A law firm’s D&I approach must be action-oriented and authentic, and 2020 provided a valuable cautionary tale as to why, says Gershbain. After the killing of George Floyd in May, corporations, businesses and other organizations presented statements expressing their opposition to anti-Black racism and solidarity with the Black community. There was a backlash because of the perception that, in some cases, these statements were performative and in the interest of reputation management, not allyship.
“Businesses and law firms started to recognize that if we want to put ourselves out there as inclusive, if we want our brands to be inclusive, and if we want to stand in solidarity with equity seeking groups who experienced barriers, whether those barriers are anti-Black racism, or anti indigenous racism, or transphobia, or homophobia… there has to be genuine action internally,” she says. “You cannot position yourself, I think, as standing in solidarity with communities if you haven't done the work in your own workplace to create an inclusive, bias-free culture.”
Increasingly, organizations are supplementing their understanding of the importance of inclusion with belonging, says Gershbain. With knowledge of the demographic composition of a workplace, inclusion surveys can be used to invite employees to share their experiences of inclusion and belonging at work. Cross-referencing with demographic data, organizations can then identify patterns of inequality or exclusion within a workplace, whether some groups are more or less likely to “feel seen and valued and respected,” and then target inclusion initiatives accordingly, she says.
“And the advantage of belonging is that it creates loyalty by employees. It allows people to focus on their work and not have to focus on experiences of discrimination, unintentional bias, microaggressions, and so on,” says Gershbain.
There are still members of the legal profession who have not bought into the “inclusion project,” says Gershbain. But it would be hard to find a large law firm in Canada which does not recognize an “authentic, meaningful, concrete” commitment to D&I is necessary to “remain relevant, competitive and to be in a position to bring in the best talent and to bring in clients,” she says.