Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
I attended an event recently where a panel discussed the popular topic of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. Stuart Affleck, Director at Book Graham and consultant at Pinsent Mason noted that in the companies he has worked with over the years, he has found that it is not a lack of willingness to address issues of D&I, it’s more of a lack of awareness/knowledge and education on how to deal with people who are underrepresented in the community.
Firstly, let’s differentiate between the two terms;
- Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups or people from one another (e.g. gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability).
- Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It generates a sense of belonging.
Doing business in todays world is becoming more challenging. Competition is intensifying with unknown disrupters around every corner, business strategies require almost constant reinvention, employees expect a dynamic workplace with endless opportunity and the war on talent continues.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has become first on the agenda for most businesses seeking to better face some of these key challenges. And it’s not only an initiative to improve the bottom line. It is a huge factor in terms of the attracting and retaining top talent as well as driving employee engagement.
On the same panel was the Head of the Pinsent Mason Belfast office; Andrea McIlroy Rose who offered her views on gender imbalance within law firms. The legal industry has always been great at hiring women at a junior level – but not great at retaining and promoting females within the firm. It is encouraging to hear that that their initiative to improve gender diversity has aimed at having 30% female partners by 2020 and are already at 26%.
How was this achieved? They started by setting up a focus group in order to look at why people are leaving and it was led by the board. It is important to get senior buy in and to lead from the top down for real change. Providing mentors was of huge significance as well as revising the firm’s family policies around maternity and paternity leave etc.
They said it is important to continuously examine the initiative and develop learning around unconscious bias which not only is good for business, but also make it a great place to work.
As Mason Alexander continue to develop their Women Who Mean Business Event series we have also addressed that for women’s networks to be truly effective, we also need a good percentage of male engagement. It is about embracing diversity as one.
Mental health is also a massive part of D&I in the workplace. The Irish Health Report suggested that €11 billion euro is lost in productivity due to mental health issues. The third panellist, Becky Jones, Legal Director at Coca Cola noted that 30% of the world’s population will experience mental health issues at some stage in their lives. And 75% people in the workplace will experience mental health issues.
Becky commented that Millennials are most likely to suffer from this. She suggested that we should have training on emotional wellness in schools and in work.
How can a company or firm help with this? Look at your own actions. Do you promote a culture of ‘always-on’? Do you offer support and talk to one another?
It is important to remember that in every business in every industry, the people are the resources. It is so important to keep people engaged and offer a place where people feel they belong.
And an inclusion and diversity strategy helps with these issues as well as enables a better commercial strategy; not only does it strengthen your company culture internally, it also make sense from a client engagement and talent engagement perspective and finally, it is simply good for business. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple says; ‘Inclusion inspires innovation’. Diverse teams are smarter and more likely to develop new products and services.
Whilst this business strategy is gaining momentum, the D&I approach is often misunderstood, undervalued and poorly implemented.
Hopefully this is changing with some leading the way such as Matheson who last week became the first Irish law firm awarded for the Investors in Diversity Silver Standard by the Irish Centre of Diversity. Read more here: https://irishlegal.com/article/matheson-becomes-first-law-firm-awarded-diversity-and-inclusion-accolade
And during this Pride week, A&L Goodbody has transformed its head office in Dublin ahead of Pride Week.
The firm said the new look “demonstrates our commitment to creating an inclusive workplace where each of us is comfortable being ourselves”.
These initiatives embrace diversity and start to understand inclusion and it will be continuous education around these topics and tackling people’s unconscious bias that will enable a company to truly thrive in today’s world.
The Author: Megan Shannon is the head of legal recruitment at Mason Alexander. She partners with law firms and companies in assisting with their recruitment needs.