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Getting Inclusive About Inclusion: A Talent Management Strategy
By Lisa Horowitz –
During the last ten years, law firms began focusing on firm-wide talent management (“TM”) as a driver of organizational performance. Simultaneously, firms also created diversity initiatives with their own separate leadership, activities and resources. While diversity initiatives have been and continue to be essential, unfortunately, when their efforts are undertaken separately from other firm-wide initiatives and are not integrated into the firm’s TM system, they are marginalized and under-resourced. The result is that the advancement of diversity and inclusion in law firms has stalled with law firms losing rather than leveraging all their potential talent.
While there is no one cause of this problem, it is apparent that this “siloed” approach to diversity and inclusion has not worked.
As we kick off 2015, now is a good time to consider a new strategy—one that gets inclusive about inclusion by leveraging the efforts of our diversity initiatives and intentionally embedding efforts to advance diversity and inclusion directly into our firms’ daily operations through key TM functions: talent development, talent deployment and performance management.
Set forth below are some tips on how each TM function can serve as a powerful platform for advancing (or delimiting) inclusiveness.
Building Inclusiveness Into Your Talent Development Function
Inclusiveness can be advanced through various attorney development activities including competencies, training, and career planning/advising/mentoring.
Competencies: Firm-wide and practice-specific competencies are the skills and behaviors determined by your firm to be necessary to succeed. They can serve as a foundation for training, career planning, mentoring, performance evaluations and compensation.
Articulating competencies clearly and making them readily available to all attorneys is critical to fostering inclusiveness. It allows all attorneys to know what skills and behaviors are needed to advance and helps eliminate the ambiguity, discretion, subjectivity and unintentional bias that accompanies systems without them and that impede the advancement of women and minorities.
In addition, inclusiveness can be fostered through the content of the competencies themselves. Requiring attorneys to demonstrate competencies that promote inclusiveness, such as effectively participating on and building diverse teams, communicating across differences and understanding/avoiding “unconscious bias” can go a long way to promoting inclusiveness.
Training: Training serves to advance inclusiveness both through its substance and as well as its delivery.
With respect to substance, adding programs to your firm’s training curriculum specifically relating to issues of diversity and inclusiveness is important. These programs can, at a minimum, create an awareness of the issues impeding inclusiveness as well as advance behavioral changes. Programs might include those relating to unconscious bias, effective communication, building and leading diverse teams and conducting performance evaluations.
Training related to diversity and inclusiveness has often been delegated to Women’s Initiatives and Diversity Committees to arrange and promote. Making these programs an integral part of the firm’s talent development curriculum sends an important message that inclusiveness is a priority and responsibility of the firm as a whole and driven by the firm as a whole and not solely its WI and diversity committees.
The manner in which training is delivered can further impact inclusiveness. Insuring that substantive programs are taught by male and female attorneys so that both are viewed as substantive experts and role models is a valuable way to promote and reinforce inclusion. Moreover, engaging the firm’s male attorneys in the delivery of diversity training and having them share the benefits of inclusiveness, their commitment to it, and their own experiences developing competencies related to advancing inclusiveness are effective means of enhancing the impact of the training.
Career Planning/Advising/Mentoring: Some law firms now require, as an element of their talent development activities, that every attorney have a written individual development plan. Where a firm has articulated competencies that foster inclusiveness, attorneys can look to these to design their plan, set goals and action steps, monitor progress and hold themselves accountable.
A career plan also serves as a vehicle for attorneys and career advisors/mentors to work together. Engaging and training men committed to diversity and inclusiveness to advise, mentor and sponsor women attorneys allows them to develop a better understanding of the challenges facing women and divefrse attorneys, provides more immediate access to important assignments and facilitates sponsorship . Engaging women as advisors and mentors to their male colleagues has also been found to positively impact gender inclusiveness.
Building Inclusiveness Into Your Talent Deployment/Assignment Function
Experiential learning is critical to attorney development. As such, the assignments given attorneys play a critical role in their professional growth and their ability to contribute fully to the success of your firm. Providing meaningful assignments to all attorneys allows all attorneys to develop and allows the firm to leverage all its talent. Moreover, meaningful assignments create commitment and engagement–both of which are critical to retention, client service and profitability.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, ensuring that all attorneys have an equal opportunity to receive meaningful assignments is often not a consideration in making assignments and creating teams. Recent research has revealed, however, that diversity on teams leads to better results. In recognition of this finding, more clients are now demanding diversity on their client teams. Intentionally designing inclusiveness into the talent deployment function/assignment processes of your firm’s TM system, therefore, is now not only a development and inclusion issue but also a business imperative.
Building Inclusiveness Into Your Performance Management Function
Your firm’s performance management function is a key element of your TM system. The manner in which an attorney’s performance is evaluated and s/he is compensated is critical to advancing diversity and inclusiveness in your firm.
To advance inclusiveness through your firm’s performance management system, it is essential that your firm’s evaluation, promotion and advancement criteria be clear and transparent. Tying these criteria to competencies, making them readily available (in print and/or on-line) and ensuring that inclusiveness competencies are evaluated with the same weight as other more task-based competencies, is also critical.
With respect to the evaluation process itself, the ABA Commission on Women has found that left unchecked, unintended hidden gender bias exists in law firms—especially in the evaluation process—and that these biases detrimentally impact the professional development, advancement and retention of women attorneys. To stem these biases and the resulting negative impact on a firm’s performance, the Commission has set forth a number of steps that law firms can take to promote consistency and objectivity in the evaluation process. See Fair Measure, Toward Effective Attorney Evaluations, ABA Commission on Women (2008)
Finally, rewards and compensation are powerful tools for advancing inclusiveness. What is rewarded is achieved. To the extent it is a firm’s business strategy to foster and facilitate inclusiveness, rewarding those whose behaviors advance inclusiveness and penalizing those that do not is essential.
Traditional efforts to advance diversity and inclusion in law firms have stalled. As a result, law firms are losing rather than leveraging the diverse talents of all their attorneys. It is time for a new strategy—one that gets inclusive about inclusion –and builds inclusiveness directly into the daily operations and fabric of our law firms through essential TM functions.
Lisa B. Horowitz, JD, MSOD, is Founder and Principal Advisor, Attorney Talent Strategy Group, LLC. Lisa spent 30 years as a partner, associate, counsel and senior talent development professional in AMLAW 100 law firms. She currently coaches attorneys on achieving their career goals and advises law firms and legal departments on the design and implementation of strategic talent development solutions. For additional resources, see www.atalentstrategy.com or contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.