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Walking the Talk: Bringing DEI Initiatives to Life

By Scott Pacheco posted 12-20-2021 10:14


By Scott E. Pacheco, marketing and communications manager at Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chtd.

More than 18 months after George Floyd’s murder spurred wide-spread condemnation of social injustice and pledges of support for DEI causes by law firms, there is still opportunity for additional engagement and room for greater progress.

“What we are seeing and are continuing to see are calls to action,” said Alisa Goodwin, director of diversity, equity & inclusion at Katten. “It’s great to see that firms are engaged, and now is the time to follow through on their commitments. To be successful, it’s crucial that DEI-related calls to action are embedded into a firm’s strategic plan so those efforts are incorporated throughout the firm from business development plans to professional development opportunities.”

As the calendar turns to 2022, Goodwin outlined three ways law firms can be proactive in engaging their employees and to execute on the words and promises.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

Oftentimes, there is a tendency to procrastinate or delay action to wait for the perfect time to do something. In pursuing DEI goals, however, some action is almost always better than no action.

“Especially in the DEI space, firms and companies want it get it right, which I appreciate, but the downside to that is the delay that can come with trying to make that program, policy or initiative perfect,” Goodwin said. “There is value in moving forward with a good idea to get the ball rolling because it presents an opportunity for firm leadership to engage with talent and seek feedback on next steps so that the overarching goal is accomplished.”

The onus is on each of us to educate ourselves

Passive engagement will kill any ambitious program. Ultimately, equipping attorneys and staff to take responsibility for their own continuing education will be critical for their growth and allow firms as a whole to move their DEI initiatives forward faster and more effectively.

“There needs to be a shift in thinking about who is responsible for educating around DEI issues. While it can be eye-opening and helpful to hear diverse colleagues share their life experiences, the responsibility should not rest solely with individuals who have been historically underrepresented in law firms to educate others about systemic racism and social injustice,” Goodwin said.

“Doing so puts diverse individuals in an uncomfortable position, already vulnerable when sharing their personal stories, and often-times reliving the trauma when doing so. Rather, we need to start encouraging everyone to take a proactive interest in educating themselves about these issues.”

Actively listen and then take action

Some firms have held listening circles and created safe spaces for attorneys and business professionals to voice their concerns, feelings and experiences to an audience that includes firm leadership.

“Listening is the start of true engagement and commitment,” Goodwin said. “The next step is for leaders to act on what they have heard and learned, and invest more time and resources to bring valuable initiatives to life. When you pray, move your feet.”

As we look ahead to 2022, focusing on action will help deliver on the pledge to bring about transformative, meaningful change.