Diversity challenge: Play your (small) part
Lack of diversity is an issue faced by the entire legal sector but within legal technology appears to be getting worse not better, with, for example, the number of female CIOs dropping, not increasing each year. Here is how you can make a difference.
On 10 May Legal IT Insider with help from DLA’s former CIO Daniel Pollick gathered a small, like-minded group of CIOs and vendors to help us frame a diversity initiative and form the beginnings of a support group to help promote and improve diversity across the sector. Present at the inaugural meeting were Pollick and Legal IT Insider editor Caroline Hill, plus Abby Ewen from BLM; Samia Rauf and Kaye Sycamore from Intapp; Julie Berry from RPC; Thereza Snyman from Baskerville Drummond; ex BLP IT director Janet Day; David Aird from DAC Beachcroft; and Jo Owen, newly made up CIO from Cripps.
We heard from Mitra Janes, head of diversity and inclusion at DLA Piper, which was kind enough to host us. It’s fair to say that everyone at the meeting came away extraordinarily inspired and motivated to play our small part in effecting change.
Janes gave us a no-nonsense talk: formerly at Ford, she spent the past few years trying to attract girls into the engineering sector, so she is not new to a challenge.
First off, she explained what diversity really means in all its different guises. She told us: “People who don’t fit cultural norms are often excluded. It’s not just about what’s above the water line – gender and sexuality etc – it’s about beliefs, language, values, life experience, sexual orientation, and we need to focus on all of those things and bring them together.”
Janes showed us these word clouds – take a look and see what you think they relate to before you read on.
They are the words used in adverts targeted at girls and boys. Whereas boys are given “battle” and “heroes”, girls get “magic” and (more worryingly) “perfect.”
“If you’re speaking to girls by the time they are 13 it’s too late,” Janes said. “If girls are doing technology it’s usually home economics. We need to work at this for the long game.”
Trying to ‘fix’ women with special interventions and mentoring suggests that there is something wrong with them but “girls outperform boys at every stage of school,” Janes said.
“What do you look for when you’re recruiting? How do you decide who gets what work? Don’t just focus on the outcome, we must address the systemic issues,” Janes said.
Gender reporting across the UK, which has been sparked by legislation that forces organisations to declare their pay gap, looks at who earns the most in an organisation. “They now know men dominate the highest paid professions and women dominate the lowest, well, congratulations,” said Janes. “What are the highest paid roles and what percentage of those are men?
“Organisations need to do a deep analysis to work out where are the points that affect the talent pipeline,” she said.
In the here and now, we need to look at the language we are using to attract women in particular.
“Among nursery children who are given tubes and margarine tubs and asked to build a bridge the boys get stuck in but the girls hold back and it seems they are uninterested,” said Janes. “But if you give it context and purpose and say ‘we need to build a bridge to get to the hospital or the shops’ they respond to that. It takes fine tuning around the language.”
That translates into the way law firms and vendors advertise for positions, which are often inadvertently male in their language.
“Look at the job titles you use and go for more neutral titles, so ‘manager’ rather than ‘programmer’. Ask yourself ‘what’s my inclusion reach?’ Why say ‘energetic’ or ‘dynamic’ if you mean ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘passionate.’
Textio is a useful tool that analyses if job posts are gender neutral and Janes said: “Be clear with the agency you use and tell them that you are serious. Ask them how this is a diverse list of people. You’re telling them that this is important and that you are holding them to account.”
Collaboration is important and Legal IT Insider is collaborating on diversity initiatives with Legal Week and Legal Geek among others. Most importantly Janes said: “Each individual needs to commit – what are you going to start doing differently? It can be very small but you need to be personally accountable.”
So, we are keeping it simple: each of us present at the first meeting has made a pledge that we must keep and we invite you to join us. The group is there not to compete with others but to unite, support and connect.
We have formed a LinkedIn group and would love other like-minded people to join and pledge one thing that you will do in the next month or so; be that talk to your local school about your job; check that your advertising is neutral and change it if it isn’t; or refuse to sit on a panel if it is comprised only of men (and preferably help to get women involved.)
Janes warned us: “Don’t try to boil the ocean,” and she has a good point. But we will be arranging for more talks by the likes of Janes and while we might not boil the ocean overnight, we’re going to try bloody hard to create a few bubbles.