hub. Available as a standalone module, the Board Portal also integrates with DiliTrust’s Entities, Contracts, and Litigation Management platforms, so legal departments can enjoy seamless workflows and complete visibility into all their operations. Contact us today for more information or to schedule a demonstration.