Six Steps to Make Your Legal Workplace Equitable

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Are you wondering what you and your colleagues can do to make your legal workplace more equitable but you’re not sure what steps to take?

We’ve created a list of six steps that you can take, at no cost and without special training, to make your legal workplace more equitable.

In the coming months, we’ll publish scenarios for each of the six steps in our new blog series featured in InForum titled ‘Equity in Action: What Would You Do?‘. Each scenario in this blog series will be situations you or your colleagues may have already found yourselves in.

Let’s get started:

1. Amend Your Dress Code

Many dress codes are not inclusive of hairstyles, clothing, or makeup styles of different cultures or gender identities.

A few things to watch out for:

  • Prohibition of natural hair or traditional hairstyles from black communities.
  • Lack of an explicit acceptance of clothing from non-white cultures.
  • Differences in standards between genders for things like make-up, hair length, or skin exposure.

2. Look at Your Social Activities

All employees should be able to enjoy office social activities regardless of their race, gender, religious beliefs, family situation, or income.

A few things to watch out for:

  • Events that center on the consumption of alcohol.
  • Events that only occur outside of regular business hours.
  • Events where all staff must pay the same amount, regardless of their position in the firm.

3. Expand Your Definition of CPD, Networking, and Mentorship

Traditional definitions of continuing professional development, networking, and mentorship often fail to value opportunities for employees to become more culturally competent, build a presence in diverse communities, or to find mentors that are the best possible fit.

Things you can do:

  • Encourage staff to use CPD allowances to learn about the history, experiences and perspectives of non-white communities in your area.
  • Encourage staff to develop an active presence in diverse communities in your area through attendance at cultural events or meetings.
  • Allow staff to be mentored by people outside your firm if they have needs that cannot be met by someone inside your firm – and make sure all staff, not just lawyers, have opportunities for mentorship.

4. Value Diverse Experiences in Hiring

Some of the types of experience most valued in hiring are inaccessible to people, often for financial reasons.

Watch out for:

  • Valuing experience with unpaid internships at high-profile organizations over a history of wage labour.
  • Penalizing candidates with caretaking obligations.
  • Allowing children from prominent families to bypass standardized hiring processes.

5. Ask Your Clients How They Would Like to be Treated

The best way to assess your client’s needs is to ask directly, rather than make assumptions based on stereotypes.

Things you can do:

  • Ask your clients the following questions:
    • Is there anything else you think I should know about your background so I can better represent you?
    • Is there anything that we discussed that I could explain better? How do you feel about the services I have provided you with so far? Is there anything I can do better to help you further?
  • Echo your client’s language in how they self-identify:
    • If your client refers to their “spouse” rather than “husband”, use their preferred term.
    • If you are unsure of how a client would like to be referred to, ask! It is always better to ask than to assume.

6. Identify Opportunities to Make Your Office More Accessible

There are many ways to make your office more accessible to those with physical and non-physical disabilities.

Things you can do:

  • Include information on your website about how your office is accessible.
  • When holding staff events, avoid venues that are not accessible by those with disabilities (for example, a regular after-work gathering in a basement pub).
  • Ask clients for their preferred format to receive written communications.

Our goal by the end of this blog series is for you, your colleagues and firm know how to approach various situations and know how to make your legal workplace more equitable.

Questions or comments? Contact us at [email protected] or comment below!

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