Talent management of women in law firms presents a unique challenge. Although women are graduating from law schools in equal or greater numbers than men, their presence in law firms has increased only slowly and had almost no impact on the number of women in leadership roles. Women are 50.3% of current law school graduates yet make up fewer than 35% of lawyers at law firms, according to Law360’s “2017 Glass Ceiling Report.”
As history and data show, change is hard. Companies have focused on diversity and inclusion efforts for more than 20 years with limited success, so you must be sure you’re committed to the changes you want to make and do your research before implementing programs.
That being said, there is no better time to begin improving your company than today. Here are some of the initiatives we’ve put in place or begun at Stark & Stark, which you can use a starting point:
Implement a women’s initiative. Stark & Stark has had a women’s initiative for our attorneys for over five years. It was developed to provide a formal method for our female attorneys across all practice groups to network together, cross-sell, and discuss potential business development opportunities. The attorneys also began a mentoring program to further the connection and advancement of female attorneys within the firm.
Make the case for better business. There is plenty of data out there supporting the fact that diverse organizations outperform their more homogenous competitors. In many work environments, it’s possible to make the case to improve a company’s diversity by hitting them where it counts: the bottom line. Many RFPs now include requests to see a business’s diversity statistics, as well as specific gender and working for the client. The math on this is pretty simple: No diversity = lost business = lost revenue.
Form a diversity and inclusion committee. Law firms face diversity and inclusion issues beyond gender. In some cases, your firm may be more willing to accept that they have issues to address with racial and ethnic minorities than they do gender issues. Whether or not that is the case, you should expand on the issue and form a D&I committee.
Through Stark & Stark’s D&I committee, we restarted our summer associate program and focused it on trying to recruit diverse candidates. The program was successful and showed that there are young, competent lawyers in the field with diverse backgrounds who are willing to join our team and grow.
Engage a D&I consultant. Issues of diversity and inclusion are tough, and discussing them can bring out a variety of reactions from employees. It can’t hurt to find a good consultant to guide you through your diversity and inclusion implementation, so that your firm is better equipped to train attorneys and staff to learn more about your own blind spots.
Change your recruiting strategies. Talent management of female attorneys is not just about the numbers and meeting the bare minimum statistics. However, you still need to actually hire female attorneys if you have any expectation of improving your firm’s diversity. This can be a struggle, as many law firms were built by hiring people already known to current attorneys. This approach, of course, leads to a homogenized mindset.
Stark & Stark opted to implement the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” by requiring shareholders to interview diverse candidates before making a hiring decision. We also centralized the recruiting process so that all applicants have to go through our centralized applicant tracking system. This has helped improve the diversity of the candidates we interview and those we hire.
Great challenges still exist for female attorneys working in law firms. Stark & Stark has taken steps to make our workforce more diverse and inclusive, but we have many tough decisions ahead. Because we are committed to attracting and retaining female and other diverse attorneys, we are prepared to make hard, but necessary and significant, changes to our culture to reach this goal.
Diverse work teams can deliver exceptional results. The leaders of such teams must know how to apply inclusive leadership practices.