Canadian Law Firm Impacting Change through Awareness

Leading Canadian business law firm Stikeman Elliott LLP has developed an action plan that is focused on the advancement of its women lawyers, specifically in the following areas: Retention, Advancement to Partnership, Business Development and Leadership. The overall plan, developed after holding several focus groups to solicit honest and candid feedback from firm members, is based on a simple premise – Make it Personal.

“We know that firm-sponsored programs can help, but we also feel that the best way to effect real change is for every firm member to take personal accountability and change their own patterns to help create an environment in which more women can succeed,” said Shanin Lott, Managing Director, Talent and Professional Resources.

“Over the past year, the steps that we have taken in our action plan have already demonstrated a tangible impact in our workplace – including fostering a greater awareness of our potential unconscious biases and creating an environment that encourages an open dialogue among our firm members,” Lott added.

Having an Impact in the Workplace

Recent examples from Stikeman Elliott’s action plan include the following:

  • Work Allocation Pie Charts: Knowing how important work allocation is to the development of a lawyer’s skills, reputation, and credibility, the firm created individualized pie charts for each lawyer. These charts serve as illustrative tools to create awareness of who the lawyers have been working with, the type of work and “stretch assignments” they are giving and receiving, and whether they need to diversify their teams.
  • Unconscious Bias Training: The firm developed an unconscious bias workshop tailored specifically to its environment and based on the understanding that everyone has biases that can impact decisions in the workplace. The training invited participants to examine their own individual biases by taking the Harvard Implicit Association test in advance and then engaging in a dialogue to identify practical tools individuals can use to mitigate those biases. For example, taking the Work Allocation Pie Charts into account whenever there is a new assignment to staff, and building other “pause points” in processes to check and correct for potential bias-based decisions.
  • Location: With a keen awareness of how important the office location is to one’s network and the work they receive, the firm took a critical look at its floor plans to: ensure a vibrant and diverse mix of lawyers on each floor; facilitate the development of new work relationships between junior and senior lawyers; and promote an expanded mentoring and sponsorship network. The firm reviews and switches these office placements on a regular basis to ensure fresh experiences and foster new relationships.