Diversity Archives - Diversity & Flexibility Alliance

Action Step – If You Think Your Organization is a Meritocracy, It’s Probably Hurting Your Diversity Efforts…
But Here’s What You Can Do About It
(Part 2)

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center

In Part I of this Action Step, we explored why debunking the notion that most organizations are meritocracies is essential to the success of diversity and inclusion efforts. To support this link, we discussed how evaluative processes such as promotion decisions are often less about objective, merit-based criteria and more influenced by in-group favoritism and other cognitive biases that tend to provide greater access to people in majority groups and less to others. With that background, we offer the following three steps to tackle the notion of meritocracy and open the channels for greater diversity and inclusion among those who advance in your workplace.

First, have a discussion about the factors other than merit that may help or hinder promotion in your organization. This can be an emotionally-charged topic, and could cause some people to feel that their achievements are being attacked. For this reason, it may be best for the discussion to be led from the highest levels of your organization, or to have a more generalized discussion of meritocracy in your industry. Questions that can help stimulate discussion include: What do we mean by “merit”? In determining who gets ahead, what should we prioritize: intelligence or hard-work; book smarts or experience; business development or results; people skills or revenue generation? What, if any, role should where a person was educated or personal connections play in who gets promoted? What is our explanation for why people at the top of our organization/industry are not more diverse? What makes it easier or harder for people to advance in our organization/industry?

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We’re Part of Your Team

With the New Year just six weeks away, you’re undoubtedly beginning to make your plans for 2018 and developing a strategy for the advancement of your diversity and flexibility initiatives. As you begin to map out your plans, we hope you’ll remember that you have the Alliance to turn to for support. Consider us part of your team. Whether you’re a Diversity & Inclusion professional with increased responsibilities and a decreasing budget, or a human resources executive tasked with bias training, we can help. We can serve as your trusted advisor and, if you’re a member, we encourage you to schedule your Strategic Planning Session soon.

Maybe you’d like to see more women in leadership or you’re wondering why so few professionals are using your flex policy. Our Policy Reviews are one of our most popular Member Benefits and we can help you to identify what’s working and what’s not. If you’ve participated in our Law Firm Benchmarking Study in the past, make sure you make some time to review where your firm stands in comparison to your competitors and where you can improve.

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Action Step –
If You Think Your Organization is a Meritocracy, It’s Probably Hurting Your Diversity Efforts, (Part 1)

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center

All of us like to believe that we work in a meritocracy where strong performers are catapulted to the top. What could be more fair? People who do good work and put in long hours are rewarded. People who don’t, well, they end up where they probably should be. It’s the American way; it’s the immigrant way; it’s survival of the fittest. It’s an idea that is fundamental to business itself. Except that it isn’t true…

Most of us do not work in a meritocracy. Our misguided belief that we do, however, prevents us from taking the necessary steps to ensure the best performers get ahead and undermines diversity and inclusion efforts.

Why aren’t our workplaces meritocracies? Ability, hard work, and a good character are key ingredients for success in any organization, and the people at the top most likely excelled at all three. But for most, these alone did not get them there, particularly if they’re part of the dominant and/or majority group(s) in an organization. The people who have reached the top likely were assisted by in-group favoritism which causes us to perceive achievements of people in our own group as the result of superior innate qualities. On the flip side, the achievements of people outside of our group are viewed as the result of luck or external circumstances, and they likely benefited from not having the same obstacles others have faced…

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Action Step –
Taking the Pulse of Your Workforce

The Alliance’s Action Steps are designed to assist organizations with implementing practical strategies and policies related to diversity and flexibility.  Members can access full versions of all of the Alliance’s Action Steps in the Member Resource Center


Before launching any initiative to promote or improve diversity or flexibility within an organization, it’s important to ensure you’re solving for the right problem. That is, rather than rushing to apply the latest industry best practice, the initiative should be tailored to address the particular needs of your organization with input from those who will be impacted. In addition to tracking a variety of workforce metrics, the Alliance recommends seeking that input in a systematic and meaningful way by engaging in one or more of the following three information gathering processes.

Surveys: Conducting engagement or climate surveys can provide a rich set of data points to understand the perception of a variety of diversity, flexibility, and/or other cultural issues within an organization, including what’s going well. These surveys typically take the form of an online questionnaire featuring a series of multiple choice questions for quantitative analysis, as well as a few open-ended questions to allow participants to comment about a specific topic or a range of topics covered by the survey. When developing the questionnaire, the organization should limit inquiry to areas it is prepared to address. Surveying without follow-up action can contribute to low participation in future surveys and even increased frustration among employees due to skepticism about the organization’s commitment to addressing the issues about which it asks…

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Looking for Career Support, Professional Development, and Camaraderie? Consider Forming an Affinity Group

Attorneys and other professionals who work flexible schedules can experience a sense of isolation from their co-workers that can come from limited face-to-face meetings as well as a decrease in hours. Affinity groups – groups that bring together those with shared identities, interests, and experiences – can help prevent this isolation and lead to increased career advancement and satisfaction.

In fact, Affinity groups can be created around any underrepresented group of individuals such as members of the LGBT community, members of a particular race or ethnicity or those working flexible schedules, but have most commonly been created for women in law firms. Creating an Affinity Group is an excellent way to build community and provide employees with a support system of others who share similar identities or experiences.

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When It Comes to Diversity, Clients Need to Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

Our recent annual conference included panel discussions with leaders from all sectors of the legal industry. One common theme that emerged throughout the day was that clients must help to drive diversity efforts in law firms. Speakers and panelists encouraged clients to “put their money where their mouths are” in demanding diverse teams and warned “if diversity is not a priority for the client, then it won’t be a priority for the firm.”

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The First Step to Gender Diversity:
Do the Math

Last month we welcomed more than 130 attorneys and corporate executives at our 2016 Annual Conference, Diversity + Flexibility = Talent Success. The day was filled with inspirational stories, sound advice, lessons learned, and expert guidance for organizations looking to improve their diversity and flexibility policies.

As we reflect on the successes of the day, we are proud to have had such a diverse group of participants, including general counsel, law firm chairs, diversity directors, and other leaders in the legal field come together to discuss the importance of having a diverse team and the value in having women in leadership positions. While the mindset of the legal community is clearly evolving, there are still many obstacles to overcome before we can truly say women have equal seats at the table.

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