Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit for Lawyers

Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit for Lawyers

Executive Summary

This Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Toolkit was developed by the International Bar Association (IBA) to provide law firms with an action plan to embed the core principles of diversity and inclusion into their organisations. We recognise that our member firms may need guidance and suggestions on D&I awareness, planning and best practices, and we want to encourage and influence our members to take a D&I journey with the aim of a better workplace for all. The business case for diversity is clear. In our era of globalisation, multinational clients increasingly demand diverse legal teams. The Toolkit provides D&I assistance of a general nature to law firms but it is not intended to be an exhaustive guide. Each law firm will have unique considerations specific to their locality which should be thoughtfully factored into any D&I approach.

There are multiple benefits of D&I across stakeholder groups, including:

  • For the profession: A more diverse and equitable legal industry drives more innovative and creative solutions.
  • For clients: Our clients come from diverse backgrounds, representing the markets in which we operate. Increasingly, clients are seeking out more socially aware law firms, capable of navigating a variety of jurisdictions, cultures and legal codes. Having a diverse team of lawyers with experience from a variety of cultural backgrounds enables firms to be receptive to the commercial imperatives of global, transnational clients.
  • For firms: This is an opportunity for firms to take a leadership role in promoting social mobility. It also has substantial benefits for the reputation of a law firm – making that firm an attractive place to work for future generations of recruits.
  • For individuals: Diversity enriches the life of the individual, exposing them to different perspectives and broadening their horizons. A diverse culture enables individuals to celebrate their uniqueness, while finding camaraderie and belonging in a community.

The D&I Toolkit should be interpreted as a flexible, adaptable and fluid tool aimed at supporting law firms in their D&I journey towards new frontiers. Your D&I work should expand and evolve over time, as your firm successfully evolves and develops its approach through a process of experimentation and constant learning. Over time, feedback will improve a law firm’s D&I model and adapt it effectively to local circumstances.

The Toolkit should be applied separately to wellbeing programs and other HR-led initiatives.

Flow chart of activity

The Toolkit guides you across the following steps to build a D&I Action Plan.

Record your plan and monitor progress through the D&I Action Plan template (available in Appendix 3).

Flow chart of activity

Section 1: Introduction to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and the D&I Toolkit

1.1 What is diversity and inclusion?

Globally there are four core concepts commonly used to articulate this work.

  • Diversity refers to the ways in which we are different – gender, ethnic or racial background, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic background, neurodiversity, etc.
  • Inclusion involves the fostering of a culture that promotes respect for each other; creating a safe environment for everyone where they feel valued, where they can contribute freely, where they can share their opinion and know they will be heard.
  • Equity refers to fair treatment for all people, ensuring that everyone gets what they need to fulfil their potential – this does not mean that everyone gets the same, but instead equity recognises that different individuals may need different things to succeed.
  • Belonging is the feeling of connection to the firm and to the individuals we work with, regardless of the ways in which we are different. It is when an individual can bring their authentic self to work and feel a sense of affinity with their colleagues.

1.2 How to use the Toolkit

The D&I Toolkit was created to assist firms with the implementation of the D&I Action Plan. This has been designed to offer suggestions to firms to introduce a more diverse and inclusive culture to their organisations. Firms can navigate through the Toolkit to review the tasks required to achieve the goals. At each stage, there are questions you need to ask which will prompt your firm on the tasks or actions needed to implement that step.

Firms should begin their D&I journey by following the steps outlined in Section 2, helping them to understand what they want to achieve and why they want to achieve it. This will assist your firm in prioritising which actions are most important; this will guide you to the next tasks and actions your firm will need to take. Firms should select two or three of the most important goals or actions and tackle these first.

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Section 2: Building your D&I Action Plan

The following process outlines a strategic approach to creating a D&I Action Plan.

Also provided is a Getting Started Meeting Template to start your conversation at firm level and a template for your D&I Action Plan. These are available in Appendices 1 and 3.

Start the conversation

Bring together the people in your organisation that will support this journey, including senior leadership

1. Start the conversation

Convene the people in your firm that will support this journey, including senior leadership representation. When considering who to invite, ask:

  • who are the leaders of the D&I work?;
  • who will be responsible for implementing the plan?;
  • who will oversee the progress?;
  • who do we need to support the decision-making process, especially when there are challenges?;
  • who will perform reviews to assess the progress and decide what needs to be prioritised?; and
  • who will provide motivation to teams to meet the goals set out in the action plan?
Link to your business strategy

Determine how diversity and inclusion might support your business in the market

2. Link to your business strategy

It is important for any organisation to understand why they want to introduce a D&I Action Plan. Motivations for introducing the Action Plan may include:

  • to have an inclusive work environment, respecting all colleagues and promoting equality and equity in all aspects of an employee’s career;
  • to become an industry leader and positively influence society and our peers;
  • To have plurality of perspectives offering innovative solutions: new ways of decision making due to different backgrounds/views
  • to keep up with new societal challenges;
  • to set a level of expectation for behaviour within the organisation/group;
  • to improve a sense of belonging and satisfaction at the workplace which will increase productivity;
  • to attract and retain top and diverse talent, and improve the firm’s recruiting processes;
  • to raise awareness on good practices to eliminate discrimination, prejudice and bias;
  • to attract and retain new customers; and
  • to reduce law firm costs (reduced recruitment costs due to staff retention etc).
Identify where you are now

Review and list the things you are currently doing across your business that support diversity and inclusion.

3. Identify where you are now

Review and list the things you are currently doing across corporate social responsibility, human resources, etc that support your D&I journey. Understanding the current state of the firm allows it to determine how to move forward. Data is a component of this examination. Here are some other considerations to include.

  • Assess the law firm’s D&I status, including identification and listing of key issues.
  • What, if any, measures are already in place regarding D&I practices?
  • Understand if there are aspects of the current behaviour/practices within the firm which need to be addressed immediately.
  • What needs to change for the firm to become more diverse and inclusive?
  • Are all senior management team members committed to change? If so, how has this been communicated/expressed/demonstrated?
  • What is the perception of employees? Are all employees committed to change?
  • Are people from diverse backgrounds being attracted and recruited?
  • What data has been gathered, based on what is possible in your jurisdiction?
  • Conduct questionnaires and surveys to obtain employee input.
  • Include a review of the local context and legal background as you consider the current state:
  • what legislative requirements may exist;
  • what local support is available; and
  • what other firms in your location are working on.
  • For global firms operating in multiple jurisdictions, establish a global base position or values on D&I matters to ensure the firm expectations are met and everyone feels equally a part of the global team and culture.
Determine where you would like to be

Use your kick-start supporter group to determine where you would like to be

4. Determine where you would like to be

Use your initial stakeholder group to determine where you would like to be. Below are some questions to shape that conversation.

  • What kind of environment or culture does the firm wish to achieve?
  • How does the firm expect employees to behave and what are their expectations of how employees treat each other?
  • What were the challenges highlighted in the data reviews?
  • Where are the D&I gaps? How do you plan to meet those challenges and resolve them?
  • What areas need to be focused on going forward?
  • Consider how the firm wants to appear at the end of the process:
  • inclusive environment with long-term retention of professionals;
  • member firms influencing the wider industry and society by leading by example with the promotion of better D&I practices;
  • leading innovation within the firm and beyond (pro bono, for instance), positively impacting society;
  • adding value: new ideas, new points of view and more solutions for clients;
  • openness and enrichment of the professional community; and/or
  • a safe work environment where people feel valued.
Set your high-level goals

Set high-level goals for up to four areas of focus based on where you are now and where you would like to be

5. Set your high-level goals

Set high-level goals for up to four areas of focus based on where you are now (Step 3) and where you would like to be (Step 4). Setting realistic goals and targets is crucial to the plan. They provide a direction of movement towards the desired outcome of the project, as each goal will have associated tasks that must be completed.

Consider the following when setting goals for the D&I Action Plan.

  • Determine what areas need to be concentrated on to provide a point of focus (which will make it easier to make decisions).
  • Consider whether to set specific targets for achieving certain levels of representation – for example, for the number of female partners.
  • Outline the tasks or actions required to meet the goals.
  • Use the matrix to determine actions to take to address each goal.
  • Build governance and communication plans for the project to support the goals.

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Section 3: What next? Checking your progress

3.1 Does the Action Plan work properly or does it need to be reviewed and amended?

The Action Plan should be used as a ‘living document’. It should be reviewed and revised on an ongoing basis as D&I initiatives and the circumstances of your firm evolve. D&I partner(s)/officer(s) or a committee/internal body should be responsible for, on an ongoing basis, adapting the Action Plan to the needs and challenges of the firm, and tracking and supporting the progress and implementation of the action points under the Action Plan.

The key to successful implementation of the Action Plan is adequate assignment of responsibility, establishment of accountability, and opportunity for feedback and suggestions. The final decision of the firm’s management/leadership on whether the Action Plan is working properly needs to be made based on careful consideration of the practical, experienced realities, including proper evaluation of the application of the Action Plan at all levels within the firm.

Depending on the firm’s circumstances, external consultants and advisors can also assist with the review process and help with the evaluation and amendment of the Action Plan. External advisers/consultants will be able to analyse and compare your D&I status, efforts and initiatives with the market standards and trends.

3.2 How often should the implementation of the Action Plan be verified or evaluated?

There is a risk that D&I initiatives may fade or be forgotten after launch. Therefore, setting out and committing to periodical review meetings and milestones is strongly recommended. The review meetings and milestones should be more frequent initially. Once a cadence of activity has been agreed, their frequency should be adjusted and fixed as per your firm’s needs and requirements for efficient and constant review, monitoring and measurement of the firm’s D&I initiatives, and efforts under the Action Plan.

There is no fixed timeline for verifying the implementation of the Action Plan. Each firm needs to put a timeline in place depending on the specific needs, requirements and structure of the firm. Some recommendations for review timelines include:

  • monthly D&I officers/committee meetings;
  • frequent short/online surveys (on all or different aspects of the Action Plan implementation), either distributed to the firm as a whole or to targeted groups/sections of the firm, to gauge the firm’s D&I ‘temperature’ on an ongoing basis, and identify trends and issues;
  • internal newsletters to provide updates and promotion regarding any pro bono work;
  • larger annual firm-wide surveys on D&I, allowing year-on-year evaluation of progress;
  • yearly collection and evaluation of relevant key figures and data to assess progress, identify trends, and update policies and practices such as pay gaps, composition of work force, new hires, promotions, etc; and
  • annual review of reporting systems, such as the reporting system for sexual harassment, to ensure that it is known to the employees, applied appropriately and the matters are handled adequately as per internal procedures and applicable laws.

3.3 How to check the efficacy of the Action Plan

Quantifying and measuring the success and efficiency of the Action Plan can sometimes be a challenge, as not all aspects of D&I are easily quantifiable. In particular, inclusion – which relates to how employees feel – may be difficult to measure and needs feedback from employees themselves to be capable of analysis. Also, there are no standard metrics for measuring the efficiency of the Action Plan. Therefore, metrics for measurement need to be developed and prioritised by each firm depending on its current position and future goals.

As discussed above, one simple and efficient tool for checking the efficiency of the Action Plan is gathering data, including surveys/feedback from employees. The surveys can be anonymous (to attract more participation and candid reviews) and may include questions on a range of topics including fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, diversity, etc. Some examples of D&I survey questions include:

  • to what degree have you found that your colleagues are focused on D&I and improving their D&I efforts?;
  • to what degree have you found that the firm is focused on D&I and improving their D&I efforts?;
  • have the firm’s D&I policies been helpful and effective?;
  • what do we need to do to improve our D&I efforts and initiatives?;
  • is there anything in our D&I efforts that you have found ineffective? Why is this?;
  • do you feel heard? Do you feel you have enough (and proper) opportunities to freely share your suggestions and concerns? If not, do you have any recommendations on how this can be improved on?;
  • have you experienced any improper conduct or behaviour in the workplace?;
  • have you made a formal complaint when you felt it was needed?;
  • if you have made a complaint, did you feel supported, and was the complaint mechanism accessible and easy?;
  • do you feel like you can make a formal complaint when needed?;
  • do you have enough information on the complaint process?;
  • what other specific actions can we take to help strengthen our D&I efforts and initiatives in a real and meaningful way?;
  • do you find that any of our D&I efforts fail to include any of our colleagues?; and
  • how can we make our D&I efforts more engaging?

The data collected from these surveys and other data-gathering exercises needs to be carefully evaluated, analysed and compared to baselines, targets and previous reviews.

It is vital that actions are taken based on the results of the evaluation. Delay in evaluation or taking further measures could stall the progress of D&I efforts, potentially rendering them inefficient or irrelevant in the short or long term.

Additionally, it is important to transparently share the results of evaluations with the firm (or at least the responsible persons within the firm). A positive result will inform everyone of the successes of the firm’s D&I efforts and initiatives and encourage them to do more. A negative result will support the firm’s need for stronger D&I initiatives.

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Appendix 1: Getting Started – Meeting template

The purpose of this template is to provide member firms with a guide for meetings on the initial introduction of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Toolkit and implementation of the D&I Action Plan. The template links back to the steps outlined in Section 2 of this Toolkit, and includes notes for those running the meetings with prompts on items to focus on and questions to raise. The template also includes a meeting agenda to be utilised for each meeting. Overall, the meeting should produce an agreed output on application of the Toolkit which can be captured in the D&I Action Plan template in Appendix 3.

The person or people running the meetings will need to be welcoming and use inclusive language such as saying ‘Welcome everyone’ rather than ‘Ladies and gentlemen’. This should be maintained throughout the meeting. During the meetings, it is important that no one person dominates the discussions, all ideas are shared and everyone feels safe to contribute.

It will be important to establish the purpose of the meeting at the beginning. The terms diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging are the core concepts of the D&I Toolkit, and they should be defined and discussed to ensure the participants understand them.

Agree in advance who will take minutes of the meeting to capture the discussion and actions agreed. As suggested, this is a kick-off meeting: it is envisaged that it will launch the D&I action planning work in the firm. However, a completed Action Plan will take several meetings to agree.

Download meeting template (PDF)

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Appendix 2: The D&I Matrix

2.1 What is the D&I Matrix and how does it work?

The Matrix is designed to provide guidance on actions that will address priority areas. It can also be leveraged by firms that have an existing Action Plan to identify new areas for development. It addresses D&I concerns at each stage of work life inside a law firm and is structured around the following key employee life cycle milestones:

  1. Attraction and recruitment process
  2. Induction period
  3. Career progression and promotion
  4. Ending the work relationship

The matrix uses four key terms:

  • goals are set for each stage of professional life;
  • objectives are listed to achieve these goals;
  • a set of actions are listed to achieve the objectives; and
  • guidance on how to review and measure progress is provided.

Implementing any or all these actions requires resources – human and financial. Each member firm should consider these factors as it begins its journey, ensure that its HR department has specific training on D&I issues, and set up a D&I officer/committee or other internal body to implement and monitor actions at the various stages of the work relationship (from recruitment to career progression to termination) to bring specific sensitivity to D&I issues and ensure compliance with minimum rules.

The D&I officer/committee should ideally consist of representatives of the different groups of employees/fee earners and staff within the firm, and/or trained/qualified professional(s) (with some knowledge/background in D&I processes and implementation). The D&I officer/committee should work closely with the other main and supporting functions of the firm, including the partners/practice heads and HR department, to constantly review progress, identify issues in implementation and propose amendments to the Action Plan.

Approaches to recruitment may differ depending on the roles needing to be filled. Care should be taken to meaningfully incorporate D&I at each stage.

Download Diversity & Inclusion Matrix (PDF)

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Appendix 3: D&I Action Plan Template

The output from the discussions kicked off by the D&I Action Plan kick-off meeting will be to capture the firm’s context and intentions in relation to their ongoing D&I activity. The purpose of the D&I Action Plan template is to provide a framework for firms to capture this output and to provide context for the ongoing work. The plan will also provide a tracking facilitation to record and capture progress against milestones and metrics agreed at the inception of the plan.

Updating the plan and monitoring its success and progress is further discussed in Section 3. Advice in this section should be leveraged to ensure ongoing development of your D&I approach.

Download Action Plan template (PDF)

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Appendix 4: Glossary of Terms

Download glossary (PDF)

Affinity bias Affinity bias is the tendency to favour people who share similar interests, backgrounds and experiences with us. Because of affinity bias, we tend to feel more comfortable around people who are like us. We also tend to unconsciously reject those who act or look different to us.
Belonging Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion and identity for a member of a certain group. It is when an individual can bring their authentic self to work.
Disconnection Disconnection refers to the workers’ right not to engage in work-related activities or communications outside working time, by means of digital tools.
Discrimination Discrimination occurs when an individual is treated unfavourably because of gender, sexuality, race, religion, pregnancy and maternity or disability, or any other characteristic outlined in local jurisdictional legislation.
Diversity Diversity refers to different characteristics – gender, ethnic or racial background, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic background and neurodiversity. In this context, it promotes equal treatment for everyone and the idea of equity, which ensures people will be provided with the tools they need to succeed, without prejudice to these characteristics.
Equity Equity refers to fair treatment for all people, so that the norms, practices and policies in place ensure identity is not predictive of opportunities or workplace outcomes.
GDPR The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation in the European Union (EU) law on data protection and privacy in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA).
Harassment Harassment refers to the belittling or threatening behaviour directed at an individual worker or a group of workers.
Implementation and monitoring What the D&I body should do to supervise the achievement of D&I goals.
Inclusion Inclusion is the policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised.
Induction period Induction stands for the process through which employees adjust or acclimatise to their new jobs and working environment.
Intersectionality Intersectionality relates to the interconnected nature of social and political factors such as ethnicity, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, which create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or privilege.
Microaggressions A series of subtle but offensive comments or actions that reinforce stereotypes or bias.
Neurodiversity Neurodiversity refers to the different ways a person’s brain processes information and includes the following (not an exhaustive list):
  • Autism, or autism spectrum conditions
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or ADD (attention deficit disorder)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder (DCD)
  • Cognitive functioning difficulties or executive dysfunction
  • Dysgraphia
  • Misophonia
  • Slow processing speed
  • Stammering
  • Tourette’s syndrome
Ongoing career The career of each professional/staff: advancement, promotions, etc.
Prejudice Feeling favourable or unfavourable, toward a person or thing, prior to, or not based on, actual experience
Privilege Certain social advantages, benefits, or degrees of prestige and respect that an individual has by virtue of belonging to certain social identity groups.
Professionals/staff Since this Toolkit is aimed at all European firms, we have chosen to use the term professionals/staff to flexibly identify lawyers and employees of different departments. (In Italy and France, lawyers are self-employed and are not employed on a contract basis.)
Psychological safety The belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. At work, it's a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks or soliciting feedback.
Recruiting process The process of finding and attracting the potential resources for filling the vacant positions in an organisation. It sources the candidates with the abilities and attitude required for achieving the objectives of an organisation.
Termination The process accompanying the professional in leaving the firm.
The D&I Action Plan Includes (1) goals; (2) actions through which goals are achieved; (3) checklist of practical advice to put actions in place; and (4) monitoring and implementation activities.
Unconscious bias Unconscious bias is when we make judgments or decisions based on our prior experience, our own personal deep-seated thought patterns, assumptions or interpretations, and we are not aware that we are doing it.

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