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How To Create An Impactful Diversity Retreat

Some organizations have instituted diversity retreats to convene their affinity groups for joint programming, or to provide specific retreats for individual affinity groups, such as an annual Black affinity group retreat. Whether you’re holding a diversity retreat for a specific affinity group or a general retreat for all underrepresented groups, it’s crucial to be thoughtful as you plan the event. 

By demonstrating your commitment to understanding their experiences and supporting their goals you can create a meaningful and impactful retreat experience. As a frequent speaker at various types of law firm retreats, including partner, associate, diversity, and women’s retreats, I’ve learned several best practices for how to make your diversity retreat more successful. At the end of this article, you’ll also find a comprehensive checklist to help you plan your next retreat. 

Collect Feedback Before You Begin

Before you begin planning your diversity retreat, it’s essential to gather feedback from your organization’s affinity group(s) to ensure that you’re addressing their needs and wants. If this is your first retreat, consider creating a short anonymous survey to gather data on participants’ professional and personal development needs. This survey will help you gather your participants’ perspectives and not just incorporate your own. 

If your organization doesn’t have enough diverse employee numbers to maintain the integrity of an anonymous survey, another option is to schedule a short conversation with individual stakeholders to gather their thoughts around questions such as: 

  • What types of professional development would you like to see in a joint convening? 
  • Are there any particular topics that you believe we should focus on? 
  • Are there any internal leaders or administrators whose experiences you’d like to hear from and to reflect on? 
  • Would you like us to provide any background regarding systems or processes that you need a reminder on, or would like to learn about generally? 

When planning you’ll also need to decide whether the retreat will be hybrid, or in-person, and in addition to content, what types of social convening options you will provide. Gathering feedback on these preferences and recommendations regarding these items helps to create buy-in and increase participation and engagement.

If your organization has already held diversity retreats, review the evaluations and reflect on ad hoc feedback from previous years. Incorporating any recommendations for desired content and speakers and assessing how different segments were rated will help you decide whether to continue or remove certain topics. 

Consider the needs of both newer and more experienced employees when planning your retreat. This will help you decide whether to offer separate tracks and/or which segments should be joint sessions. By taking the time to collect feedback, you’ll be able to create a more impactful and successful diversity retreat.

Develop Your Content Based On The Feedback You Receive  

On the day of the retreat, it’s important to start with an introduction from the firm leaders and DEI leadership team. This joint collaboration and support will demonstrate the importance of the cohort to the firm or organization, and can impact how the retreat is perceived. 

After the introduction from firm leadership, consider having administrators present on the business of the firm, how it’s doing, and provide some context about things like who are the firm’s institutional clients, what are the busiest and most profitable practice areas, etc. I often hear from diverse associates that they don’t have this information, and this lack of transparency, as well as insufficient information about other areas of the firm, prevents them from learning the extremely important rainmaking skill of cross-selling. So, perhaps you can also include a short presentation by different practice areas talking about what they do and how they support their clients. By offering this type of presentation, you also help increase feelings of inclusion and belonging, as providing access to the information mitigates the detrimental impact of them not getting the information organically, as their peers may have.  

Inspiration for content for your diversity retreat can come from an internal and external collaboration, perhaps between a senior partner and a client talking about the development of their relationship, and how the client is supported by the firm. You can include workshop facilitators and keynote speakers to present on various professional development topics, which is something I am often invited to do for diversity retreats. I create customized sessions that include a combination of topics such as owning your career, personal branding, goal setting, business development, resiliency, staying positive, and navigating the impacts of bias.  These topics address the perspectives of the audience being professionals who are from underrepresented groups (maintaining this perspective is key!). 

Plan The Retreat Holistically: Consider The Whole Person

As you plan the content for your retreat, you’ll want to make sure you consider how you’re addressing the experience of the whole person, addressing the mind, body, and soul. By incorporating some of the ideas shared earlier, you are already several steps along the way to doing so.

For the mind, consider offering a wellness session on mental health, meditation, how to address imposter syndrome  or something else to help to support mental focus within their roles. You can have an administrator provide reminders about what resources the firm or organization does have, perhaps in the form of a handout or online resource. Repeated reminders are important because when they are needed, it will help eliminate any additional stress of not knowing where to turn for help. 

For the body, plan activities such as virtual yoga, a peloton ride, or a walk/hike to incorporate movement. Be mindful of differently-abled participants when selecting activities.

For the soul, address professional and business development needs for the work they do, or perhaps consider incorporating a session on the importance of belonging and how to navigate different environments. If there is a need,bring in a speaker to talk about time management and how to improve current processes. Additionally, provide presentations or workshops on soft skills such as maximizing mentorship and building personal brands, which can give attendees structures and resources to develop their professional growth.

Include icebreaker activities to allow attendees to get to know each other (e.g. from different locations or practice areas). One example I like is the creation of an event “mixtape”, where attendees share their favorite hype songs to develop conversation and really expound upon their own diversity. This icebreaker can be done at individual tables, and can be collected to create a Spotify playlist at the end of the retreat. 

Make sure to plan all meal opportunities with an inclusive lens, inquiring in advance about religious observances, allergies, and food sensitivities. Remember to incorporate non-alcoholic options and ask about any other wellness needs that participants might have, such as a quiet room or lactation room.

Finally, it’s essential to gather feedback on the diversity retreat to report back to firm leadership and plan for future retreats. Consider incentivizing evaluation submissions to increase engagement.

By considering the whole person, you can create a retreat experience that supports attendees’ professional and personal growth while also demonstrating your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

If you are looking for a speaker to talk about professional development topics through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion and/or need support developing your diversity retreat please contact me. I would love to collaborate with you for your next retreat!

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