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Six Components of a Diversity Policy for Your Corporate Legal Department

June 16, 2021

By: Randi-Lynn Smallheer

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) released its 2021 State of the Industry Report in May, which revealed a stunning shift in priorities for in-house legal departments this year.

CLOC’s new survey found that six in 10 respondents ranked the implementation of a diversity and inclusion program as their top-ranked priority for 2021, placing diversity programs on the top of the list this year. Diversity ranked just fifth out of seven priority options in last year’s CLOC report, according to the Law360® service.

This dramatic elevation in the importance of corporate legal workforce diversity has been evident in recent news reports related to a wide range of companies. The latest example was a statement released in May by global telecommunications company Nokia, launching an ambitious diversity and inclusion initiative for both its internal hires and external law firms.

The accelerated focus on workforce diversity shows no signs of slowing as a legal modernization cornerstone, especially now that “advocates of diversity mandates can point to a growing body of research that gives credence to the argument that diversity boosts performance,” according to our Intelligize® colleagues. “Corporate disclosures culled from the Intelligize database demonstrate the degree to which high-profile brand names have embraced increasing diversity as a worthwhile objective.”

Creating a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Policy

Against this backdrop, corporate legal professionals are increasingly under pressure from their executive teams and their organization’s external stakeholders to build more diverse teams. Of course, as the chief legal officers of the company, your department is also tasked with fulfilling this mission in a way that is both efficient and within the proper bounds of employment law.

To aid you in your mission, consider the following six key components of a D&I policy when crafting a policy for your organization that confirms the company’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace.

  1. Statement of Commitment

Clearly establish that the company is committed to maintaining a diverse and inclusive work environment that promotes fairness and values each employee’s unique contribution to the workplace. Make it clear that you believe in treating all employees with respect. This commitment can help your company recruit and retain employees and attract clients and customers. Employees working in an environment where inclusion is valued may work in a more cooperative and effective manner.

  1. Celebration of Differences

All employees have unique experiences and backgrounds, so create a policy that celebrates their differences with respect to characteristics such as: race; color; religion or creed; age; sex; gender; sexual preference or identity; physical or mental disability; genetic history; national origin or ancestry; ethnicity; citizenship status; military or veteran status; economic background; family status; and political beliefs.

  1. D&I Initiatives

Include a specific list of your company’s D&I initiatives to illustrate steps you are taking to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce. Possible examples might include training and mentorship programs to support career development of all employees, workplace affinity groups, flexible work schedules, community outreach programs and analyzing compensation practices to ensure equity in employee pay.

  1. Equal Employment Opportunity Policies

Reaffirm the company’s commitment to complying with all applicable federal, state and local laws related to anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation. State clearly that it is the company’s policy to provide equal employment opportunities to all employees, job applicants and other individuals without regard to unlawful considerations of all classifications (e.g., race, color, religion or creed, gender, etc.) protected by applicable governing laws. Consider including a bulleted list of all these corporate policies related to equal employment opportunities for all employees to review in greater detail.

  1. Scope of D&I Initiatives

Clarify that your commitment to D&I applies not only to hiring, promotion and transfer decisions, but also to all aspects of the workplace. For example, employees should understand that the company’s commitment to D&I extends to training and mentorship opportunities, company events and social gatherings (including holiday parties), and all other aspects of the workplace.

  1. Complaints

Be sure to include a provision explaining that employees can report any conduct that conflicts with the company’s commitment to D&I to their supervisor, any member of the corporate management team or the human resources department. Make it clear that employees can also raise allegations of improper conduct through a defined company complaint procedure, then direct employees to a resource they can access for more information on filing complaints.

The Practical Guidance Workplace Diversity, LGBTQ, and Racial and Social Justice Resource Kit offers critical resources to provide corporate legal professionals with guidance regarding workplace diversity programs, including practice notes on affirmative action plans and affinity groups, and a sample memorandum to the board of directors on diversity initiatives.

Measure and Iterate

Most organizations that have struggled to make meaningful progress toward their workforce diversity goals have learned a common lesson: The only way to manage it is to measure it. LexisNexis® and our parent company, RELX, are no exceptions to this rule.

As the co-president of RELX Women Connected NYC—an internal employee resource group focused on maximizing the potential of women through mentoring, education, networking and leadership development to enable women to build rewarding and sustainable careers and contribute to the success of the organization—I have worked with a team of like-minded colleagues to identify useful metrics to track our progress. Data analytics enable companies like ours to better understand our strengths, weaknesses and emerging opportunities to improve the effectiveness of our efforts. This experience can translate to the broader strategic initiative of promoting workforce D&I.

It is crucial for corporate legal professionals to have access to robust metrics with which they can measure progress toward their diversity goals and report out to their leadership teams. This visibility is critical to promoting change.

We have much work to do to promote workforce diversity in all industries, including the corporate legal profession. A clearly articulated diversity policy is a critical first step; a commitment to measuring progress and iterating along the way is essential to sustainable success.