Cultural diversity: a human-centered approach that thrives on openness, curiosity, and respect

Cultural diversity is an integral attribute of McKinsey’s legal department. With our colleagues calling 46 different countries “home” and speaking over 20 different languages, our efforts to promote cultural diversity are driven by both necessity and a desire to celebrate the unique backgrounds and customs of our colleagues. This gives our legal team the ability to dive into the value of our team’s diversity and learn how to incorporate the richness of cultural identity. Today, 54 percent of the more than 250 colleagues in the legal department are based outside of the United States—and many of our members speak English as their second or even third language. For this reason and so many others, cultural diversity is an important part of who we are and impacts every aspect of our work with the firm.

One of the firm’s major values focuses on embracing diversity with curiosity and respect. While McKinsey has a deep, longstanding commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in business, this resonates equally in McKinsey’s legal department where it continues to support formalized events and initiatives that provide learning opportunities about other cultures. This allows us to incorporate those lessons into our day-to-day involvements within the department and with other firm colleagues.

Diverse leadership teams are strongly connected to an increase in performance. Recent McKinsey research reaffirms this business case for diversity. For example, in the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, our research shows that in 2019, the top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability.

The benefit of diversity extends beyond profits. In particular, cultural diversity provides the foundation to create a truly rich and rewarding workplace by enabling the exchange of different perspectives to inform decision making. Certainly, there are challenges: scheduling meetings with colleagues across time zones; the late night or early morning Zoom meetings that come with it; communicating within high-context and low-context cultures—and even understanding the meaning of emojis in different countries. But we navigate these challenges by relying on a foundation of respect and curiosity as we engage, communicate, and learn from each other.

Through these events and initiatives, colleagues are proud to bring their whole selves to work, including when it comes to cultural identity and uniqueness. We are privileged to be part of a global team that encompasses such cultural richness, and we relish this fact and are grateful for it. The breadth of the firm’s focus on cultural diversity allows us to respect and support each other in our ongoing reflections, our collective and individual identities, and to deepen our understanding and insight into others. This, in turn, helps reduce misjudgments and builds bridges for healthier, more fulfilling interactions with other colleagues both in and out of the legal department.

The legal department aims to provide world-class legal service, enhanced risk management, and thought partnership to firm colleagues. Our ability to do this relies on a human-centered approach that values each member’s identity and contributions. Our cultural backgrounds are always there with us and influence the way we look at the world, the way we look at others, the way we live, and the way we work. It’s not something we can leave outside the office and then pick up again when the workday is over.

As we continue to embrace our cultural differences, Legal aims to create an inclusive environment that brings out the value in the diverse perspectives of each colleague. This in-depth conversation has only just begun, and we’re excited for the meaningful, inspiring, open dialogue that no doubt lies ahead as we continue to explore and celebrate the cultures that make us strong, unique, and prepared for the future.