Boosting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Law Firm and Beyond
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Top Tips in Ten Minutes
Boosting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Law Firm and Beyond
Sangeeta Gandhi Shah, Brooks Kushman PC

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are of unquestionable importance across industries, including the legal profession. Use these tips to help effectuate sustainable change by infusing DEI into your firm culture.

Tip 1:  Clarify the business rationale for DEI
At the outset, firm leadership and staff should all have a clear understanding of the business rationale for DEI. From a market perspective, employees and clients are increasingly looking for firms that align with their desire for a more diverse and equitable workplace. Studies have repeatedly shown that organizations with a robust DEI culture see increased employee satisfaction, increased engagement, and reduced employee turnover. On the economic side, companies with more inclusive teams and policies regularly report increases in performance, problem-solving, and innovation. Educate everyone at your firm on how DEI initiatives will positively impact the firm’s culture and its bottom line.
Tip 2:  Track metrics to set clear goals
To know where your firm needs to improve, you must first know where you stand. Tracking diversity metrics will help your firm evaluate the success of your internal initiatives and set clear goals for the future. Organizations like the American Bar Association, Minority Corporate Counsel Association, State Bar of Michigan, and Diversity Lab have identified key metrics that can help get the ball rolling.
Tip 3:  Prioritize accountability
To drive change, it is important that your firm not only sets goals but identifies a person that is accountable for achieving them. A DEI leader defines a vision and works with others to ensure that incremental advances are made to achieve the desired goals. The leader then reports progress to firm management, and that progress gets reinforced throughout the firm. Sustained progress requires accountability.
Tip 4:  Communicate change
As with any desired organizational change, it is important to communicate new DEI initiatives and processes to all employees. Clear messaging helps employees know what is happening and what will be expected of them.
Tip 5:  Get buy-in and listen to concerns
For DEI to become part of the firm culture, it must be embraced firm wide. Regularly scheduled roundtables, training sessions, and exercises are invaluable. It’s also important to engage leadership in goal setting and as a sounding board for new initiatives so they can be catalysts for change. Be mindful that it’s not always going to be smooth sailing. There will always be detractors. It is important to address their concerns early on and understand their position. Invite them to join discussions and share their insights.
Tip 6:  Spread the responsibility
It is much easier to get people to buy in to new initiatives if they are part of the planning process, and DEI is no exception. Get people from across your organization involved, in particular those with varying perspectives. Engaging professionals from all racial, religious, geographic, and cultural backgrounds will bring important perspectives to the table.
Tip 7:  Bring in the experts
Third-party experts play a valuable role. An outside expert can help unlock candid feedback, guide programming, and offer fresh insights. Locally, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion offers some great programming options.
Tip 8:  Make a plan—and be ready to pivot
Once you have done the groundwork of communication, expectation setting, and research, your firm will be ready to develop a multipronged plan of action to increase diversity while providing an inclusive and equitable environment. Although the approach will vary, one thing holds true across all organizations—to effectuate sustained change, the action plan must embody all three facets of DEI. Without equity and inclusion, diversity becomes nothing more than a short-sighted numbers game.
Your DEI plan is going to be a living document. It must change in response to changing dynamics. Embrace the change. Adaptability and evolution are essential to a successful program. There is a lot of different advice out there about how to best develop DEI policies; your firm’s action plan should be tailored to reflect current realities.
Tip 9:  Get people excited about DEI
A multifaceted DEI plan offers something for everyone. Within the firm, equitable access to mentorship, sponsorship, and growth opportunities results in a more dynamic and enriching work environment where collaboration and innovation can thrive. In addition, DEI initiatives directed to community outreach and pipeline offer employees a means to pay it forward and enhance the communities they serve, leading to greater career fulfillment. In short, everyone benefits from a robust DEI program.
Over the last decade, my firm has strived to improve DEI internally, as well as throughout the legal profession and the communities we serve. We have implemented various initiatives to advance diversity while trying to provide all attorneys with meaningful opportunities for growth, advancement, client engagement, and leadership. Through trial and error, we have learned valuable lessons and are mindful of the work that remains to drive the needed change both within our firm and the larger industry. We hope these tips can help others accelerate their efforts.
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