79% of law firms use D&I for reputational enhancement

Nearly 4 out of 5 law firms want to improve on diversity primarily to enhance their own reputation. According to the results of a webinar poll conducted by the InclusIQ Institute and the e-learning provider VinciWorks, 79% of legal sector staff surveyed said it was among the top three reasons they needed to improve. This reminded me of a conversation I had with the a group of Partners from a large UK based firm a few years ago, who had conducted ‘brand recognition’ research. Turns out they had good recognition and reputation amongst while male legal professionals and this was a point of pride. However, they were shocked to see the picture was much murkier amongst female legal professionals; their target employees – who had limited brand recognition for the firm, and a less positive reputation. This was a wake-up call for the firm and a signal of how far they had to go in promoting diversity internally for the message it could send externally. As we have often told professional services clients, doing nothing on diversity and inclusion will not even maintain your status quo. Your competitors, not to mention clients, are making headway on these areas, particularly on improving gender balance at senior levels.

When asked what their top 3 reasons for their firm addressing diversity and inclusion, enhancing reputation was top followed by employee (61%) and client demand (58%). In a land where ‘client is king’ we were delighted to see firms responding to the priorities of employees, which closely matched those of clients. Risk of government regulation or legal action (45%) and the bottom line benefits of diverse workforces (42%) were important to nearly half of those surveyed, but were not the main drivers. The message seems to be clear: be good to your clients and employees and you’ll have your pick of both.

If you want to see how you stack up against other firms in terms of priorities and practices around diversity and inclusion, download a free copy of the webinar ‘Beyond Protected Characteristics’ which had over 110 representatives from different UK and European law firms in attendance.

Less than 20% of legal employees think their firm does enough to reduce bias

According to the results of a webinar poll conducted by the InclusIQ Institute and the e-learning provider VinciWorks, just 19% of legal sector staff surveyed said they felt their firm was doing enough to tackle bias – hardly inspiring results. Half (50%) of those surveyed said they had never seen any kind of unconscious bias training at their organisation. Nearly 1 in 3 (34%) said they went through unconscious bias training every year with the remaining having had it once every 2 years (16%) or just once (12%). 

Yet when asked what single situation gave rise to the most bias, the top responses were the ‘trigger points’ of recruitment (28%)  promotions (22%) and the managing new parents (22%). Some respondents highlighted the feeder situations; the scenarios that underpin the trigger points. They named the largely unspoken decisions around who gets mentored (4%) and how project teams are picked (4%) as their top situations that give rise to bias.

Clearly, in most firms there’s a significant disconnect between what’s offered and what people want, particularly as that same research found employee demand (61%) was one of the key reasons firms were looking at diversity and inclusion more closely. The challenge of unconscious bias is in the name; it’s largely ‘unconscious’ and therefore impossible to overcome with infrequent one-off trainings. You don’t leave a one off e-learning or half day training ‘fixed’ and free of bias. It’s a topic you need to address and reflect on regularly. It’s why we built our serious games workshops, as short 90 minute sessions so they can be revisited in shorter ‘chunks’ to embed the learning by focusing on a trigger point and the decisions that underpin those situations. The workshops focus on the key situations such as  ‘The New Normal: Managing Flexible Working, Progression to Partnerships: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Balance’ and ‘Widening the Net: Reducing Bias in Trainee/ Intern and Recruitment’  – games we built with the Law Society of Scotland. These workshops are short enough to be conducted regularly; keep good practice top of mind and bias easier to discuss and overcome.

If you want to see how you stack up against other firms in terms of priorities and practices around diversity and inclusion, download a free copy of the webinar ‘Beyond Protected Characteristics’ which had over 110 representatives from different UK and European law firms in attendance.

Where are the Muslim heroes? Why we need a new narrative about Islam

My heart sank as soon as we heard reports in the first few minutes that the Brussels airport bombers had shouted in Arabic before the violence began. The atrocities are inexcusable, but they also highlight the need for a new, and more positive story to be told about Islam. Muslims receive mostly negative publicity and exposure on the television with the repeated narrative ‘Muslims = Terrorists’. This portrayal only adds fuel to the stereotype of a fundamentalist and violent Islam; not an Islam the vast majority, according to a Pew Centre studyof Muslims themselves recognise or believe in – men like Asad Shah, the Glasgow shopkeeper who was killed for wishing Christian customers a ‘Happy Easter’. The problem is that when this is the lead story, not just in the news, but in the way Muslims are portrayed in movies and television drama it only perpetuates a myth that gives rise to Donald Trump-esque reactions on the banning of Muslims from the US and a deepening call for a Brexit -in the name of ‘security’ – forgetting the pervasiveness of home-grown violence. In both cases, these reactions leave us fundamentally weaker as we will not have the intelligence gained by communities working together and it only feeds into people’s suspicions, fear and hatred.

This issue of the way race is represented in the media was picked up by President Obama, just over a month before the bombings. The president called on television to create characters beyond ‘Homeland’-style stereotypes. As Dave Schilling explained in his Guardian article: 

There are certainly individuals and interest groups trying to make the president’s vision a reality. Most (Muslims On Screen and Television) is a collaborative venture of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, Gallup’s the Muslim West Facts Project, and others which seeks to offer the entertainment community resources and information on Islam and Arab culture in order to keep portrayals of Muslims from drifting into caricature. There’s a database of news stories and features on Muslim Americans, statistics, infographics and research.

Selectively looking for shows that offer a more balanced worldview of Muslims on screen reminded me of Suzy Levy’s post during the Academy Awards. As Levy eloquently points out:

The #OscarsSoWhite debate is not just about the members of the Academy. It’s about the representation of race and culture, which are being eliminated from the some of the most visual elements of history – from film, theatre and show. It’s happening not only on the screen itself, but in the creation of scripts, behind the cameras and in all aspects of the industry.

The people we see on screen, and how they are represented, fundamentally shapes our opinion on who they are, not just as individuals but as a group – particularly if we otherwise have limited exposure to people from that community. To this point, when there have been mass shootings in the US, as it all too frequent, we don’t chalk it up to ‘Catholic Fundamentalism’ or ‘Protestant extremism’, even though the shooters are likely to come from traditionally white Christian backgrounds. In this case, a lack of positive Muslim characters means the story we are told by the mass media only hurts race relations. It’s time for us to turn the channel towards more Muslim heroes.