Diversify Your Team: Looking Beyond Recruitment

Law firm Stikeman Elliot recognizes the value of hiring a diverse staff but they also realize the need to also invest, mentor and engage these new staff members to develop a productive working atmosphere. This article was originally published by HRM Online oJune 13, 2013

Canada’s population is becoming increasingly diverse, so your customer base and talent pool are likely a mix that wouldn’t have been seen 20 years ago. There are plenty of soft reasons for increasing diversity, but if you still need to be convinced, how does an increase in sales and revenue sound?

Companies with teams are likely to have better results, according to a University of Illinois study, which found that for every percentage increase in the rate of racial or gender diversity up to the rate represented in the relevant population, there was an increase in sales revenues of approximately 9% and 3%, respectively.

It’s an area that law firm Stikeman Elliot has been focused on for 15 years, starting with an ad hoc, grass roots system and building to today’s organized process for hiring, developing and promoting staff.

A focus on diversity gives the company two advantages, according to Anne Ristic, the Assistant Managing Partner Toronto. One is in recruitment – a focus on diversity gives a broader pool of candidates and therefore a better opportunity to hire the best talent. Secondly, as the firm, like many companies, increases its global client base a diverse team is an advantage for building relationships and understanding other culture groups.

“Having diversity in our workforce helps us increase our cultural fluency and our ability to connect with clients from different cultures whether in Canada or internationally,” Ristic said. It’s also  a recruitment tool as diversity becomes increasingly important for attracting top candidates.

Over the past 15 years the company has seen a big increase in diversity at every level, learning that simply hiring a more diverse group is not enough.

“When we started our focus tended to be on recruitment. We thought we just need to recruit people from different communities and then the problem would take care of itself,” Ristic said. “We realized we needed to do more on both sides – community outreach to get people applying in the first place, and then on the other side, once people are working with you, investing in mentoring and engagement. It’s important to look at what you’re doing at every stage along the pipeline.”

So how did they do it? First was to analyze every step of their employee’s lifecycle, from hiring to partner, and developing clear, objective, written criteria for every stage so everyone from new candidates to the hiring team to the executive branch understood the criteria and expectations.

They also expanded the mentoring program so each junior staff member had more than one mentor, ensuring a more diverse mentor group which gave all the employees more opportunities to learn, grow and take on more advanced assignments.

But sometimes it’s the small thing that counts. If you have ever attended an event where there was nothing you could eat or had someone repeatedly butcher your name you know how demoralizing that can be. “We ask about dietary restrictions and religious observances. They sound like small things but I think taken together it has made our workforce feel that a broad range of communities recognized within the firm,” Ristic said. “We probably get more feedback on the small things than any of the big things.”

For example, Stikeman’s “Hear my name” initiative allows co-workers to listen to a recording of an individual saying their own name before calling them. This broke down barriers where team members might resist asking for help or collaboration out of fear of mispronouncing a name.

There’s also a reflection room available for religious observances, and the company’s Outlook Calendar includes multi-faith holidays to help accommodate any potential conflicts.

It’s made a difference to engagement at the company, with the last few years’ surveys showing Stikeman staff feel welcomed and supported by the company.

“You need to keep moving forward and keep engaging people. We’re not resting on our laurels and thinking we’ve got it all under control,” Ristic said

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