In-House Influence: Demanding diversity and inclusion

  • December 18, 2017
  • Helen Liu

There has been a great deal of discussion and debate around the LSUC’s recent diversity and inclusion initiatives, resulting from the recommendations in the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group’s Final Report. As you are all aware, two new requirements will now apply to licensees. The first is the requirement for a Statement of Principles: all licensees (lawyers and paralegals) are required to create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.

The LSUC also developed resources to help licensees in creating their personal Statement of Principles. The second is a requirement for a Human Rights and Diversity Policy: each legal workplace with at least 10 licensees in Ontario must develop, implement and maintain a human rights/diversity policy for their legal workplace addressing at the very least, fair recruitment, retention and advancement, which will be available to members of the professions and the public upon request. 

According to lawyer Hadiya Roderique, while these initiatives, noble in their aspirations, may move the needle somewhat, it is unclear how much real sway there will be until clients start demanding change in a way that will have a real impact on firms’ bottom line.

By now, many lawyers have read the essay called “Black on Bay Street” by Roderique that was published in The Globe and Mail last month, November 2017. The article has been shared numerous times on LinkedIn and discussed amongst friends – a positive sign that our profession is very much interested in this issue. The article describes Hadiya’s experience working in “big law” as a woman of colour and the roadblocks she had to face at every step in order to fit in as she climbed the ranks of seniority on Bay Street. She points out that “whitening” is one of the many ways we, as visible minorities, try to fit into these worlds, which helps to get our foot in the door at the early stages of our career. However, fitting in becomes harder and harder as we move up.

Statistics and our collective experiences show that there is more gender and ethnic diversity in in-house legal departments, both within the private sector and the public sector, than in law firms. Some believe that this may be partly due to the fact that many female and/or ethnic lawyers are “pushed out” of law firms and therefore “end up” in-house. Others believe that they deliberately choose to go in-house after a few years in private practice, knowing that their chances of joining the partnership ranks are meager.

Maybe the in-house culture, which doesn’t focus as much on superficial charm and chatter, attracts more women and visible minorities. Regardless of the reasons, there is a silver lining: we, as in-house counsel, are in a privileged position as clients vis-à-vis law firms. We can be role models for diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

Being a role model means directly demanding change in the law firms we retain in order to raise the bar for law firm diversity. In fact, many law firms are already facing growing pressure from important clients to increase diversity and inclusion. For example, some large banks have begun asking the law firms they work with whether or not they collect diversity metrics and if so, to disclose them. In the U.S., some companies will only work with outside counsel teams composed of a minimum percentage of women and ethnic minorities.

Being a role model also means leading by example. In-house departments should continue to ensure their teams are diverse and that those who make it to management and senior management include a significant number of women and ethnic minorities. Increasingly young lawyers have a desire to join in-house departments. This is not surprising. The Canadian population of law students and law school graduates has become ever more diverse, reflecting the multicultural society that we are. Millennials can find their sense of belonging in more diverse and inclusive work environments.

As clients, in-house departments have tremendous power in effecting meaningful cultural shift. We have already been using this power to promote diversity and inclusion in the profession, and we must continue our efforts.

 

About the author

Helen Liu, Associate Senior Counsel, Intact Financial Corporation
Vice-Chair, Canadian Corporate Counsel Association Ontario Chapter

Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this article is that of the respective author and not of the OBA.

 

This article was originally published for the Ontario Bar Association Canadian Corporate Counsel Section.  Access more great content like this by joining the Section today!

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