The benefits of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace are well documented - evidence shows that diverse teams are more effective and help improve overall business performance. But if you’re a small firm and don’t have the budget for widescale initiatives, where do you start? Liz Bryne, head of learning and development at Blake Morgan, offers five action points.

If you work within the legal profession, you will certainly have noticed an increased focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the last few years. This is inspiring and encouraging, and many firms now having specialist D&I professionals helping to shape their strategy and action plan.

Liz - cropped

Liz Bryne

But what happens if you’re not an international firm with a specific budget for diversity initiatives and don’t have specialist internal resource available?

Well, there is plenty you can do that doesn’t require a budget and lots of help out there if you know where to look. Let me share what I’ve learned about creating some D&I momentum in your firm.

1. Know your data

Collecting and analysing existing workforce data is an important first step and both qualitative and quantitative data is helpful.

You may already collect equal opportunities information from staff as they join your firm – what does this reveal?

You might run an employee engagement survey to establish whether people feel included and supported.

You could ask questions to uncover any issues with your recruitment or promotion processes or problems accessing development opportunities. Ask what you’re doing well already so that you can capitalise on existing strengths.

Once you have data, you can decide on priorities and scope the work you want to do.

For us, this exercise resulted in the creation of five priority work streams: gender, ethnicity, social mobility, LGBT+ and mental health & wellbeing.

2. Get buy-in and create accountability

Once you’ve defined your priorities, it is important to get buy-in from across your firm, but particularly from senior leaders who will be key to successful implementation. Talk to people about what you want to do, how you want to do it and why you think it needs doing. Invite ideas and suggestions, but also listen carefully to concerns. Taking this time to consult also gives you an opportunity to identify any individuals who may want to actively lead or support specific activities.

We introduced an inclusion champion role, a partner who would lead one of our work streams, and our chairman agreed to act as our senior EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) champion. We created role descriptions and set up quarterly meetings to allow us to shape our action plan, share updates and introduce some accountability for ensuring the plan is executed once agreed. We then ran a campaign to find ‘inclusion supporters’ from across the firm who would help the inclusion champions with work stream-specific activities.

3. Write your plan and share it

The next step is to write your plan. I found it helpful to focus on a one-year plan which set out specific objectives and deadlines. This enabled us to track our progress throughout the year, but also gave us flexibility to adapt to changing needs. Our first plan focused on general objectives. We looked at our policies, recruitment, induction, training, engagement, and external-facing initiatives. Subsequently, we have created specific plans for each work stream.

Once you have the plan, share it. We use our firm-wide intranet, but you could pin your plan on staff notice boards, for example.

4. Use available support and resources

One of best things about the legal profession’s increased focus on diversity is the wide range of resources now readily available to firms and individuals. Some of the most helpful I’ve come across are:

The Law Society’s D&I Divisions: sign up for alerts and newsletters from all or any of the Law Society’s D&I Divisions. These contain news about upcoming events, training opportunities, and research reports. The Law Society will also soon be publishing guidance on ‘easy wins’ in D&I for firms.

The Law Society D&I forums: the Law Society has been looking to increase engagement with firms outside of London. We’ve participated in D&I forum meetings in Wales and in Hampshire – a great way to build a network of contacts in other local firms, discuss hot topics, share top tips and to hear about ongoing research and upcoming events.

The Law Society’s Professional Development Centre: this houses a range of education resources on a wide number of topics, not just diversity-related subjects, many of which are free.

LawCare: a charity devoted to supporting wellbeing in the legal profession. There is a free helpline for individuals who want support and their website contains some really helpful factsheets on topics such as addiction, depression, anxiety, stress and bullying in the workplace.

5. Communicate regularly to demonstrate a clear and ongoing commitment

Regular communication keeps people engaged and maintains momentum, and, just as importantly, enables you to demonstrate a clear and ongoing commitment to D&I. I’ve found it helpful to use a broad range of communication channels such as:

  • our intranet: we have dedicated pages for each of our work streams, a calendar of upcoming events and access to all our education and training resources, such as our EDI Handbook. We also share stories of what’s going on in the firm to mark national awareness events or religious festivals such as Pride, World Mental Health Day, International Women’s Day, Diwali and many others.
  • our website and social media: we use these channels to share news about what we’re doing, but also to support any national awareness campaigns.
  • dedicated email accounts: we wanted to ensure there was an easy way for us to send our newsletters and for people to send us feedback and suggestions, so we have created an EDI@BlakeMorgan email address. We also have a BMPride-specific email for our LGBT+ network group and SafeSpace, a way for people to raise sensitive and confidential issues with us.

I wish you every success!

Liz Bryne is head of learning and development at Blake Morgan and sits on the firm’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Blake Morgan is a Stonewall Diversity Champion, the leading employers’ programme for ensuring all LGBT staff are accepted without exception in the workplace.

The firm also has a dedicated equality, diversity and inclusion committee, and a wealth of resources in an internal training academy which actively seek to raise awareness and provide support and guidance to all within the business.

Read more about Blake Morgan’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion