Heidi G. Bayer 2014-06-10 14:35:31
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, once one of the most infamously segregated societies in the world and then growing up in Toronto, Canada, a multicultural mecca, diversity and inclusion in the workplace have always been of great interest. However, South Africa was a country based on legalized segregation and Canada is often recognized as a cultural mosaic, but what about Arizona and the United States? While the United States was founded on the principle of cultures unifying and blending to become Americans, by the 1960s President Kennedy and many immigrant groups advocated for the concept of a mosaic, and Arizona, although not statistically the most diverse in the nation, certainly has a broad population, whether it be race, ethnicity, religion, etc. For this reason, inclusion and diversity in the workplace is essential, especially among professionals, such as those in the legal industry, leading to greater representation and inclusiveness in the profession, and attorneys who better reflect the diversity of their clients and can meet the needs of the global community. The reality is people differentiate themselves based on who and what they are and, similarly, relate better to that which is familiar. Not surprisingly, this can be a barrier to change in the workforce, as leaders, as well as employees in organizations can be resistant to adapting to gender, cultural and other differences, real or perceived. However, with a true commitment to affecting change in this area, the benefits to diversity and inclusion in the workforce can be substantial. It is about bridging the gap between viewing these differences as negative versus embracing these differences as fostering greater creativity, analysis and problem-solving. Moreover, it can lead to attracting and retaining more diverse talent, which can add to an organization's competitive edge. Arizona's legal community has many organizations committed to this goal, such as the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, the Asian and Los Abagados Hispanic bar associations and of course, the state bar itself. In addition, there are more grass root organizations working hard to affect change for women and minorities in the Valley. Ladder Down, a yearlong program designed to empower women of diverse backgrounds, age and at various points in their legal careers, just began its second year. One of its founders, Elizabeth S. Fitch, partner at the Righi Law Group, writes about some of the gender inadequacies in the legal arena. Due to the fact firms today are hiring virtually as many women as they are men, she states in a post on the Ladder Down website, "At first glance it may seem as though women have achieved equality in the legal profession, but the devastatingly small number of women making partner tells us that we have not.” In a study conducted by the American Bar Association, “Statistics from the ABA Commission on Women, A Current Glance at Women in the Law, February 2013” they found that the percentage of female associates in the nation's firms in 2013 was 45 percent, the number of female partners was only 19.9 percent.” Of course, increasing diversity in law firms has been discussed for decades, but there’s still a great need for change. Dedication to having a diverse and inclusive workplace takes a long-term commitment and an understanding of the importance of diversity beyond Equal Employment Opportunity compliance and Affirmative Action laws. As with any issue, the first step is recognition. A firm must understand that true diversity is about more than the employees that make up the firm; it is also about the clients it serves, its business partners and the growing global economy and market around them. Second, a firm should assess the problem and make a plan. Hiring a third-party consultant to make recommendations or creating a committee to examine diversity and inclusion within its organization are possible options. Finally, implementation and support from the topdown is critical. The commitment of firms' managing partners, office administrators and other firm leaders is fundamental to the successful integration of diversity in the workplace. Industry-specific solutions may include focusing recruitment efforts toward greater diversity, for example, by attending minority job fairs; reaching out to colleagues or other firms you believe have made strides in this area; creating training and mentoring programs that keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of the agenda; implementing employee satisfaction surveys; and, above all, ensuring you foster an environment where your employees are encouraged to speak openly about their thoughts and opinions. Society in general is becoming more diverse, the professional world is evolving and the global economy is more pervasive than ever before. With increased diversity at the helm and throughout your organization, you invite more ideas, superior problem-solving and, ultimately, embrace the global nature of business in today's legal market. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not only the right thing, it just makes sense. Heidi Bayer is the owner and an executive recruiter for HGB Professional Recruiting Solutions. She has over 10 years of experience in business development, client relations and hiring. With years as VP of Operations for both the Better Business Bureau and Capital Legal Services, she knows the challenges of finding the right person for a team and how the right position within an organization brings out the best in an employee. Ms. Bayer moved to Arizona from Toronto, Canada, in 2001, after completion of her law degree. She has an Honors B.A., summa cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Toronto and her J.D. from the University of Windsor, Windsor Law School. For more information visit http://HGBrecruiting.com/.
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