Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace is an increasingly talked about topic, and not just by human resources. This can be attributed to recent high-profile cases such as the MeToo movement and some unfavourable gender pay gap reports in the UK, among other factors.
Some organisations have been talking about diversity and inclusion for a number of years before these catalysts pushed the agenda into the limelight. In a law firm, having a diverse team is not just a charitable idea simply in keeping with the equality act. It will allow you to improve your firm as a whole, starting with recruiting people who have experience that is different from what a law firm may have come to expect. For example, by choosing those who have different opinions to share with the team, based on their perceptions of life that are alternative to the predictable every day.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, a diverse team is able to examine the facts more carefully than a homogenous team, because it forces team members to examine their own biases. Ideas or ways of thinking that may be entrenched seem no longer so relevant and can be adapted and changed.
Diversity is necessary for any law firm, because not only will it allow your teams to function at a higher capacity, as seen in a recent Forbes study, it will also give you a better view of your clients. But a diverse team doesn’t need to be recruited directly, it can be achieved through a third-party organisation, such as Intelligent Office.
Knowing more about different cultures
If you have a diverse workforce then you are more likely to have insights into different cultures, how different people react to adversity, or how groups feel about the prejudice/discrimination they may face in the outside world.
Take disabled people, for instance. While there are approximately 12 million people in the UK who consider themselves disabled in some way, only 3.5 million are employed—that’s less than 30%. Considering the majority will be as skilled as non-disabled people, the number of people out of work remains stubbornly high. However, for those who do employ disabled workers, they will gain a better understanding of how the services their firms provide can better serve those with disabilities and gain a competitive edge at the same time.
At Intelligent Office we hire a diverse pool of talent because we believe that new opinions and fresh ideas can innovate and add extra value to the workforce, beyond those that traditional law firms may be familiar with. In fact, when actively hiring disabled people, who have unique skills, when properly understood and prepared for will become an asset. Their way of thinking could be very different, and when harnessed in the right way can make your product stronger as a result.
When your team is diverse, when they come from different backgrounds, with different skillsets, life experiences and personalities, then the work you produce will not be homogenous or similar to everyone else’s. The work will be different from your competitors ’and more innovative, as it draws ideas and knowledge from a greater number of groups in society. Heterogeneous workforces are able to adapt quickly and are therefore more efficient and increasingly productive.
Implement your diversity agenda
At Intelligent Office, diversity and inclusion is deeply ingrained in the way we do things, it is not just an addition to our legislation. We’re not like other firms that have diversity on their agenda but never actually implement it. Take, for example, our gender pay gap report, where our performance was better than the average.
According to reports published by 25 of the largest UK law firms (by revenue), the average pay gap in 2018 stands at 20% in favour of men (source: Lawyer Monthly). IO’s pay gap was 9.2% in favour of women, and our workforce is 75% female, so while we aim to pay our staff equally, we operate in the service sector, a sector which clearly employs more women—thus changing the demographics slightly.
Another good reason for wanting a diverse workforce is that you will be able to recruit and retain quality employees. Having varied support networks in your company reflective of gender, religion, ethnicity, disability or sexuality, demonstrates that your firm engages with its employees. This allows your teams to identify and break down barriers within the workplace and shows that your firm talks about and takes into consideration what your teams actually want and need.
Rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole, your company is seen as being open to suggestion and offers workarounds or opportunities to solve problems which may crop up in a modern workplace.
Belonging is key
Going beyond diversity and inclusion is belonging—if you feel like you belong to a company or firm, then you are going to be a more productive worker with more to say and a stake in what you do, according to a 2018 LinkedIn report.
If diversity is the practice of having different groups working together, and inclusion is the idea of a pleasant culture in the workplace, then feeling like you belong is the emotional connection to work—a feeling of psychological safety and support, allowing you to be yourself. If you feel like part of the ‘family’, then you care about your work and those around you much more than if you feel excluded or ignored.
This sense of belonging also creates shared values because as a worker you’ll feel listened to, and so will contribute to the company’s mission—be that strategic goals, financial gain, or otherwise. We do this because of our innate sense of community, an idea that is central to all cultures. A successful firm makes this sense of belonging part of its ethos, building diversity into its structure and implementing it throughout the business.
As Stephen Covey, the late author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”.