Reviewing a recent survey conducted by global management consulting firm BCG, I was struck by the finding that “Diversity plus inclusion is the source of real value.” Since our clients are always looking for diverse talent and striving to improve diversity and inclusion within their organizations, I asked one of our Senior Advisors, Michelle Banks, to share her thoughts on the subject. Michelle and I discussed the idea that legal departments should be considering the next step beyond diversity and inclusion: creating a culture of belonging.
Here are Michelle’s comments.
How do you define inclusion?
Serving as EVP, Global General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and CCO for Gap, Inc., I inherited a very diverse department: 70% women and 30% people of color. I define inclusion as making a diverse workforce feel welcome and able to reach their full potential. Individuals perform better, grow as professionals, and stay with the company. If you hire them and don’t surround them with support, they’re going to face bias unprepared, and they’re going to leave. To foster inclusiveness, it’s important to consider hiring diverse individuals not as a means to an end, but to change policies, practices, and systems across the organization to support and encourage all individuals to express their points of view and lead inclusively.
What steps are effective in creating and maintaining an inclusive culture?
One of the steps we took at Gap, Inc. even though it was somewhat of a risk, was to partner with the human resources department to fine-tune a diversity dashboard that would work for the entire company – and not just the legal department. Together we designed a process that would be useful for every management group, ultimately deciding on a one-page document that allowed for capturing metrics on one side and outlining an action plan to improve those metrics on the other. Metrics gave us the snapshot, but the plan provided specific strategies. For example, if numbers indicated an underrepresentation of diversity in leadership, we implemented a structured mentoring initiative to help get individuals ready for advancement and used diversity as a filter in succession planning.
What did you do to engage the legal department in this process?
Over the years, I continued to bring together my entire leadership team every six months to go through the diversity dashboard. Our human resources partner was included in the process as we discussed improvements we could make, what we were going to do differently, who would own the action step, and a timetable to make the changes happen.
Do you know if there are any checklists or templates available to help legal executives refine their dashboards?
When I was chair of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and Michele Coleman Mayes was chair of the ABA “Commission on Women in the Profession,” we championed a bias-interrupters study, You Can’t Change What You Can’t See, conducted by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Highlighting the fact that gender and racial bias permeates hiring, promotion, assignments, and compensation across the legal industry, this study provides solutions and offers Bias Interrupters Toolkits that can help you upgrade your approach and achieve better outcomes.
How do you see diversity evolving in companies and departments with more sophisticated and inclusive cultures?
I find many companies are making significant progress in their diversity efforts, particularly in New York and California. Google, Facebook, and roughly 20% of the Fortune 500 now have Chief Diversity Officers who are responsible for cultivating an environment to encourage and support diversity. However, here in California, we are moving beyond diversity and inclusion to a new level that we refer to as “belonging.” In other words, you’re not just welcome, but you are actually part of the group or culture. Verna Myers, Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, and a noted diversity advocate whose TED Talk on overcoming bias has received more than a million views, told the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” In light of this analogy, belonging furthers the experience and allows you to dance to your own style of music. Essentially, belonging encourages individuals to be and express their authentic selves rather than trying to adapt to fit in. This is the new frontier.
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Michelle Banks is a Senior Advisor at BarkerGilmore LLC where she specializes in providing executive coaching to corporate general counsel and their successors.