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A New Lens on the Value of Diversity

In law school, they don’t teach you to work in teams. In fact, most of the programs are designed to encourage competition with your classmates. However, when you enter the workplace and as your career evolves, some of your most important and interesting work will depend on your ability to provide excellent legal services as part of a larger team.

At WPG, we work with a wide variety of teams: industry and client teams, internal legal departments, executive management teams, client business development teams, marketing departments and our own internal team. Stepping back, the most successful, productive, innovative and healthy teams share the capacity for diversity, or maybe better said, the respect and desire for everyone’s diverse ideas.

Harvard Business Review published an article, How Diversity Can Drive Innovation, highlighting the two kinds of diversity: inherent and acquired. The article states, “Inherent diversity involves traits you are born with, such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity involves traits you gain from experience: Working in another country can help you appreciate cultural differences, for example, while selling to female consumers can give you gender smarts.” The article refers to companies whose leaders exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits as having “two-dimensional diversity.”

The article continues, “By correlating diversity in leadership with market outcomes as reported by respondents, we learned that companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and out-perform others. Employees at these companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”

So how does this translate in the legal world? There is not a law firm today that is not acutely aware of the value of acquiring and retaining diverse lawyers. However, most firms have been focused on inherent diversity, or retaining diverse lawyers based on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

On the other hand, firms that focus on both inherent and acquired diversity succeed and grow market share faster. In fact, the article states, “Inherent diversity, however, is only half of the equation. Leaders also need acquired diversity to establish a culture in which all employees feel free to contribute ideas. Six behaviors, we have found, unlock innovation across the board: ensuring that everyone is heard; making it safe to propose novel ideas; giving team members decision-making authority; sharing credit for success; giving actionable feedback; and implementing feedback from the team. Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a ‘speak up’ culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.”

Creating a culture of “acquired diversity” may help you accomplish your most challenging goals. 

Ask yourself:

  • Do our executive teams and leadership committees have both inherent and acquired diversity?
  • Do our industry and client teams have diverse members? (i.e., lawyers with different specialties, graduate degrees or backgrounds, or a paralegal or marketing professional who has lived in the country or region of the company’s headquarters)
  • Does everyone on the business development pitch team have a role in the meeting and how can their inherent or acquired diversity add value to the conversation?
  • What are my acquired diverse characteristics and how can I add value to our firm and clients by utilizing those characteristics?

As the HBR article concludes, “These findings constitute a powerful new dimension of the business case for diversity.”

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