Is Diversity a Luxury in a Down Economy?

by Vera Djordjevich | May 11, 2009

  • My Vault

 

As employers freeze salaries, lay off workers,slash travel budgets and even scale back on once ubiquitous perks like freecoffee, many question whether they will abandon diversity efforts in the wakeof the recession.  When businesses areworried about just staying afloat, does diversity get tossed overboard?

It is now commonplace for employers to voicetheir support of a diverse workplace; but making diversity a reality ratherthan simply a refrain requires work, planning and, to some extent, money.  When there’s less cash to go around,budgets for programs that ostensibly represent only a company’s socialconscience rather than its fiscal responsibility may be the first to shrink.

 A strategic investment

 However, as someone who works with hundredsof law firms each year to publish their diversity achievements and efforts, Ibelieve that appreciation for a diverse and inclusive workforce has burrowedmore deeply in corporate consciousness than many realize.  This isn’t to say that cost-consciousemployers will not cut back on their recruiting efforts or discontinuesponsorship of minority scholarships or cancel their day care programs; nodoubt many already have and others soon will.

 But a company or law firm with long-term strategy,one that plans to be around when the economy improves, will need a well-roundedand able workforce in place to preserve and, hopefully, grow its business.  The cultivation of talent, diverse in experience,culture and outlook, represents an investment in a company’s future, not merelya luxury to be enjoyed when the coffers are full.  It is not a distraction from, but a contribution to, acompany’s bottom line.  Wherediversity and inclusion truly are core values, they will not be set aside justbecause implementing them is inconvenient.  It seems to me that one virtue of the currentdisillusionment and anger over the recklessness and self-centered disregardamong some of our “top” business leaders is the increased demand andappreciation for integrity — both as a personal quality and as a corporatevalue.

Comparing efforts via the Diversity Database

 Moreover, as many employers recognize,diversity is not simply an ethical imperative, it is also a strategic endeavor.  The corporate Call toAction urges companies’ chief legal officers topledge not only to commit to diversity within their own legal departments butalso to make decisions about which law firms to employ based on their diversityperformance.  These corporations,some of the nation’s largest and most profitable, are using their considerablefinancial clout to ensure that law firms pay more than lip service to diversity.  And law firms are responding.  More than 275 law firms nationwidesubmitted information for publication in Vault’s 2009 Law Firm Diversity Database. This database — created in partnership with the MinorityCorporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and in consultation with representativesof the Call to Action initiative — gives corporate clients, as well as lawstudents, lawyers, recruiters and law firm management, the means to compare andassess the diversity initiatives and progress at law firms across the country.

 Every year Vault and the MCCA survey thenation’s top law firms, asking them not only for demographic statistics — e.g.,how many minorities and women were hired in the last year, how many werepromoted to partner — but also what kinds of mentoring programs are in place,whether the firm has a formal part-time policy, whether it offers domesticpartner benefits or uses executive search firms to target diverse hires.

 In the most recent issue of the MCCA magazine, Diversity & the Bar,the cover story on diversity in the financialindustry discusses how some employers are adapting their initiatives to thechallenges of today’s economic climate. Rather than abandoning their efforts or eliminating programs altogether,companies are streamlining them, “relying on more innovative, lost-costmeasures to promote their diversity practices.”  In this period of financial turmoil, business leaders must bestrategic and focused in their spending, to get the most bang for their buck — nota bad operating principle no matter how well the economy is doing.  In fact, some of the most successfulmeasures when it comes to diversity don’t require any spending at all — mentoring,monitoring the progress of diverse employees, and ensuring they have access tosignificant opportunities and clients in order to move forward in their careers.

 

 

 

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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