Today Legal Cheek hosted their Conference on the Future of Legal Education where our CEO, Julia Salasky, joined an expert panel to discuss diversity and inclusion, what we’re doing at Legl and what this means in a post Covid-19 world.
Diversity as culture
At Legl, we give law firms the tools to service their clients digitally. Covid-19 has catalysed a shift to digitisation, not only because it is forcing firms to think differently about their operating processes, but also because it has fundamentally changed the way that law firms, and indeed all businesses, operate, long after the virus has died out.
At Legl, we have the benefit of being in the minority of legal and tech businesses led by a woman. For us, diversity and inclusion aren’t guidelines or tick-boxes, but part of our culture. But this hasn’t come passively, it requires effort and design.
Recently, one of our software engineers, India Dearlove, spearheaded an initiative to attract more diverse candidates. As a woman, India is a minority in software engineering. She is passionate about this issue personally because she actively wants to work in a diverse team, a sentiment the men in our engineering team strongly share.
At Legl, like many tech companies, we were struggling to attract diverse candidates for our engineering roles. So for our most recent two software engineering roles, we radically changed our process. We made a few tactical changes which resulted in us having a pipeline that was 80% women and/or people from an ethnic background. These included the following.
- First, we changed the text of the job ads and ran them through algorithmic tools that test for gender bias in text;
- Second, we proactively reached out to candidates ourselves who may be in underrepresented groups;
- Third, we ensured that those in the recruitment process were exposed to a number of different types of people on the team.
- And fourth, we split up our screen-to-screen part of the interview to fit in with the candidates schedule when necessary.
As Julia explained during the panel, diversity is important to her as a leader of a company for all the reasons that it makes a better business – diversity of thought, quality of working environment that drive business success.
“The emphasis we placed on diversity really communicated something about our culture internally that is self-fulfilling in a way that both helps attract candidates and helps retain good people”.Julia Salasky, CEO, Legl
But she could also see that companies that are stacked with one kind of person tend to continue to attract that type of person, “so the more ingrained that culture becomes, the harder it is to change”.
This idea about ingraining behaviour was a concept shared by others on the panel. Tiernan Brady, Global Director of Inclusion at Clifford Chance, advocates for a campaigning approach to diversity.
“It’s easy to fall back on metrics, but it’s critical to take a campaigning approach to diversity to hardwire it into who we are. Neutral non-discrimination in the absence of campaigning is almost as bad as discrimination itself. We need to actively take down those barriers”Tiernan Brady, Global Director of Inclusion, Clifford Chance
For Sally Davies, Managing Partner of Mayer Brown, it’s about implementing practical changes quickly. “The first thing I did when I became Senior Partner was implement a dress down policy. I wanted to make it clear to candidates that they don’t need a briefcase or a suit to interview. This is fundamental.”
A new world post-Covid?
And now with Covid, the world has changed. Like everyone, we at Legl are now remote first. But what does this mean for law firms and diversity and inclusion?
Over 200 people voted in Legal Cheek’s poll during the session and the split was exactly 50:50. 50% believe that the pandemic will worsen diversity due to economic fallout causing firms to hire fewer people and take a more conserative approach to recruitment; 50% believe the pandemic will improve diversity through greater virtual outreach and more flexible working.
For Tiernan, he has concerns. “For inclusion to happen there needs to be an absence of exclusion. And this is hard to do this at this time”. Tiernan is concerned that as we emerge from this women are more likely to be the ones having to make decisions on taking longer leave. “Firms need to be honest, open and provide constant clarity on supporting people in this situation”.
For Julia, the outlook was more optimistic, “I believe that Covid has flattened the world from a hiring perspective as remote-first has become the norm. From a business perspective, while diversity may have meant building diverse hiring pipelines, now it means being able to hire from all over the world. It means no longer being stuck to a desk during typical working hours, but being able to do much more and more easily flex around other caring obligations.”
Julia thinks that the move to remote-first will mean businesses have access to a much bigger and more diverse talent pool.
It’s still early days, but what’s clear is that diversity and inclusion continues to remain high on the agenda as we navigate this new world.