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How Law Firms Can Move Beyond Diversity Plan Hype
By Caren Ulrich Stacy — Originally published by Law.com and The American Lawyer, December 6, 2016 —
Law firms and companies never miss an opportunity to issue a press release about their newest and glossiest plan designed to boost diversity and inclusion.
A quick search on Google reveals more than three dozen of these announcements in the last two years. O’Melveny Myers, for example, unveiled its partnership with “ParentWings” to give parents access to one-on-one advice and counseling from parenting experts. Winston & Strawn, Orrick, and Deloitte proudly publicized their expanded gender-neutral family leave policies, which range in length from 16 to 22 weeks. Pinterest announced that it was implementing a “Rooney Rule” policy, which requires that at least one minority candidate and one female candidate be considered for all leadership positions. Latham and Accenture publicized that they would now pay to ship breast milk for employees when they travel for work. Clifford Chance said it is conducting blind interviews to minimize unconscious bias in the hiring process. And, recently, 29 companies, including Target, Visa, Apple and GM, committed to equal pay for women.
These announcements are typically met with a flood of praise and excitement. Major news outlets rush to publish a story. The social media buzz takes flight across industry sectors and countries as thousands of people share the news on Twitter and LinkedIn.
This initial fanfare is certainly warranted. These organizations are working hard to tackle a long-standing talent challenge—the lack of diversity—armed with good intentions and a plan. They should get credit for trying something new because the status quo is not working. In the law firm world, despite several decades of gender equity in incoming classes of new lawyers, equity partnership is still stuck at only 16 percent women. Instead of talking about the lack of diversity or signing a symbolic pledge, these organizations are taking real action. Their experimentation and innovation should be applauded.
But what happens next? Are these plans and policies moving the needle or are they just really great publicity opportunities? Apparently, only these organizations know the answer. Secondary announcements with any mention of progress are as scarce as white alligators. Another quick Google search to follow up on these initiatives only turned up four instances where results or any news of progress was mentioned.
Patagonia, for instance, initially announced that it was setting up subsidized on-site child care for employees more than a decade ago to help retain women after maternity leave. Since then, numerous articles and blogs have reported its progress and outcomes, including a 25% reduction in attrition of employees with kids and a 100% retention of women returning after maternity leave. The company’s leadership has continuously tracked the outcomes and chosen to be incredibly transparent about the results.
As another example, Salesforce’s CEO announced that the company was undertaking a pay-gap analysis and committing to fixing any issues it uncovered. Several months later, the company’s leadership publicly talked about its progress. And a year later, the leaders reported their findings and how much they spent to fix it. (Spoiler alert: About 1,000 employees (6%) required a salary adjustment, and Salesforce spent $3 million to close the pay gap.)
Orrick organized the first-ever Veterans’ Legal Career Fair to tap nontraditional sources of diverse talent. It ran the inaugural career fair in 2015, conducted a second one in 2016, and is planning a third for 2017 in collaboration with Shearman & Sterling, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, ALM, and the American Legion. Orrick and the other participating organizations have talked openly about the results, including the successes and the challenges, and posted progress updates on Orrick’s website.
And lastly, in one of the biggest announcements of late, Intel’s CEO said that the company was committing $3 million to diversity efforts. He stated that one of Intel’s goals is “full representation of women and underrepresented minorities in the company’s U.S. workforce by 2020, including more diversity across senior leadership positions.” Since the announcement, Intel’s leaders have issued detailed updates and reporters have written numerous articles about Intel’s progress, including the missteps and lessons learned.
What compelled these four organizations to talk openly about their results versus the 30 others in the last year or two that didn’t do so? Maybe the leaders had built ongoing transparency into the plan from the beginning. Maybe the heightened public attention placed pressure on the leaders to issue updates. Or maybe a few really good reporters made it part of their job to follow up. No matter why, the fact remains that these companies’ leaders made a conscious decision to be boldly transparent.
On the flip side, though, why didn’t the remaining 30-plus organizations issue follow-up announcements to broadcast their progress? Based on my past experience having served as the head of talent for two decades at several of the world’s top law firms, I suspect there are two reasons: first, a failure to analyze the initiative’s results in a meaningful way; or second, the initiative launched, but died out slowly and quietly due to insufficient cultural support and/or resources. In either scenario, these organizations have nothing to report.
The problem with the lack of measurement is obvious. While they have good intentions, these organizations are spending an incredible amount of time and money designing and implementing diversity plans without a cost-benefit analysis. And without tracking or analyzing the outcomes, they likely only know subjectively, not objectively, if the policy or plan is succeeding. Wise leaders don’t typically issue outcome reports based on what they “think” has occurred.
The other underlying problem with the scarcity of follow-up announcements is that we are not learning from one another’s triumphs and missteps. “Knowledge sharing” as a community could allow us to collectively solve the diversity challenge with greater speed and clarity. This may be a somewhat controversial suggestion since these organizations are striving for a competitive advantage by working on and achieving diversity goals in isolation. But Patagonia, Salesforce, Orrick and Intel shared their results and didn’t lose their advantage. In fact, they may have gained one because they not only achieved tangible results but they were able to keep the publicity machine going long after the first announcement.
The call to action for all organizations that roll out new diversity initiatives and policies is this: Set short- and long-term goals, internally measure your progress, and publicly report your findings on an ongoing basis. Your organization will benefit from the analysis and the continuous publicity. Reporting your diversity initiative successes and any stumbles—no matter how minor—will allow all of us as a collective and interconnected community across a wide array of industries and geographies to benefit from a robust knowledge exchange.
When you create and announce your next new diversity initiative, please make “measure and share” part of the plan. You will know in no uncertain terms if you are moving the needle and gain a tremendous amount of publicity, while also benefiting the greater community.
About the Author
Caren Ulrich Stacy is the founder of Diversity Lab. Data, behavioral science, and design thinking are at the core of everything the Lab does. We measure everything we do and share the results in hopes that everyone will benefit from the knowledge. www.DiversityLab.com