In the Fall of 2019, Gravel & Shea joined the 2019-2020 cohort of businesses participating in a Vermont-based program aimed at improving gender equity and inclusivity in workplaces around the state.
A year-long program, Business Peer Exchange works with Vermont businesses to shift workplace culture towards gender equity and inclusivity by creating “gender equity ambassadors” in workplaces throughout the state and providing coaching and support as these ambassadors make changes within their organizations.
As participants in the program, Gravel & Shea employees had access to a series of virtual trainings that addressed equity issues in the workplace, including building inclusive talent pipelines and website messaging, acknowledging implicit biases, and identifying male allies. Designated employees within the firm attended in-person exchange sessions and brought ideas back to a larger Business Peer Exchange team at the firm.
“The program was very energizing and encouraging,” says Michelle Farkas, the hiring partner at Gravel & Shea. “We got a lot of training on implicit bias and hiring—how you advertise, how you interview, and who you ultimately hire. We were already focused on inclusive hiring practices, but the program challenged us to look more closely at our actions and the language we were using.”
The task for those who participated in the program is to carry their ideas back to the firm and provide the education and support necessary to make lasting improvements. “The program expanded my vision of what it means to be an equitable workplace,” says Gravel & Shea partner Navah Spero. “I had been really focused on the firm being family friendly, and now I’m think more about being human friendly.”
While the Business Peer Exchange’s focus is gender equity, Gravel & Shea saw an opportunity to address respectful behavior not just among genders but more broadly—between lawyers and staff or between clients and staff.
“We want to have a respectful workplace,” says Farkas, “but people often don’t know what to do or say when they see something that isn’t right—for instance, if a client is disrespectful to a legal assistant or if a colleague asks the only woman in a meeting to take notes.”
In their final session with the Business Peer Exchange, Gravel & Shea’s participants got suggestions from the group on how to respond to specific situations. They’re using this crowd-sourced wisdom to help develop the strategies they hope will create an even more equitable and respectful workplace.
“Our goal is to create protocols for handling difficult situations, and we’ll even be integrating some of those concepts into our engagement letters,” says Farkas.