Diversity and inclusion: moving the needle together

In order to achieve cultural diversity in the workplace, businesses aim to hire employees from different racial, religious, sexual orientation, gender and ethnic origin backgrounds. When workplaces recruit and retain diverse teams, it brings benefits to the company as well as its employees. Studies have shown that these benefits include increased creativity, productivity, retention and profits. It can also reflect positively on your brand and people’s overall perception of your company.

Despite these benefits, many companies and teams are just not focused enough on promoting cultural diversity and are lagging in implementing effective programmes. We want to highlight how the brands and marketing (BAM) legal team at Facebook has partnered with one of its go-to outside counsel, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, to push for greater change towards diversity and inclusion (D&I), including why we have focused on it, the challenges that we have seen and attempted to overcome, and what programmes we have implemented together. We will also share some food for thought for you to consider and hopefully act on.

Defining the challenges

Diversity and inclusion are two concepts that are often discussed as a pair. But they are very different ideas that many incorrectly understand to be synonymous or one holistic concept. That is not the case. In the context of the workplace, diversity speaks more to broad representation. Inclusion, on the other hand, provides means for and encourages participation by the diverse team members. As Vernā Myers, a renowned thought leader and commentator in this space, suggests: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

The extensive scholarship on D&I shows the positive ways that it impacts workplaces, but many in-house teams and law firms are still struggling to take meaningful steps towards more diverse teams. Ethnic minorities and women continue to be under-represented, particularly in leadership positions. Data shows that diverse attorneys often receive lower compensation than their peers and are overlooked for consequential projects and development opportunities. The NALP 2020 Diversity Report surveyed 1,000 offices of major US law firms and found that women and people of colour made up a small portion of partners – 25.05% and 10.23%, respectively. While these numbers show some improvement over time (2016 numbers from same report showed women made up 22.13% of partner positions and minorities 6.05%), change is happening extremely slowly.

In order for BAM and Kilpatrick to move the D&I needle together, we first focused on two barriers to creating diverse teams: a narrow talent pipeline and the need for mentorship.

Looking first at the pipeline, we recognise that most companies (including Facebook, for the most part) typically do not hire in-house lawyers directly from law school. Instead, they generally recruit experienced in-house counsel from peer companies or lawyers working at reputable law firms. Those top law firms normally recruit from top 25-ranked law schools, and even then, only consider top performers at those top schools. In order for in-house teams to have a diverse candidate pool to recruit from, they have to depend on top law schools to recruit and support diverse students, and that the diverse students thrive in those competitive schools, before then relying on top law firms to hire, train and help diverse lawyers to succeed in Big Law, where diverse role models are the exception, rather than the rule. That is a long way of saying that in-house teams often struggle to hire diverse lawyers unless there is a pipeline of diverse people who can clear some of the profession’s highest hurdles. Facebook and Kilpatrick have addressed this by launching three programmes designed to expand the diversity pipeline by supporting diverse candidates in law school, as summer associates and as young lawyers.

BAM and Kilpatrick initiatives

In July 2020 Facebook and Kilpatrick jointly launched the Facebook Legal Scholars Programme, a two-day event for diverse incoming law students selected from Santa Clara Law, USF School of Law and UC Hastings College of the Law. The programme included volunteer guest speakers from Facebook and Kilpatrick on practical topics such as how to brief legal cases, an explanation of the Socratic method, a contract law primer and sessions on optimising virtual learning, wellness and self-care. The 30 participants heard from a panel comprising the deans of the law schools, as well as a panel of second year (2L) law students discussing common challenges and practical tips for being a first year (1L) student. By helping to prepare incoming law students, we hope to provide a launch pad for success that will increase the likelihood of diverse attorneys finding opportunities as both summer associates and attorneys.

BAM and Kilpatrick also worked together to supercharge Kilpatrick’s summer associate programme, injecting a client-focused feeling of inclusion into students’ first law firm experience. Kilpatrick recruits 1L law students (in addition to the typical 2L summer programme) with an eye towards giving diverse students early opportunities to build a career in Big Law. In particular, Kilpatrick solicits work assignments directly from clients, allowing students to speak with in-house executives about real problems facing their companies and to research and present possible solutions during in-person meetings. The idea is to allow law students to better understand client needs and operations, to gain insight into in-house careers and to begin to develop real connections with a client network.

BAM has taken this unique approach to another level over the past few years by encouraging all leaders on its in-house team to meet in person with Kilpatrick summer associates, both to work together on assignments and to share their career stories and establish mentoring relationships. Law students are invited to tour Facebook’s flagship Menlo park campus, attend business meetings with their BAM hosts and meet for meals and social gatherings. Even during the 2020 virtual summer programme, the Facebook team had multiple one-on-one video chats with Kilpatrick summer associates and engaged on topics ranging from career development to social justice. BAM team members have kept in touch with and supported the law students beyond the summer programme and have requested that former summer associates hired by Kilpatrick be assigned to the Facebook client teams once they graduate and pass the bar. BAM has instilled a feeling of belonging in the students by investing time and energy in their development. Each summer, Kilpatrick law students cite their interactions with BAM as the highlight of their experience.

We also recognise that attention must be given to associate development to help women and diverse attorneys progress through law firms. To achieve that goal, Facebook has selected diverse non-partner Kilpatrick attorneys for mentoring. BAM team members, for example, have given work directly to selected Kilpatrick associates, provided insight into in-house roles during secondment opportunities and encouraged relationships to develop, which are then exported back to the firm. By formalising connections between diverse Kilpatrick junior lawyers and Facebook team members, we hope to encourage career engagement and the feeling of being included in the relationship between the firm and its important clients.

Questions to consider

Our discussions have captured some vital questions that we wanted to share and which may lead you to develop creative approaches to progress toward your D&I goals.

  • It is important to openly discuss the benefits of diverse teams with your group and leadership and to commit to some goals. Goals help to focus efforts, keep you accountable and committed, enable you to prioritise resources and give you something to celebrate when achieved. Goals come in all shapes and sizes, so do not feel like you must solve everything at once. Can you set a few goals to work towards as a team? Can you engage others to feel a part of the workstream and committed to achieving results?
  • We hope that the programme we have collaborated on and created is one that you can consider and replicate between your in-house/law firm teams. Perhaps it can be your starting point or your goal. Consider what more you and your team can do. Are there circumstances and experiences that are unique to your company or firm that can play a part in creating and executing a collaborative D&I programme?
  • For those who are involved in recruiting law students, does a focus on ‘top of class’ from top-rated law schools overlook excellent diverse candidates? For those hiring attorneys, are you placing excessive weight on law-school pedigree? Survey your favourite diverse colleagues and lawyers and you are bound to notice that many may not be coming out of top 25 schools. They are coming from all over the country, from a variety of backgrounds and wide-ranging career paths, many from lower-ranked, regional law schools. We wonder if the typical recruitment mindset fails to tap into this excellent pool of candidates.
  • For those looking to diversify the leadership of their legal departments or law firms, is it possible that choosing the most senior and accomplished lawyers for your executive committees and leadership positions narrows your organisational vision? If the most senior and awarded lawyers in your organisation are white men, could you consider elevating young women and/or diverse lawyers into leadership ahead of your traditional schedule? Are you equitably distributing opportunities to teammates from diverse backgrounds? Would promoting young diverse superstars inject your organisations with broader vision and communicate your commitment to D&I to those wondering whether your organisation is a place they can see themselves fitting in?

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