Going all-in on diversity and inclusion

Lawyer Tamara Napoleon to discuss challenges of DEI at Vancouver event

Going all-in on diversity and inclusion

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies, many employers are talking the talk but still have some work to do before they walk the walk.

Based on experience in the legal profession, employers need to ramp up their DEI initiatives, according to Tamara Napoleon, principal lawyer, managing principal and co-lead of the Indigenous Law Group at Miller Titerle in Vancouver.

“A lot of law firms haven't really gone through the forensic analysis of looking carefully at all their policies, processes, procedures, and programs to make sure that they're not resulting in systemic discrimination, in terms of really looking at a policy,” she says. “Not just on the face of it, but the implementation, when it's actually on the ground: Does it result in opportunities for certain individuals?”

Napoleon will be part of a panel discussing DEI in the workplace at the upcoming Employment Law Masterclass Vancouver virtual event on Feb. 22. She plans to address DEI challenges in the context of her experience in the legal sector and how implementation often falls short.

“We are continuing to have the same conversations that we did 10 years ago, so we’ll be looking at some of the obstacles and having a bit of an honest conversation about that,” she says. “And one of the other discussions that I hope we’re able to have as a panel is just looking more critically around what representation and what participation means in practice and on the ground — maybe some examples from our own context that we’re implementing and thinking a little bit more outside of the box as to what traditional law firms have routinely been doing in this area.”

Diverse input and full participation

DEI initiatives can fall short and leave blind spots if they’re missing input from diverse groups, but they also need participation from the organization as a whole, says Napoleon.

“Law firms often think that a magical, diverse environment will materialize when you simply employ diverse lawyers, but that's not the reality. I think that they have a long way to go for thinking critically about how these voices participate. How do we ask our diverse individuals to provide for inclusion and have everyone else not really do anything? It really involves that participatory aspect with the actual groups that they're trying to include.”

Sometimes organizations are afraid of making mistakes, which can be a factor in the slow pace of change, she says.

“They’re often afraid that they’re going to stumble and effectively be called out, so there’s a fear that can be a paralyzing force… there’s a pressure now to really get the terms right and get the terminology up to speed, so some of it is a balance of patience while driving through some change.”

Hybrid model advantages and challenges

Napoleon’s panel at the Employment Law Masterclass Vancouver will also be discussing how employers can effectively implement DEI programs in a hybrid work environment, which she thinks can encourage inclusion by facilitating the participation of individuals who may be limited by their schedules and obligations, particularly women. However, a challenge of the hybrid model is how to address the important role coaching and mentoring plays in a diverse and equitable workplace, she says.

“Coaching and mentoring is sometimes difficult to effectively implement virtually and you don’t necessarily get the same effect that you would by being able to work together in person,” says Napoleon. “And working virtually can also raise challenges for meaningful inclusion and ensuring that all voices are heard.”

Overcoming challenges to effective DEI such as inertia and uncertainty are essential to an organization’s success, for serving clients as well as attracting talent in the future.

“It expands the calibre of associates that you’re going to potentially recruit. The diversity of perspective and thought that comes with DEI is also critical to organizational growth and effective leadership,” says Napoleon, noting that the generation coming out of post-secondary education are looking for different types of careers than before.

“Lots of students, law students, young associates, are really looking for organizations that are reflective of their values — it’s beyond just career anymore. They want to participate in creativity and innovation, which are imperative to success. And I think also clients are looking for legal advice that looks beyond the norm and seeks a very different approach.”

To attend Napoleon’s panel, register here.

Latest stories