Avoiding the Revolving Door

Creating an inclusion program that works

Avoiding the Revolving Door

There was a time when diversity programs were focused on representation. Law firms wanted to bring more diverse people through the door, but few were doing the work internally to ensure that door was not a revolving one.

In recent years, a focus on representation is being matched by an emphasis on retention. There is an awareness that diversity is more than a box-checking exercise, and that members of underrepresented groups need to be set up for success within an organization.

As Chief Inclusion Officer, I lead a program focused on recruiting — but more importantly, supporting, retaining, and advancing — Black, Indigenous, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ2SI+ community, people with disabilities, and women.

The goal is to extricate bias in our policies and practices and create a culture of belonging, where everyone feels valued, and no one has to cover parts of themselves to be successful.

I am often asked by organizations how they can meaningfully advance inclusion. In my view, there are foundational pieces that need to be in place for any program to be impactful and sustainable. These elements are based on universal principles that apply across workplaces — private or public, legal or non-legal, large or small.

First, every organization needs a strategy. An inclusion framework will provide a rationale for the work, beyond the business case, guide strategic investments, and help to avoid distractions. Creating a strategy is also an opportunity to be declarative about your values, internally and with stakeholders. I spent my first six months building the strategy, a plan I still refer to daily.

Second, there needs to be buy-in from leaders. You will have heard the expression — what interests my boss, fascinates me. Few people are prepared to invest in outcomes not valued by their organization. Our CEO chairs our Inclusion Council and is involved in all of our programs and events. By positioning himself as an active ally, he is leading by example, and incenting others to prioritise the work.

Third, there needs to be accountability. Engagement by leaders is important, but it must be accompanied by a commitment to achieving results. The truism that what gets measured gets done is as true for equity, diversity, and inclusion (“EDI”) as it is for any other business objective. This is why our firm is creating concrete inclusive leadership competencies for our senior leaders, why all of our people report annually on their EDI activities, and why we compensate meaningful contributions to our inclusion program.

Fourth, inclusion initiatives must be broad and intersectional. For many decades, diversity programs had a narrow lens, focusing mainly on gender. Gains made primarily by white women now need to be matched by progress for all equity-seeking groups. Intersectionality refers to the layers of social identities that create systems of disadvantage. At our firm, we are focused on equity practices that work for everyone.

Finally, inclusion needs to be integrated into the business. A systems-wide approach means treating EDI not as an add-on, but as a business priority and a lens through which all issues are viewed. If I have been effective at our firm, it is because my mandate is firm-wide, my program is resourced, and I have a seat at the leadership table.

I began this piece by talking about revolving doors, but I will end it with an entirely different metaphor. That is, creating an inclusive workplace is a marathon, not a sprint. Systems and cultures create complex challenges, and change does not happen overnight.

That said, I believe that if an organization is serious about inclusion, and begins by adopting the principles outlined here — a plan, leadership buy-in and accountability, an intersectional lens, and a systems approach — it is possible to establish a foundation for meaningful change.