How Do We Do Better?

In a series of recent opinion pieces and educational articles, such as those published in the Harvard Business Review, unconscious bias has been gaining significant attention and focus. Our legal profession is currently evaluating how we will react this body of knowledge. The profession could learn from the progress, best practices and example set by accounting firms.

In interviews with directors at KPMG and Deloitte, I learned about how these firms with over 500 partners have strategized to address how they can foster a culture amongst their organization to bring their “whole selves" to work every day. 

Their strategic undertaking started by engaging outside auditors to test the degree and level of unconscious bias amongst their top level executives. Executives undergoing this testing realized the extent and degree to which unconscious bias dictated their decision making. The revelation garnered not only support but also engagement from top level management in addressing unconscious bias. They started seeing themselves as inclusion champions. The outside auditor also collected data - gathering statistics on who was getting hired, who was leaving, who was getting promoted, and who was unhappy. The outside auditor was then further engaged to provide coaching and strategic advice to individual executives to help them become more aware of their biases and to give them the tools to be more inclusive. 

Next, the strategy evolved to building a national team built up of partners who would champion the initiative and keep their regional groups accountable. This top down approach empowered the team, made up of directors across functional business groups (not limited to human resource leaders), to provide a unique lens on the value of inclusion. These leaders, naturally focused on the bottom line reality of their businesses (such as profitability targets and business development), and offered a very practical perspective that may not have come to light but for their involvement. In addition to the constitution of the team, the national team’s leader is a permanent staff, overseeing the strategic development of the inclusion and diversity initiative across the nation as well as setting best practices, consolidating information at a regional level to develop strategic goals and communicating with the firms’ international offices. The leader’s permanent role conveys long term commitment to promoting inclusion.

The diversity of the practice groups, industry groups and the geographical representation on the national team itself paid further dividends when the team turned to setting inclusion goals and metrics for the organization. This broadly-focused team was able to provide direction that affected many functional areas including employee performance and evaluations (and promotion potential), employee compensation, mentoring, recruitment, retention, business development efforts, client assignments, succession planning, case study based professional development, etc. This increased the opportunity for the inclusion strategy to permeate all levels of the organization.

Once the goals were set, the empowered national team was able to hold groups accountable, as they were easily able to identify groups that did not meet these metrics and to help them in addressing their local problems. Accountability theory suggests that by having a national group made up of regional managers embedded within the local office will cause regional teams to ask themselves, “Will this look right?” when making decisions.

The accounting firms have set up a model and a strategic approach that our profession could benefit from as we contemplate our next steps towards achieving inclusion.

To this end, the Canadian Bar Association, Alberta Branch hosted a successful panel discussion featuring leaders in diversity and inclusion from KPMG and BLG, as well as the Honourable Madam Justice Sheilah Martin in a keynote address,  “getting a pulse on diversity in the legal profession”. This event was organized by the CBA Alberta Branch Equality Committee and the Diversity Section (South). For more information on these groups, or to join, visit

Noren Hirani practices intellectual property law with Bennett Jones LLP in Calgary, where she advises clients in IP-related corporate commercial agreements. Noren is currently a board member of the Association of Women Lawyers Calgary as well as the Chair of the CBA Alberta Equality Committee.