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Where Is Diversity in the New Normal?

Posted by C. Dominica McGinnis and Chris W. Kirby, JD on May 19, 2020 9:45:44 AM

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By C. Dominica McGinnis and Chris W. Kirby, JD, BridgeField Group

For a variety of reasons, diverse professionals are often firms’ most vulnerable members. Challenges experienced in firms are frequently felt by the diverse “first and worst.” Over the past few weeks, the legal industry shed 64,000 jobs with more cuts anticipated. How do diversity stakeholders — those concerned with or involved in firm diversity and inclusion efforts (marketers, diverse professionals, recruiters, diversity committees, allies, HR professionals, firm leaders, etc.) — keep the firm focused on driving diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals as a strategic imperative when so many other priorities are demanding attention right now?

Let’s be clear. Everyone can impact firm culture, and at its core, inclusion efforts are about providing resources and creating an environment that works for everyone. That said, marketers have a special role in D&I efforts and are able to speak to the strategic impact of diverse teams, influence internal communication and directly structure the firm’s image in the marketplace.

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"Marketers have a special role in D&I efforts and are able to speak to the strategic impact of diverse teams."

Show Me the Money Again

With many firms cutting programs, furloughing staff and reducing attorney pay, it’s no surprise that shareholders might be tempted to defer diversity initiatives. When coaching attorneys to grow their practice, one of the areas we help them improve is showing their value. We encourage them to keep a “Quick Wins List” of achievements large and small that they have accomplished. Likewise, if marketers want firm leaders to remember why diversity is important, we must be able to point to concrete instances where having or lacking a diverse team and an inclusive culture impacted the bottom line.

Come armed with data such as:

  • The number of RFPs and contracts that request diversity statistics
  • The number of diverse clients the firm currently serves
  • How many diverse personnel the firm has
  • The number of diverse personnel the firm has lost
  • What relationships or markets could be strengthened by a diverse bench
  • The overall morale of the firm
  • How much money the firm will save or the ROI from continuing to drive an inclusive culture

We all should want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, but the reality is revenue is a part of and critical to firm success. It’s a necessary evil, but marketers can help leaders see the immediate financial and strategic impact of initiatives that drive inclusion.

You Cannot Over-Communicate

When developing emerging leaders to help them learn to lead and effectively manage change, one of the things we can never seem to say enough is, “You cannot over-communicate.” Marketers can use their unique grasp of messaging to help shape the firm’s internal communication.

Most lawyers haven’t been formally trained in leadership. Therefore, they often underestimate the internal marketing campaign that must accompany strategic initiatives. Marketers can help leaders communicate the story. Why is diversity and inclusion important to our firm? How does it support our mission? How does it reflect our values? Why now? Marketing is critical in aligning the internal message, disseminating it broadly throughout the firm, gaining support, and driving momentum. You cannot over-communicate.

Don’t Just Change Perception — Change Reality

Marketers are often called upon to change perception, but we are critical to the process of helping firms change reality. Christine Harris, LMA board member and director of marketing at Kane Russell Logan Coleman PC, shares, “As we know, now is not the time to become lax in the efforts we have and are working so hard to change. Perception is reality, and I know others are paying attention to how firms operate during challenging times.”

When firms achieve a modicum of progress in diversity, there’s often a desire for leadership to want it proclaimed loud for all to hear. The firm should be proud — after all, culture change is hard, and it requires investing time and resources. One of the most common areas we’re asked to help marketers navigate is balancing leadership’s desire to promote firm diversity wins early and often with the knowledge and reality of how much more there is to accomplish. Marketers should be sensitive to the needs and feelings of diverse professionals so that they don’t feel like they are being exploited. That’s obvious. What isn’t as readily apparent is how to promote the firm’s progress without further injuring diverse members of your team.

It begins with a candid conversation. Express that you realize there is still much room for improvement, and you want to ensure this is handled well. Whatever your goals, describe what you’re trying to accomplish (e.g. a platform that attracts a larger blend of your population, one that reflects the firm’s ongoing commitment to diversity, etc.) and how they can help. Diverse team members will appreciate that you seek to get it right and are including them in the process. However, don’t expect lawyers or other firm business professionals to instinctively grasp what they should call out. Ask for specific feedback and encourage candor. Do the content and images convey what’s intended? How does the material land on them? If you knew nothing else about the firm, what would you think based on the presentation?

The law firm space will continue to pivot and transition as we settle into the new normal. During this time of transition, firm decisions come under more scrutiny — not less. The firms with real commitment to improving D&I (i.e. those that invest in more than the cursory diversity initiative) will be positioned to win top talent, have a real story to share with clients and create a culture that will be hard to beat.  

Editor’s note: Dominica McGinnis and Chris Kirby presented an LMA webinar, Deliberate Diversity: Intentional Inclusion - A Marketer’s Internal Role in Diversity & Inclusion,” in March 2020. For more information, access the webinar recording here.

Driving professionals to do more and succeed, Dominica McGinnis and Chris Kirby lead BridgeField Group. Their team of coaches and consultants work with clients facing critical challenges in business development, leadership and firm culture. They help professionals at every stage of their career and work with firms of every size to implement strategies, align vision and culture, develop business, strengthen leadership and build inclusive high-performance teams.








Topics: Communications, change, Diversity, diversity & inclusion, office culture, COVID-19, Strategy

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