Minnesota ranks as one of the best places to live in the U.S. for quality of life, with a strong economy and a thriving job market. Historically, it has been a racially homogenous state. The influx of immigrants of color as well as Minnesota's residents of color demands that Minnesota engage in meaningful inclusion in the workplace.
 
How does an organization that is invested in diversity of gender, race, age and sexuality make its mark? Diversity must translate to creating inclusion and a work environment that does not exclude difference.
 
Diversity encompasses the breadth and depth of human difference. Inclusion is valuing, respecting and supporting those differences and harnessing them to cultivate human talent. Attorney and diversity consultant Verna Myers distinguishes between diversity and inclusion, saying "diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance."
 
The legal industry, my profession, is one of the least diverse in the nation. There are several reasons for this, but making a difference in this area is one of the reasons I joined Lindquist & Vennum late last year as the Diversity & Inclusion Director.
 
Lindquist is committed to increasing diversity within the firm and the legal profession. We are a founding member of the organization Twin Cites Diversity in Practice (TCDIP), an association of legal employers that aims to grow and develop attorneys of color in our community. Last month, the Executive Director of TCDIP, Val Jensen, presented on their strategic plan built on five powerful concepts that I believe can be practiced today to further all organizations - not just law firms.
 
Authenticity
What good is having a diverse point of view if I don't feel comfortable sharing it? It can actually be worse than no diversity at all. A façade of diversity implies it's a diverse point of view - but in reality, it's just the same thoughts regurgitated in group think. Being authentic means I'm willing to put my whole self out there and willing to let others do the same. An organization fosters authenticity by empowering and valuing employees in their differences and not asking them to compromise who they are.
 
Openness
For so long we've been told what is off limits to share professionally. When I bring all of who I am as a human to my relationships at work, it changes the way people relate to me. This means perhaps telling others the reason why I can't take a meeting is because I'm out with a child who is ill. If an organization is intentional about creating an inclusive environment, a culture should exist where a mother who takes time off for a sick child is not penalized for her parental obligations.
 
Collaboration
We must go beyond the internal and collaborate with others in our community. And not just those who come from the same walks of life that we do. That's why it's so important to join associations and volunteer on boards - expose yourself regularly to other points of view.
 
For instance, an immigration attorney should create relationships beyond the legal workforce that will help them understand how potential clients understand and navigate the legal system. A hospital should engage with diverse communities to understand cultural norms that would facilitate a symbiotic relationship with healthcare professionals.
 
Accountability

Identify what's important to measure, the corresponding metrics, and ask to be accountable to them. Create plans and ask how they can be cascaded through the organization. Put in place systems where staff can address concerns without fear of retaliation. Conversations around diversity and inclusion are fraught with anxiety about saying or doing the wrong thing; but, it is also important that difficult conversations are had. To continue fostering a healthy work environment, it will sometimes be necessary to hire the services of an outside organization.
 
Evolution
Each diversity and inclusion policy should be scaled and not set in stone; there should be room for the policy to be dynamic to reflect feedback from staff as well as effectiveness. Inclusive policies cannot be stagnant and should continuously grow in consideration of the changing dynamics and demographics of the workforce.
 
Maya Salah is Lindquist's Director of Diversity and Inclusion and practices employment law. She has extensive experience in compliance, employment law, mediation and conflict resolution. Ms. Salah advises business on diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace and can be reached at (612) 371-3213 and msalah@lindquist.com.
 

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