Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich says diversity on teams leads to better outcomes
It not only is a moral imperative to build a pipeline for putting more women and lawyers of diverse backgrounds into leadership, but it is also becoming a business imperative, says Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich, Gowling WLG’s national manager of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“We want our society to have diverse and inclusive workplaces, that’s a given,” says Jaremko Bromwich. “But it’s also a business imperative, as we increasingly see our clients demanding disclosure of our diversity and inclusion information or demographic data. They want a team to work with that is diverse.”
Jaremko Bromwich adds that studies show that, in general, outcomes are better when there is more diversity at all levels in an organization. “We’re talking about diversity when it comes to gender, race, age, ability or disability, sexual orientation,” she says, “because we all have blind spots, we all have unconscious biases.”
Based in Ottawa, Jaremko Bromwich has worked as a lawyer in litigation and law reform and taught and researched in academia. Prior to joining Gowling, Jaremko Bromwich was director of the Graduate Diploma Program in Conflict Resolution at Carleton University’s Department of Law and Legal Studies. She will be one of the speakers at Canadian Lawyer’s daylong Women in Law Leadership Forum on Sept. 9.
She says that having a diverse group of people on a team can be “challenging,” but “the outcomes are better, and it’s a smarter way to do business.”
As one example, having a diverse team can help even those who don’t come from such a background to understand better the systemic challenges faced by those not from the mainstream. “As a white person, I can walk into a room of mainly other white people and not necessarily feel alienated. But I hear from those who are, say Black or Indigenous, who register that experience in a completely different way. So it’s important to have them on your team to help understand.
"It is imperative that we are all involved in creating productive and safe work environments for diversely identified employees."
As for building a leadership pipeline that includes diversity, Jaremko Bromwich says the process has to start early on. It means having articling students representing Canada’s diversity and working with organizations that help bring in that diversity. For example, in the education system, there is still the problem of channelling people from challenged backgrounds into vocational programs rather than on a pathway that can lead to becoming a lawyer. There is a need to encourage those from diverse backgrounds to consider a legal career.
And even if they make it to becoming a lawyer, Jaremko Bromwich says there needs to be proper attention paid to having their talents recognized to move up the ranks and not get stuck in doing work that ultimately is not satisfying. She says, in many ways, the pipeline analogy isn’t the best one to use – “it’s more like a river, where there are leaks and ways of flowing away from the leadership path.”
“You can do a really good job of recruiting students, you can do a good job training those who article, and you can have good policies regarding associates, she says. “But if there’s a gap somewhere around making partnership because of some system issue, that’s another challenge.”
As for women, while they make up a significant portion of lawyers and law students, Jaremko Bromwich says they are often put into roles that don’t allow them to shine. As well, the unique challenges of being the primary caregiver at home aren’t always accommodated in a way that will enable them to take on leadership roles.
At her firm, Jaremko Bromwich has developed a more “formalized, standardized” process for appointing partners. “We’ve already had some success in terms of having a goal of 30 per cent women partners, a goal we set in 2019 and was achieved in 2020,” she says. “we’re now looking hard at diversity beyond gender.”
Jaremko Bromwich adds bringing in people of diverse backgrounds at a higher level than junior can be important, even be a sign that diversity at all levels of a firm is essential. Still, it won’t fill the entire need to have more diversity.
“It can be a great way to deal with a lack of diversity, to have lateral hires. And I think it’s important to do that, but a better long term strategy is really to cultivate that leadership pipeline from the ground up.”