Last week our Marketing Coordinator, Caroline Ready, sent me a message asking my opinion about inviting the team to share their opinions on the 2023 International Women’s Day theme of Embracing Equity. I immediately said “100%!” But, as I thought about giving her my quick thoughts, I was stumped.

I had been trying to formulate a blog on equity for months and every time I sat down to write it, the words wouldn’t flow. I started to recognize why the Equity (E) in DEI could be the trickiest element to influence in the workforce – we don’t fully understand what it means or how to change it at the individual level.

I think it is safe to say that nearly every person who works in DEI or learns about DEI cringes at the following phrase, “I treat everyone the same.” In 2021, Tamera Loerzel wrote a blog all about microaggressions and I encourage you to read (or re-read!) that article for a reminder that no matter how hard you try, treating people “the same” is far from likely.

Treating everyone fairly or equally is not equity anyway. Equity is recognizing that not everyone starts out at the same place or with the same opportunities or resources (check out this video from 2017 of a teacher demonstrating equity for a visual). While we can’t change how we started our lives and the opportunities or lack of opportunities we have had, we can change our firms and workplaces to recognize these differences and be more equitable for others, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, or any other characteristic. It is our responsibility as leaders to provide an equal playing field, to provide the resources, tools, support, and development opportunities to our team members to help them be their best selves.

So, how do we start working toward a more equitable firm? Here are some places to start:

  1. Review and adjust your pay structure across the firm and that means at ALL levels. According to the Census Bureau, “…women earned about $.82 for every dollar men earned; Hispanic or Latina women earned about $.58 and Black women earned about $.63 for every dollar White men earned.” Start researching your team’s role descriptions and especially their salaries and compare what you are paying them to sites like Glassdoor, Robert Half, or and to each other. Then make the necessary adjustments to make the pay truly equitable.
  2. Offer flexible and remote work practices to everyone (and I mean every team member, including admin and operations!). No matter how well you know someone, you do not fully know what their life is like. Your team member could be a single parent, caring for aging parents or another loved one, losing their sight or hearing and have accommodations at home that they are nervous about using in the office, sensitive to smells, or a number of different circumstances. Talented team members are your firm’s biggest asset and you do not want to inadvertently pressure them to leave because you made a mandate to return to the office. Learn how to successfully manage an Anytime, Anywhere™ workplace.
  3. Provide tailored learning and development opportunities to your team. When you invest in your team members, they know you care about their growth and potential. Spend the time to get to know what your team wants to learn and what is important to them. After you learn about what each individual wants to learn and their goals, do your research and offer them a variety of options for learning – in-person, remotely, at Universities/colleges, with team members, partners, etc. Often people aren’t given an opportunity to learn about other roles because we are too focused on the day-to-day grind, we don’t take the time to ask, or we are stuck evaluating them on their past. Provide the learning and development opportunities to your team and encourage them to attend or make the learning a part of their annual goals. You never know what opportunity will spark interest and help develop a potential future service line leader or partner.
  4. Evaluate and update your hiring practices. Are you only hiring from certain colleges or universities? Only listing opportunities on certain job boards that attract candidates with a similar background? Is it your practice to review social media platforms before reviewing resumes or interviewing a candidate to see their pictures? Is one particular person the only one reviewing resumes which could create bias? Start evaluating how “you’ve always done it” and shake things up by inviting a variety of team members to screen and input. They don’t need to necessarily all review resumes, but they may have ideas about where and how to attract a more diverse pool.
  5. Know your firm’s labor statistics. I often hear the phrase “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” And, while we don’t want to consider our people a “number,” we can’t measure change if we don’t recognize our starting point and set measurable goals. Connect with your HR leader to take a census and use this information from SHRM. There are some communication strategies as well as legal considerations to be aware of as you collect demographic information.
  6. Engage a consultant to conduct bias training. We all have unconscious biases, whether we recognize it or not. While requiring training or holding roundtables on unconscious bias will not eliminate it, the training can help individuals recognize or be more aware of their biases. And, when we are aware of unconscious biases we can take steps to minimize the impacts of our biases.

Like all changes or new strategies for your firm, it takes leadership commitment and to drive real equity forward. Take the first step and make it a priority in 2023 to #EmbraceEquity.

Happy International Women’s Day!