Last week, Amdie Mengistu took to the virtual stage to moderate "Practical Advice - How can I impact DEI as General Counsel" with panelists Inga Golbard (General Counsel of Google Ventures), Katherine Johnson (Chief Legal & People Officer of Storj) and Manuel Martinez-Herrera (General Counsel & Executive Sponsor of DEI Initiatives of BetterCloud).
While we aren't able to share the full panel with you (they're only available for TechGC members), we can share a bit of what we learned about diversity, equity and inclusion. DEI doesn't have to just be left to HR, and as a GC there are real, practical ways for you to positively impact your organization.
DEI ERGs (acronyms abound!)
If you're thinking about putting together a DEI Employee Resource Group (ERG) or a DEI Committee at a company with more than 50 people, chances are there's already a grassroots movement within your company to address DEI (amazing example: a Slack channel called #chocolate_rain). Bring in voices from every department, and make sure that there's regular communication between your DEI Committee and the C-Suite.
As far as compensating DEI ERGs and Committees, there's no real consensus on how to do that. But if there isn't direct compensation, membership should be a consideration during employee evaluations for promotions and raises.
All about the process
This is where you can put your methodical lawyer brain to good use. Survey your colleagues about what your company is doing right and wrong on DEI, and use those results to determine where to focus your efforts. Having clearly defined processes and targets makes it easier to hold your organization accountable. And if you happen to be in the venture space, share your best-practices with your portfolio companies.
In hiring, create targets for your hiring pipeline ("we want at least 30% of candidates to be from underrepresented groups"). Run a search with a search firm who can help you build a diverse pipeline (oh hey, we know a good search firm if you need legal talent) and look at how your hiring practices are vulnerable to unconscious biases. A study from Harvard Business School found that if you have a hiring pool of two white candidates and one black candidate, participants tended to recommend hiring a white candidate. Flip the candidate pool, and participants were significantly more likely to recommend hiring a black candidate. Same went for candidate pools of men and women, so make sure that your hiring pool doesn't always only include one person of color, or one woman.
Not only white men from San Francisco want to break into VC
If you're reading this, we're probably preaching to the choir. You know that just because your industry looks a certain way now, doesn't mean that those are the only people interested in breaking in. Opportunistic hiring ("Oh, I know someone great for this role! We went to college together.") can lead to a workforce that all looks the same, which takes us back to the importance of the processes and targets that you set up.
A silver-lining of the COVID pandemic is many companies' newfound openness to remote hires. Cities and neighborhoods often have a way of segregating themselves, but being geographically agnostic in your search for candidates can help you create a more diverse workforce.
Use your status as a shiny diamond of a client
How do you get law firms to staff your matters with a diverse team? You just ask. Plain and simple. It's so far pretty rare to include benchmarks in engagement letters (although it has been done, and some companies have even incentivized meeting those benchmarks), but law firms are aware that their clients are hungry for diverse teams and they're working on responding. And the same goes for other vendors. If they want your company's business, make sure they're aware of and receptive to your values.
Don't torture yourself if the change doesn't come
You can start a DEI Committee and take on a hybrid GC/HR role, but the sad truth is that if your company isn't really open and committed to improving DEI, then it's time to move on. There's only so much shouting into the void that one can do.