Five Steps to Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in Your Organization

Last month, I traveled to San Francisco to speak on diversity and inclusion at the NALP Annual Education conference. My co-presenters and I talked about recruiting and retaining millennials of color. The hypothetical scenario we used was Marcus, a third year black law student, and Jim, the white male managing partner at a fictional international law firm called Walker Cross. After talking through their dilemmas, we turned it over to the audience:

Congratulations! You are the new Diversity Manager at Walker Cross. You’ve been told that retaining millennials of color is Priority One. Are you ready to start?

This blog post is for you, New Diversity Manager. Except I’m expanding it beyond millennials of color. You, new diversity professional, need to come up with a step-by-step action plan for increasing diversity, inclusion and representation of women and minorities in your organization. Where do you start? With the help of various resources, (including NALP’s Diversity Best Practices Guide and the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Strategic Plan), and after speaking with a number of colleagues and reviewing initiatives implemented in different organizations, here is my abbreviated version of how to implement a brand new diversity and inclusion initiative at your organization.

Step 1: Get Your People to the Table

Welcome! Now, let’s figure out who at your organization is supporting this initiative. First up, determine which employees (including leadership) will oversee the planning. Let’s use all of our creative brain cells and call it … the Planning Committee.

Once you have your Planning Committee, it’s time to have a serious discussion with them on what diversity and inclusion means generally, what it means to each of them individually, and what it means in the context of your organization. Talk about the differences between increasing diversity (numbers of different groups), representation (whether those different groups are represented throughout your organization, including in management) and inclusion (are these groups able to fully participate in your organization). Talk about what you mean when you say “minorities.” In this piece, I’m using minorities generally but under-represented minorities (URMs) is a more specific term that is dependent on your industry. You may or may not all get on the same page, but at least you’ll know where your committee members stand.

Now, work with the Planning Committee to set out the organization’s overarching vision for diversity and inclusion (Vision Statement), and to lay down what the core values of the organization as they relate to diversity and inclusion (Values Statement). Finally, write down the Diversity and Inclusion Goals your organization hopes to achieve. What do you want to see? Increase the numbers of women and minorities in supervisory roles? Increase retention rates? Recruitment rates? Reduce harassment and discrimination claims? Improve accessibility? Lay them all down. We’ll return to them later.

Step 2: Perform a Needs Assessment

This is vital. In order to figure out where you’re going, you need to understand where you are. The needs assessment bridges the gap between the current conditions of diversity and inclusion in your organization and your desired conditions. How do you start?

  1. Demographics. List every department in your organization. For each department, determine how women and minorities are represented, at what levels, and their recruiting, hiring and attrition rates.
  2. Teams and Assignments. What are people working on? Everyone knows there are more desired projects and clients, and less desired ones. Check out the types of projects different teams work on, understand how those teams are formed, and analyze the makeup of women and minorities on those teams.
  3. Culture and Perks Review building structure, group activities and office perks to determine whether they benefit one group over another, or are more appealing to certain demographics than others (and here’s some great lawyer speak) including but not limited to: accessibility, childcare, flex work, sabbaticals, promotion tracks, and celebrated holidays.
  4. Mentoring Relationships. We love mentors. So should you. Determine whether your organization has a formal or informal mentoring program. Figure out how mentoring relationships are formed and who is forming them. (And maybe convince your organization to join our mentoring program.)
  5. Performance Evaluations and Feedback. Review the feedback and evaluation system, including the peer review and upward review mechanism. Take a look at feedback and evaluations for women and minorities. And don’t forget to review any harassment or discrimination complaints sent to HR from women and minorities, and any past, present or potential unfair termination lawsuits.
  6. Recruitment and Selection. How are you selecting your people? There are fascinating programs that help reduce bias in the recruitment and hiring process. In the meantime, you can analyze where you stand on hiring and recruiting. Where are your jobs posted? Who was interviewed and who received offers? Where are recruiting teams sent? Who’s doing your interviewing? Have they been through implicit bias training? And crucially, when women and minorities exit your organization, what kinds of questions are being asked in their exit interviews, and what kind of follow-up is given to their answers?
  7. Professional Development. Near and dear to my heart, what kind of training programs do you have for your employees? Be expansive. Not just diversity programs, but also anything related to people development skills such as leadership, mentoring, feedback, and management. Also were evaluation forms completed? Read the feedback; it’s going to give you great information on the utility of these programs.
  8. Focus Groups and Interviews. Finally, and this could be woven throughout or it can be an entirely new step, you need to chat with people in your organization. Do one-on-one interviews, focus groups, even online surveys. This includes, of course, women and minorities. It also includes supervisors, junior and senior employees, human resources, and majority men to obtain their understanding of the inclusion climate and the challenges faced.

Step 3: Write Your SMART Goals for Diversity and Inclusion

SMART goals are a precise summary of what you want to achieve – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For every group or department in your organization, list SMART goals for each one as they relate to your organization’s broader diversity and inclusion goals. Then create your measurements and metrics. Set out where each group currently is, how each will achieve the goal, create a timeline and reporting format, assign leaders to each group who will be responsible for implementing these changes, develop a way for group leaders to compare progress and share ideas, and determine incentives for success and penalties for failure. This last idea will very likely be controversial but the discussion of it will provide great insight on how far your organization is willing to go to achieve full inclusion.

Step 4: Form Your First Diversity and Inclusion Committee

It’s time to say goodbye to your Planning Committee and hello to a brand new one. For each area where your organization wants to change a diversity and inclusion metric, determine who will be the team leaders and managers who are going to help implement, track and be held accountable for change. Then form a new Diversity and Inclusion Committee. On our new committee, we’re going to have several of those managers, as well as members of the original Planning Committee, affinity group leaders, and other employees committed to the diversity and inclusion mission.

Step 5: Implement Ten Day 1 Solutions

This isn’t so much as a step as a recognition of reality. Steps 1-4 will require significant organization investment, time and resources. You may get leaders to sign on to all of it, some of it, or none at all. In the meantime, you are going to have to spend a great deal of time learning about the organization, building goodwill, creating buy-in, obtaining allies, and understanding the politics of your new workplace.

So in the meantime, draft some Day 1 solutions that you can achieve while you implement Steps 1-4. These are hopefully non-controversial ideas that are relatively easy to implement and can start a dialogue in your organization. Some ideas: offer an implicit bias or conflict resolution workshop, add a diversity-related post to an internal newsletter, schedule affinity group meetups, plan a diversity reception at a local school, or determine your organization’s eligibility for the Corporate Equality Index and the Disability Equality Index. This may not create the systemic change you’re looking for, but you have to start somewhere.

That’s my five step guide to starting a new diversity and inclusion program in your organization. It’s not an easy job and you’re going to have a lot of challenges on your way. So here’s my last piece of advice. Talk to the many, many, many people who have been down your road before. If you’re in the legal profession, NALP has an excellent diversity professionals section. For those of you in the Chicago region working toward diversity and inclusion in your organization, a group of professionals across industries just had their very first networking and brainstorming session at Sprout Social and have already scheduled their second for later this summer at TechNexus. There are a host of options out there for you so start looking. Having a mentor, a sounding board, and a friend can only help with the long, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding process of diversity and inclusion.

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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