The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Omar Ha-Redeye

Stop hitting the snooze button

August 21 2013 21 August 2013

This year's Monday keynote speaker was Dr. Arin Reeves, a lawyer with a Ph.D. in sociology who focuses on developing inclusion in organizations. Dr. Reeves spent a considerable amount of time distinguishing diversity from inclusion, as the former simply indicates a quantifiable number of diverse people, whereas inclusiveness speaks more to the type of culture an organization has.

An organization can be incredibly diverse, but not inclusive. Dr. Reeves further defines diversity as more than just gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, disabilities or sexual orientation. Secondary features of diversity span from features like personality types, economic status, geographic origin, educational background, political and philosophical views, and communication styles. All of these need to be included when developing features of inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness is the next frontier of diversity, and requires law firms to value the perspectives and contributions of all people and incorporate those views into all aspects of the firm. Because inclusiveness is an active process, which goes beyond simple recruitment, it is impossible for a law firm to claim to be inclusive while lacking diversity.  Several large Canadian firms which I have visited over the years point to their strong and robust diversity policies as a sign of inclusiveness, while concurrently bemoaning their inability to develop diversity within the firm.

Retention of diversity has always been the issue. The focus for Canadian firms is disproportionately placed on recruitment, with little regard for transforming the firm culture to ensure diverse individuals flourish and advance within the firm. There is very little diversity in the senior positions and decision-making roles within a firm, which is largely the effect of these non-inclusive cultures. Paradoxically these law firm cultures are unlikely to transform without diversity in these key positions.

Dr. Reeves elaborated on these concepts during a break-out session, accompanied by Patricia Lane of Taylor McCaffrey LLP in Winnipeg, Kathleen Nalty of Kathleen Nalty Consulting, LLC in Denver. Lane provided an extremely useful handout on how the transformational shift to an inclusive culture can be created in a law firm.

Unfortunately law firms are unlikely to invest the time and resources to properly develop these strategies unless it can be clearly shown to affect their bottom line. This is often referred to as the “business case for diversity.” Dr. Reeves’ book The Next IQ: The Next Level of Intelligence for 21st Century Leaders details that the next generation of business intelligence requires high level of cross-cultural competency. She introduces numerous studies showing how diverse organizations are far more profitable, and also demonstrate a competitive edge in the market exhibited by increased innovation and creativity. Nalty refers to this as the shift from seeing diversity as a problem, to viewing it as a potential opportunity for law firms.

However, Dr. Reeves also challenges the traditional notion of the business case for diversity, which typically stems from a fear from loss of clients. These strategies have not been effective in creating change in the legal community. Instead, she focuses on the ethical and moral obligations that law firms have to foster inclusive cultures.

The upside is that the more areas of diversity competency that an organization develops, the better equipped they will be to adapt to new issues of inclusiveness. This confirms some of my own research and field work in the area before entering law, which has subsequently been cited in some literature review on the subject. What this means is that ongoing efforts to transform a firm culture inevitably pay long-term dividends for strategic opportunities in the future. 

Unfortunately for law firms, they may not have much of a choice in the matter. The face of Canada is radically transforming, as evidenced by the Tuesday plenary with Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson, authors of the best-seller, The Big Shift, The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future.

Bricker and Ibbitson describe how the face of Canada is being radically transformed through population growth and immigration, which will result in significant power shift away from what they term the “Laurentian Elites.” For post-racial, Canadian-born visible minorities from Toronto like me, this isn’t anything new. But for Bricker and Ibbitson, who acknowledge being part of this historical elite, this is a sudden and rude awakening. 

Multiculturalism is our future, according to Bricker and Ibbitson, and it is also our strength. Law firms that fail to draw on that strength simply will not succeed. And from what I’ve seen from Canadian law firms so far, many of them are still floundering.

You’ve had your wake-up call Canada, now stop hitting the snooze button.

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Omar Ha-Redeye practices out of Fleet Street Law in Toronto. He is a Professor at Ryerson University and Centennial College. He sits on the board of directors of the OBA and co-chairs its Young Lawyers Division.

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