Across the business world, every organization is talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). For professional services firms, whose businesses are powered by their people, a solid DE&I strategy is imperative. But are firms getting it right?
Corporations have invested billions of dollars in DE&I initiatives, yet a report by McKinsey suggests little improvement in terms of gender and cultural representation within organizations. This lack of progress may have to do with a reliance on surface-level initiatives — 78% of DE&I professionals say their workplace only prioritizes diversity when faced with visible or public problems.
On a similar note, professional services firms are unduly focusing their DE&I efforts on the very beginning of the employee cycle. Firms are recruiting diverse candidates, particularly at the entry level, and then calling it a day. But DE&I issues don’t stop at recruitment — these challenges seep into all aspects of the organization, requiring responses at every turn.
When firms fail to address systemic issues, diverse hires don’t get the chance to develop into more senior positions. The result? Company leadership doesn’t reflect the diversity seen at the junior level, and firms lose the advantages of a diverse workforce (like higher profits and stronger innovation).
A holistic approach: How firms can embrace DE&I beyond recruitment
To enact real change, firms need to think holistically and incorporate DE&I throughout the entire employee journey. Beyond recruitment, firms need to track diversity data across the whole organization, proactively check in with workers, and take action to create a welcoming and inclusive climate for all professionals.
Here’s a look at 4 ways firms can embrace diversity and inclusion beyond fair hiring.
1. An integration plan for all new hires
While inclusive hiring practices are key, these efforts fall flat if diverse hires aren’t supported from the get-go. Firms can foster DE&I from the outset by creating a structured, well-organized integration program for all new hires. This often goes beyond the typical onboarding process. An effective integration program can do wonders in helping new hires get up to speed and giving them equal opportunities to succeed at the firm.
An important part of inclusive integration is providing all hires an equal chance at meaningful introductions and mentorships. Networking is crucial for new associates, but biases lead people to gravitate toward others who are similar to themselves. Since senior managers and important clients are often White men, higher-ups tend to be out of reach for diverse hires.
To combat this, firms can organize welcome chats with stakeholders and actively assign mentors to new associates. Managers can also schedule social events to give new hires the chance to make organic connections with other members of the team.
Firms can also include DE&I-focused sessions and meetings, where new hires learn about the firm’s approach to diversity as well as the wider company culture. This opens the door for associates to bring up DE&I concerns down the line. And according to an HBR article, these concerns aren’t uncommon. Employees encounter an alarming number of identity-threatening situations at work — 11 per week — and these experiences lead them to feel less included and less like they belong.
2. An equitable allocation of work
Studies suggest that diverse associates play catch-up from day one. For example, compared to their White male colleagues, women and people of color are more likely to be assigned ‘housework’ assignments as opposed to career-boosting projects. These disadvantages create a widening gap — women and people of color lag behind their coworkers when it comes to promotions.
Stereotypes and biases are likely to blame for this inequity. Particularly in the professional services industry, partners often resort to biases when handpicking associates for projects, leading them to select workers based on familiarity over competency. Making matters worse, minority workers’ chances of advancing were set further back by the COVID-19 crisis. During the global pandemic, childcare responsibilities kept many women away from the office, causing them to miss out on client introductions and big-league projects.
A non-biased resource allocation strategy is a powerful tool to address these unfair practices. Associates are matched to projects based on objective measures like skills, competencies, and interests instead of personal relationships. This ensures all professionals an equal opportunity to advance their skills and earn meaningful work. Importantly, an equitable allocation of resources creates a fairer workplace, not only for diverse associates but for all employees.
3. Inclusive coaching and feedback
Even when given valuable work, diverse professionals tend to get shallower feedback and less coaching from senior managers. For example, one study found that female employees receive shorter, less helpful performance reviews compared to their male coworkers. Another study suggests that women and people of color are subject to higher scrutiny, with more mentions of mistakes in their evaluations compared to White men.
A lack of concrete feedback sets marginalized associates behind their colleagues, causing them to miss out on the learning opportunities needed to advance. HR tech solutions can help firms streamline the feedback process and ensure that all associates are receiving valuable feedback no matter what.
A feedback system is especially important when it comes to hybrid work, where a communication barrier prevents feedback conversations from happening organically. Junior professionals benefit from natural social opportunities like ‘watercooler’ conversations where they can interact with and learn from experienced colleagues. When working remotely, they need to proactively reach out to receive feedback — something diverse professionals don’t necessarily feel safe doing.
Firms can perform ongoing diversity and inclusion check-ins by monitoring real-time feedback, pulse surveys, and self-reflections to identify room for improvement. As explained in this HBR article, organizations often neglect to segment their employee survey results by minority group, leaving them blind to issues arising among specific populations. By carefully reviewing feedback history, managers can read trends across their diverse professionals to pinpoint issues and solutions.
4. An impartial system for fostering professional development
If firms wish to enact real change, they need to acknowledge where they’re falling behind — or rather, who is falling behind.
A system for tracking DE&I metrics across the employee journey offers vital insights, allowing firms to methodically track associate career progression. As they analyze both department trends and overall reports, firms can ask whether their diverse professionals are advancing at the same cadence as their non-diverse professionals.
Firms should further hold themselves accountable by comparing these diversity insights to data from firms in related industries, asking whether their workforce is below par in terms of diverse leaders. After noting their pitfalls, firms can take a proactive, goal-oriented approach to DE&I. This is a huge missing key — 76% of companies say they currently have no diversity and inclusion goals.
To actively encourage professional development, managers can assist associates in creating personal career development plans. This will ensure the firm isn’t dropping the ball on diverse hires once they arrive. Ongoing skills tracking can help illuminate employee knowledge gaps and skill strengths — ultimately helping diverse professionals toward the advancement opportunities they need.
To sum up
Everyone is talking DE&I, but the reality is that most firms are making little to no progress. To stand out, firms can take bold action to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the whole organization. By thoughtfully integrating diverse hires, ensuring an equitable allocation of work, implementing objective performance feedback, and tracking professional development, firms support all associates in reaching their potential.
Your roadmap to a more inclusive workplace
Fostering DE&I isn’t a sprint — it’s a marathon. And firms need a strategic plan that supports associates from start to finish.
From hiring to developing talent, vi by Aderant’s comprehensive talent management platform guides professional services firms toward an equitable and inclusive workplace for all talent members. With the help of deep DE&I analytics, firms are empowered to take meaningful action toward their diversity and inclusion goals. Ready for action?