Making the in-house team diverse and inclusive

In an increasingly interconnected and culturally diverse world, fostering true diversity within teams has become a vital aspect of organisational success. Our own experience – and studies the world over – have shown that creating a diverse team not only enriches perspectives, but also offers the opportunity to enhance creativity and problem-solving. The journey to a diverse team can, however, be challenging, and employers must not shy away from addressing sensitive topics – even if there’s a fear of getting it wrong.

Jessica Harvey, Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Walker Morris
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Building diversity: a strategic imperative (that’s backed up by research)

Employers need to recognise the value of having employees with varied backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. In recent years, research from influential organisations such as Gartner, Harvard Business Review and Boston Consulting Group have all demonstrated the value of diversity in teams against metrics including revenue, profitability, and employee performance, retention and satisfaction. Moreover, diverse teams have been shown to be more innovative, adaptable, and capable of understanding a broader range of clients and stakeholders – something that chimes with what we’ve experienced at Walker Morris.

So, how can you create a more diverse organisation? It starts of course with how you’re recruiting. The legal profession has been grappling with this issue for a number of years, particularly given that sectors within it have a reputation for being elitist. Thankfully this is changing, and it’s possible to increase the size of your talent pool by inviting a greater – and more representative – cross-section of people to the table.

At Walker Morris, to help reduce and unconscious bias we’ve started using so-called ‘blind recruitment’ in which candidates are given a number rather than a name and the university or college they attended is also removed from applications. There are also specialised job boards aimed at different groups, including BAME and LGBTQ+ applicants. As a firm, we look at non-traditional universities to target with graduate recruitment campaigns.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t the same thing: creating a safe and sustainable workplace

While building a diverse team should be paramount for any organisation, does that go far enough? Diversity is one thing, but facilitating true, tangible inclusion is for many a more challenge step to make. A 2023 survey conducted by UK recruiter Reed revealed that 32% of people say they’re not able to be themselves at work, whether that’s because they fear being seen as unprofessional, worry that they will offend someone or because they are simply worried about their colleagues’ opinions.

So how do you create safe spaces where people feel they can be open and be themselves? The answer lies in a shift in mindset, a certain amount of courage, and taking concrete actions.

Overcoming fear of missteps: an opportunity for growth

The first step is to not look for perfection on day one. Addressing diversity-related topics can be intimidating, especially when there’s a fear of saying the wrong thing or inadvertently offending someone. It’s important, however, to understand that fostering diversity is an ongoing learning process. It’s okay to make mistakes provided that there’s a genuine commitment to listen, learn, and improve. What’s important is that when mistakes invariably occur, it’s essential to approach them as learning opportunities. Employers should be willing to listen to feedback, acknowledge their missteps, and take concrete steps to rectify them. This openness demonstrates authenticity and a commitment to growth.

Open communication: creating a safe environment

The importance of open communication cannot be underestimated when building a more diverse team. Creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable discussing diversity-related topics without fear of retribution can be achieved through one-to-one meetings and/or in a group environment. Regular conversations can lead to a better understanding of individuals’ different experiences and perspectives.

A good place to start is to undertake an assessment as to where you are as an organisation in this area. Resources such as the Inclusive Employers self-assessment tool provide a ranking and an understanding of any areas for development. Organisations such as Stonewall, Race Equality Matters and others also have some excellent resources to support conversations and awareness in the workplace.

In addition, diversity and inclusion training programmes that cover unconscious biases, cultural differences, and the importance of inclusivity should be mandatory for all employees at all levels – including the most senior.

Leading by example: leadership’s role in diversity

While it’s often said that GCs are the ethical conscience of the organisation, this is a heavy burden to place on any one person. What is true, however, is that individuals in leadership positions such as GCs can play a pivotal role in shaping a company’s culture. Leaders that demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity have the capacity to set the tone for the entire organisation.

Where the size of the organisation allows, leaders should also consider drawing on the expertise of a dedicated diversity and inclusion officer, who can help to define principles and outline a D&I strategy. This sends a strong signal to employees that this subject is being taken seriously, as well as providing a contact point outside of the management team to whom people can voice any concerns.

Employee groups: empowerment through unity

Establishing employee groups can provide a platform for employees to connect and support one another based on shared backgrounds or interests. While these groups are increasingly commonplace in large organisations, people sometimes overlook that their role is twofold: to celebrate diversity while also providing a serious forum to discuss issues that employees face.

Your values aren’t up for debate

By its very nature, the topic of diversity and inclusion is highly political. But that doesn’t mean it should be treated as political at work. Being drawn into debates – be it internally or externally – helps nobody and only leads to discord. Instead, organisations need to define their D&I values and principles and simply stick to them rather than engaging in heated debates. Can those values and principles evolve over time? Absolutely. But the politics should be left to politicians.

“It’s okay to make mistakes provided that there’s a genuine commitment to listen, learn, and improve. What’s important is that when mistakes invariably occur, it’s essential to approach them as learning opportunities.”

- Jessica Harvey, Diversity and Inclusion Manager
An array of multi coloured umbrella's to signify diversity and inclusion.