Exclusive interview: BLG’s first ever diversity director

HRM chatted to the newly appointed leader about taking the reins at Canada’s largest full service law-firm.

Most people – when asked to repeat a full interview because the recording device has failed – would be irritated at best, infuriated at worst. Borden Ladner Gervais’ Laleh Moshiri just laughed – “I’m sure you want to pull your hair out,” she comforted.

Toronto-based Moshiri is friendly, engaging and remarkably easy to talk to but she’s also evidently passionate about what she does and proud of the big step Canada’s largest full-service law firm has just taken.

Last week, the company created its very first national director of diversity and inclusion – with over 15 years’ experience in the field, Moshiri was chosen to take the reins. Here, HRM asked her how it feels, what her first plans are, and what she hopes to achieve in the future.

HRM: How does it feel to be appointed the first ever Director of Diversity and Inclusion at BLG?

LM: I’m thrilled! BLG has always been committed to diversity and inclusion but my new role takes it a step further and ensures stewardship of our program. I am actually honoured that I am the one who has been entrusted with this very important responsibility.

HRM: What first on the agenda for you, in the new position?

LM: I am putting together a three-year strategic plan that focuses on recruitment, retention and building an inclusive culture.  It will include initiatives such as managing our talent pipeline, enhanced training, and active outreach to diverse groups in recruitment – and much more!

HRM: What’s the long term goal – what do you hope to achieve and by when?

LM: BLG’s goal is to attract and retain the best talent so we can deliver the best legal services to our clients.  We believe that valuing and enhancing diversity and inclusion will assist us in this goal.  We want to be the firm where people want to build their careers, not only because we are one of Canada’s top law firms, but because they know they will be respected for who they are, they will be supported in their careers and everyone has the chance to contribute and succeed.

HRM: The newly created position clearly speaks to BLG’s commitment to diversity – is this increased commitment something we’re seeing across Canada in general?

LM: Yes, clearly, all major law firms have been elevating their focus on diversity for some time, whether through programming and initiatives, diversity committees, getting involved in third-party organizations, or other formal and less formal efforts.
What I am very excited about at BLG is that we are always taking the effort one step farther - for example - this dedicated role. It is still out of the norm to see a firm fully dedicating a role to diversity and inclusion ‎and not having it led by a lawyer in practice, or managed through other functions and structures.

HRM: What the biggest challenge facing HR professionals in terms of diversity right now?

LM: To date we have focused a lot of effort on awareness building.  That is of course very important but the challenge now is how we move beyond that and bring about behavioural change.

HRM: How can they work to overcome it?

You have to continue to raise awareness but also train people in very practical ways.

For example, at BLG, we brought in a speaker who did a presentation on how to build a more LGBT inclusive workplace.  The speaker didn’t just talk at us but rather we had the opportunity to look at scenarios and talk through appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle situations.

You need buy in from senior leadership and you have to make an example of your leaders. People have to see the behaviour and the genuine commitment.   So for example, if someone says something inappropriate, imagine the impact if one of your leaders is an active bystander and intervenes - think of the impact, not just on the individual involved but on everyone.
As another example, leaders need to sponsor women and diverse individuals.

HRM: Can you tell us a bit more about “sponsoring” women?

LM: Research has shown that sponsorship is critical for the career advancement of women (and I would add, by extension, diverse individuals.)  Sponsors are not the same as mentors.  While mentors provide advice and support, sponsorship involves being proactive and taking purposeful action.

Sponsors are powerful people in an organization who champion those that they sponsor.  So for example, they publically recognize the sponsored person’s achievements; actively seek out opportunities for them; introduce them to and foster relationships with clients and internal senior people.

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