From Yee Sang Salads to Knitting Needles: How have law firms taken the ‘extra step’ to embrace diversity in the legal profession?

Diversity should be part of your job rather than something that you have to actively participate in.

There is no better way to begin a controversial debate than with a controversial statement. My argument is this: ‘diversity’ is a buzzword in the legal world that is half-heartedly exploited by some firms to make themselves appear in-touch with the 21st century. Nearly all firms advertise themselves as diverse and inclusive, yet in many cases, the statistics say otherwise.

My article is going to explore this argument…but from a different perspective! Rather than dissecting appalling statistics and churning out another of the millions of articles about the gender pay gap, I am going to focus on the efforts that some firms and individuals have made to embrace diversity in their work culture.

For this article, I have interviewed a few very inspirational women from a range of firms to see their view on this debate.

Cooley LLP: Ann Bevitt

Ann has had a wide-ranging legal career practicing as a barrister in the 1990’s to now being a partner at Cooley’s London office. She specialises in employment and data protection law and her practice covers both contentious and non-contentious matters. Ann is currently on Cooley’s Diversity Committee and was also the Chair of the London Diversity Committee at her previous firm. If you wish to find out more information about Cooley’s diversity initiatives then please follow this link.

How would you describe Cooley’s culture in three words?

Inclusive, collaborative and inspiring.

How has the culture differed from chambers to Cooley?

Hugely! When I was at the Bar, rent was a fixed amount payable without exception. If you were a female tenant and had a baby or wanted time off, you were still required to pay rent. It made it very unattractive, especially if you were a junior barrister not earning huge amounts. This is probably why there weren’t many female tenants in my chambers at the time. Luckily, that has all changed – chambers now offer rent holidays during maternity leave and in general seem to be much more accepting of those who have a family.

To what extent does the culture of firms have an impact on the likelihood of women making it to partnership?

It has a huge impact! The attitude at Cooley is if you deserve it, then you will make it, regardless of gender. If you have a culture that supports and encourages everyone to try – and doesn’t exclude anyone because they’ve had time off or they’re part-time or need flexible working – then anyone has the chance to become a partner.

What advice would you give to women aiming to make partnership?

If you are not 100% sure if you want to be made partner, don’t say anything. Keep on the track even if you have doubts. Don’t be afraid to use your gender to your advantage – especially if the partnership is really imbalanced from a gender perspective. 

What has Cooley done to celebrate diversity?

Each May we hold month of themed events to celebrate diversity in our firm. This year the firm celebrated gender, race and generational diversity. For the latter, we set up a panel of staff and lawyers from different generational cohorts (eg; Generation X, Baby boomers, Millennials etc) who then discussed different ways of working (e.g. communication preferences, remote working etc) and interacting in the workplace. The aim of the session was to identify generational differences (if any) in these areas and then work out a way to bring the generations closer together.

We also had an event to encourage people to ‘bring your whole self to work’. People were invited to bring an object that represented something they did outside of their job. The objects were then left in the communal spaces and the other staff and lawyers were invited to guess whose object it was (I brought knitting needles and a book from my counselling and psychotherapy course).

However, Cooley does not just celebrate diversity in May! We have an associate from Singapore who doesn’t speak Mandarin but had learnt a few phrases. In Chinese New Year, it is a tradition in her culture to make a Yee Sang Salad. The salad has a symbolic value, intending to be a blessing for children, family, and health. It must be also be made in a very particular way. In celebration of Chinese New Year, everyone in the office got together in teams and we all made the salad – it was delicious!

Does Cooley have affiliations with any diversity organisations?

Yes! Cooley are heavily involved with InterLaw, a charity that focusses on supporting LGBTQI+ lawyers. Our office collaborated with InterLaw for an event raising awareness on transgender people in the legal profession. We brought in a transgender lawyer to come and speak to us – she was an amazing public speaker and really brought home the reality of transitioning and all of the little things in life that change. Afterwards, InterLaw set up an exhibition of people who had transitioned. In support of the exhibition, Cooley then displayed the photographic portraits on easels in our reception and meeting rooms.

Baker McKenzie LLP: Sue McLean

Sue is a technology and fintech partner at Baker McKenzie. A renowned diversity champion, Sue has won a plethora of awards for her dedication to empowering women in the legal profession. These include being named in the HERoes 100 Women Executives List for two consecutive years and being included in the Women In FinTech Power List. Sue is an active member of Baker Women and has launched her own group in 2018, SCL Women in Tech, which is the next step in her journey of inspiring women in the legal sphere.

Describe your journey to partnership in three words. Why these words?

  • Long: I made partner at 17 years qualified – it was a marathon, not a sprint!
  • Twisty: I didn’t have a linear path. I worked at four firms before Baker McKenzie and at my last firm, worked 4 days a week for 8 years after I had my kids. I wasn’t sure that partnership was going to come my way until I took a chance and went for it.
  • Fun: because I had a lot of fun with some brilliant people getting here!

In your view, has your firm taken enough steps to empower women in the workplace?

I think we are doing a lot to drive sustainable change across the firm and our new diversity targets are part of that. But there’s always more to do. We need to continue to look at our existing structures and practices that might be getting in the way, educate our allies and make our leaders accountable. I know from experience that empowering our people is important too.  But this is absolutely not about “fixing women”. We have lots of talented, capable, women. We just need to make sure that we keep them.

Baker McKenzie has recently set a goal for the firm to have a 40:40:20 ratio of male, female and non-binary persons respectively in leadership positions by July 2025. How do you feel about this ratio?

I think that as a global firm with offices across the world it’s a challenging, but realistic target. We have already made a lot of progress in some of our offices, but there’s still a lot to do. 

Do you believe that the glass ceiling still exists for women in the legal profession?

I fear that it still exists at too many organisations – but not all law firms are the same. There has been huge progress across the profession in recent years and there are lots of firms and companies where it’s definitely possible to achieve the highest levels of leadership. However, it is also important to recognise that even at firms which don’t have a glass ceiling the stars don’t always align. There may not be a business case for you to make partner there which is why sometimes you need to be flexible and accept that to move up, you will need to move on.

What is the main goal of Baker Women?

I would say that Baker Women has two primary goals. Firstly, to proactively engage with firm leadership and to serve as a think tank regarding gender issues affecting our business. But it’s also an important networking community for our female colleagues and clients.

How has Baker Women impacted the way that women are treated at your firm?

It’s really helped us focus on changes that we can make to better support our women. Many of our initiatives have had a really positive impact. Our agile work initiative, for example, has been hugely successful and is widely taken up (by men as well as women). Other initiatives include a HeForShe campaign, creating programmes for returners, introducing expert allies and inclusion champions and making more use of capacity managers to help ensure that work is allocated fairly.

Kingsley Napley LLP: Mary Young

Mary is a partner at Kingsley Napley. She has worked in commercial litigation since qualifying but also has a particular interest in crypto-currencies. Mary is a member of Kingsley Napley’s Diversity & Inclusion group and the LGBT+ and allies network and has written several articles on Kingsley Napley’s LGBTQ blog series which can be accessed here. Mary has used her position to speak up for minority groups and strongly encourages those around her to do the same.

Who is your role model? Why?

Oh god, I have so many:

  • My first trainee supervisor, who is not only a kick ass lawyer, she’s also trained in horticulture, built an eco-home in her spare time, raised two amazing kids and still has the time and energy to be fun, funny and one of the most caring people I know. She has unknowingly inspired a generation of female lawyers to be better people.
  • My mum who is the kindest person in the world, and who reassures me that I don’t always have to be ‘on’. Her capacity for general knowledge will forever put me to shame and is something I aspire to.
  • My partner who reminds me that I don’t have to answer every question, particularly the rhetorical ones, and that jokes should not be approached with logic or they stop being funny. He makes sure that my non-working life is fun and that I don’t take myself too seriously. He also makes sure I don’t have food on my face when I leave the house.
  • And all my friends. No woman is an island. I think I’ve taken something from everyone I know, whether that’s how to use blusher to disguise the pallor of a late night/early morning or an introduction to yoga.

Do you believe that the glass ceiling still exists for women in the legal profession?

I’m going to mention my privilege a few times here – I’m a woman but I’m also white, middle class and work at a firm which has a track record of actively supporting and promoting women: more than 50% of our partners are women.  I genuinely did not feel that there were any limits imposed on me because of my gender.  However, I’m aware that not everyone is in the same position as me and as a profession I do think there is more to be done. There is parity at entry level in the legal profession, but the top echelons are still occupied by men.  And usually white men.

Until we, as a society, stop treating women as the primary care givers (not just to children, but also to partners and parents), and until men take on an equal amount of the emotional labour of running a household (with or without children) (I should probably add #notallmen) it’s going to continue to be hard for women to juggle work and home life.  If I have to remember to pick up toothpaste because it’s about to run out, when I’ve been in the office until 2am for the third day running, and come home to a pile of washing to be done and no food in the house, and that gets repeated every week ad infinitum then something will eventually give.

Likewise, until law firms get over the idea that you have to be in the office to be working, everyone is going to suffer.  We need to stop putting air-quotes around the phrase working from home and accept that people work in different ways and whilst I might get more done sitting at my desk with minimal distractions, my colleague who has family commitments is most effective if he can start work before the rest of his family wakes up, break off for school runs, work during the school day and then pick things up again in the evening.  The rest of the world demands flexibility and the law is going to need to catch up.

And until we re-train our brains to think of women in prominent roles and get over the unconscious bias which comes from not seeing as many female partners, CEOs and judges and leads to us automatically assuming that a judge must be a man (and the majority of them are men), there is going to be work to be done.  It’s a fact of human nature that we are drawn to people we recognise: who look and sound like us. And that can cause huge problems with recruitment and promotion if the people doing the recruiting and promoting are selecting candidates in their own image.  We also look at organisations to see whether we can see ourselves in the people who are successful there. You want to see whether the people at the top look like you, so that you can see yourself getting there.  When the people at the top are white, CIS, able bodied, straight men, there’s a whole swathe of the population who look at them and don’t recognise themselves and therefore cannot see themselves in that position.

To what extent does the culture of firms have an impact on the likelihood of women making it to partnership?

The culture of the firm has an enormous impact.  I’m privileged enough to work for a firm with a proven history of supporting women at all levels, including the very top.  When I joined KN the managing and senior partners were both women.  That has now changed as the senior partner role is for a fixed term, but our male senior partner has made it the focus of his tenure to increase diversity within the firm, so in many ways the ethos remains.

I was at a talk a few days ago about the first 100 years of women in law and one of the speakers proudly announced that the partners they had made up globally this year were 1/3 women, which reflected their goal of reaching 1/3 women in their total partnership.  I honestly don’t understand why that would be a goal.  Why not 50% – if we’re talking about goals and things we have to strive to achieve, I don’t understand why any firm would aim to have less than 50/50 representation.  Particularly in an industry in which we have more women than men entering the legal profession.

How would you describe the culture at Kingsley Napley?

There was a report in The Lawyer last week that only three UK top 100 firms had partnerships where women outnumbered men.  Kingsley Napley is one of those firms.  Our partnership is around 55% female.  I became partner this year, along with one other person who happened to be an extremely well deserving man.  He’s truly excellent at his job and leads a team of costs lawyers.  I was so pleased to be made up along with him, and that the gender split was 50/50. 

Kingsley Napley genuinely feels like a meritocracy, and a place where people are encouraged and talent is nurtured.  That includes considering people’s needs, be it standing desks, agile working or part time/flexible working hours.  The firm seems to recognise that people don’t all come in one package and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.  That doesn’t make us perfect, but it makes for a really great place to work.  I know I sound like I drank the Kool Aid on this one, but I believe it.

What advice would you give to women aiming to make partnership?

  • Be brave – going for partnership means sticking your head above the parapet.  You’re going to be questioned on your work, your ability to bring in work, your management style and every aspect of your working life. 
  • You will also have to make decisions in your career along the way which are terrifying.  The first time you move firms is always the hardest.  The first time a client complains about fees, or the outcome of a case it will always feel personal.
  • And no one else has all the answers.  We’re all learning, that’s what makes the job so interesting, so don’t beat yourself up about not knowing it all.
  • Believe in yourself.  It’s a clique for a reason. If you don’t think you can do it, no one else will either.
  • Build your network.  Fill it with brilliant people you can learn from and work with.  They could be colleagues who will support you and vouch for your when it’s time to apply for promotion, friends who listen to you when you’ve had a bad day, and then proof read your partnership paper, or clients for whom you’ve done a great job.  Value them and let them know they’re valued.

Oh, and everyone has imposter syndrome.

RPC: Victoria Noto

Victoria is an Associate in RPC’s Commercial team and advises on commercial agreements, marketing/advertising, consumer law and data protection. As an active participant in RPC’s D&I Programme, she is proud of the firm’s achievements in this area including the firm being recognised as a Stonewall Top 25 Law Firm and shortlisted for the Diversity Innovation Award at the Legal Week Innovation Awards in 2019.

Describe RPC’s culture in three words. Why these three words?

Open. Collaborative. Ambitious.

Everything about RPC feels like it was designed with creating an open culture in mind. We all sit in complete open plan (even up to Managing Partner level) and are regularly encouraged to have open and honest conversations with Partners, line managers and so on. The group that I sit in also holds quarterly ‘Junior Associate Meetings’ whereby the juniors in the team get together and discuss what’s working well, what we think can be improved etc. This is fed back into the Head of the Group who in turn raises issues with the Partner Executive Committee.

The open culture also helps create a really collaborative working environment. Being in open plan means you will be sitting with people at varying levels of their careers and quite often means juniors will get to work directly with lots of different partners. There are also lots of projects around the firm which provide the opportunity for lawyers to collaborate with some of the other areas of the business – eg on business development, wellbeing initiatives and CSR.

Finally, despite not being a massive firm it definitely feels like we punch well above our weight. We win some really amazing work, have fantastic clients and are regularly recognised by the legal directories as leaders in many of the firm’s core practice areas – including commercial contracts, reputation / brand management, disputes and insurance. We also encourage our people to be ambitious in their careers. For example, you don’t have to be a particular number of years PQE to progress to the next career level at RPC – when you’re ready to be promoted to the next level you will be, regardless of how many years qualified you are.

In your view, has your firm taken enough steps to empower women in the workplace?

It’s difficult to say. There has been lots of steps / initiatives that have launched relatively recently (see below) and I think it will take a bit more time to see how effective they are and whether they actually translate into more women partners and other senior positions across the firm. What I will say is that I don’t personally feel limited as a woman at RPC – my long-term progression at the firm and what can be done to advance my career are regularly discussed at my reviews and I feel that I get a lot of career support – both from managers and my mentor at the firm.

What more could RPC do to empower women?

RPC are already doing quite a lot and I’m excited to see how the Gender Work Stream plan and other initiatives we have recently launched work on the ground when fully implemented.

One thing that RPC could consider is having a women-focussed mentoring programme at an earlier stage. There are junior mentoring schemes more generally at the firm, but the women-focussed mentoring schemes that exist mainly focus on development at a senior level ie to help coach more women into senior roles. I’ve personally benefited hugely from having great women mentors since I was a paralegal and so definitely think that other junior lawyers at RPC would value having something similar.

RPC has several diversity and inclusion network groups including allies@RPC and RPC RAIN. What do they do and what is their role in the firm?

RPC has a Balanced Business Task Force which is governed by a board member who is held accountable for all Inclusion & Diversity activities.Each Work Stream is self-propelled so they plan their own initiatives and events which are both internal and external and aim to educate, raise awareness, support and provide networking opportunities. We also carry out 6-month rotating ‘spotlights’ on each of the Streams to raise more awareness of the work that Stream is doing.

In 2017, RPC launched the ‘Gender Work Stream’ initiative. Can you please tell me more about this?

The initiative is led by our male CFO and a female Legal Director. The main focus has been the development of our Gender Balance Plan, which has 15 areas of action that we believe will drive positive change in the firm. For example, since the initiative launched there has been a big focus on reviewing our internal processes when it comes to addressing the Gender Pay Gap.

What else does RPC do to promote diversity?

Our Work Streams regularly host events and plan initiatives focussed on their particular area which naturally promote diversity within the firm. We also participate in a number of diversity-focussed mentoring initiatives. For example, as we are a member of the Terralex international network RPC employees can participate in the Terralex Women’s Global Connection Mentoring Programme. Our employees also participate in the 30% Club mentoring scheme.

Dawson Cornwell: Carolina Marín Pedreño

A partner at Dawson Cornwell, Carolina joined the family law firm in 2003. Specialising in international family law, Carolina has been ranked top in Chambers and remains a very well-respected authority in her field. Carolina is passionate about championing women, and this is reflected by her volunteering for the London-based charity, Rights of Women, which is dedicated to providing free legal advice to women.

How would you describe the culture at Dawson Cornwell?

Very family-friendly – we accommodate people’s needs in everyaspect of their lives. We have had solicitors who have asked for sabbaticals to write books, to study in other jurisdictions or to complete masters in this jurisdiction. In terms of how we approach our employees, our maternity packets are very supportive in the sense that there will always be support and guidance for you when you return. In fact, when I came back from maternity leave, I found myself to be a better lawyer than I was when I left and that was mainly due to the support that I received! Our firm is extremely diverse and tight knit – we know the story behind every employee and our lawyers come from all corners of the world (Poland, France, Spain, Pakistan etc).

Who is your role model?

Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE, QC (Hon). I learned so much working alongside her. She didn’t treat me like a tea and coffee guinea pig – Anne-Marie actually wanted me to get involved! Despite only being at a very junior level of my career at the time, and in particular being a foreign lawyer registered as a European lawyer with a strong Spanish accent, Anne-Marie really promoted and supported me. I was the only EU national employee when I joined the firm. I was incredibly lucky to find her. She is a most exceptional lawyer. I admire her intelligence, forward-thinking and revolutionary approach to the legal profession and her ability to anticipate changes in the legal world like no one else! We all need a mentor like Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE, QC (Hon).

What advice would you give to women aiming to make partnership?

Individuality is crucial. Find what makes you different from everyone else, and highlight it as your strength. Secondly, go the extra mile. Do things on the side to help boost other people.

…and what made you different from everyone else?

I am very approachable.  I have always encouraged an open-door policy. I wanted to be different from the other partners and make people feel on the same level. One way that I do this is by encouraging trainees to share with me how they will approach each case. I like them to be heavily involved and reward them for it so that they can get actively involved with the work and have confidence in themselves.

What has Dawson Cornwell done to embrace diversity?

As well as being signatories to The Law Society’s Diversity & Inclusion Charter, we also like to place emphasis on the little things in life. For example, on national country days, we will say ‘hello’ to each other in different languages (our office speaks 17 languages collectively). Our firm also recently hosted a group of Swedish, Spanish and Romanian lawyers who wanted to learn more about our legal system. If there is a conference that our lawyers are interested in, then we will stream it for them to watch (eg; the Women in Law Conference) and have a very good internship programme, open not only to students in this jurisdiction but from every other jurisdiction in the world. We also have a silent prayer room for our employees to go to if they need to pray. This year we have been shortlisted for the Citywealth Future Leaders Best Employer – Career Progression LGBT+/inclusion Award, the winner to be announced in November. We have also been shortlisted for Company of the Year – Female Leadership (Boutique) in the Citywealth Powerwomen Awards 2020.

Can you please tell me more about ‘Rights of Women‘?

Rights of Women is a charity based in East London. It provides an anonymous telephone line service for women who need advice on any aspect of their lives. I was advising them on family law issues. I came across many foreign mothers who felt extremely vulnerable following the separation from their partners as they did not know what the law states in those situations. I encourage everyone to do it for at least 6 months – you only need to volunteer one afternoon per week. Especially after the cuts to legal aid in family cases, this is a very important service.

What was the best part about this experience?

It was very rewarding – you start with someone in tears and then end up leaving them empowered. It’s a great feeling. Having the knowledge is what make them feel safer.

…and the most challenging?

As the service is anonymous, I couldn’t give the callers my details or offer to help them out in the future. I was often left wondering what had happened to them…

How has this experience impacted the way you approach your cases and clients?

I am much more patient – it’s not like someone will tell you their whole life in a single hour. I meet people at the worst stage in their lives and walk along with them at their pace.

Russell-Cooke LLP: Kizzy Augustin

Kizzy is a partner at Russell-Cooke in the fraud and criminal litigation team, specialising in health and safety. Kizzy is extremely passionate about raising awareness for diversity in the legal profession and commits much of her free time to this cause. In 2018, Kizzy was nominated in the Precious Awards 2018 for her focus on retaining women in senior positions in the law and encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Kizzy has hosted the Women in Law Summit in both 2018 and 2019 as well as also being a keynote speaker at several diversity conferences such as the Women in the City Afro-Caribbean Network Law Annual Conference (WCAN) 2019 and the IOSH Diversity Conference in April 2019. Kizzy has affiliations with many other diversity organisations such as the Black Solicitors Network and Working Families.

Do you believe that the glass ceiling still exists for women in the legal profession?

Yes, it does still exist but perhaps not to the same extent. It doesn’t even have to be a glass ceiling. A panellist at a recent conference I chaired spoke about the ‘bamboo ceiling’. In her East Asian culture, there is much prejudice about being female and where she comes from. A career was often seen as a hobby or something on the side. The glass ceiling is still there, but women are not only affected by the ceiling but also affected by other intersectional diversity characteristics that must be addressed.

Who is your role model? Why?

Firstly, my mum. She taught me from a very early age to never depend on anyone for success. It’s only really now that I understand what she means.

Professionally, I had a mentor named Dame Linda Dobbs QC that I managed to do periods of work experience with – she was the first black High Court judge in the UK. I approached her many years ago to shadow her at court. She gave hope that it’s possible to be female, black and attain one of the highest judicial positions in the country. 

Describe your journey towards partnership in three words. Why these three words?

Challenging, exciting and earned. It’s been a real journey – I wasn’t initially sure if I wanted partnership. I just wanted to do my job and help people that couldn’t afford legal assistance. However, due to government pressures, I moved on to do something else and discovered the value of being a niche health and safety lawyer. Once I realised that partnership was something I actually wanted, both from a leadership and people management perspective, I worked tirelessly to get there.

Russell-Cooke is a signatory to the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter. What impact has this had on the firm?

Before I came, Russell-Cooke didn’t have an active D&I group –they had a D&I policy but recognised that they could do more in this space. I am part of the Equality, Inclusion and Diversity committee at Russell-Cooke. I mainly contribute at the Women in the Law events and am about to chair our Working Parents and Carers branch committee along with our HR Manager. Being part of the Charter makes us slightly more accountable – we have to report what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. 

All staff and partners at Russell-Cooke are required to undertake equality and diversity awareness training every two years. Can you please tell me more about this?

It is an interactive online course that we do independently. It’s relatively straight forward – we are trained on bias in the workplace and protected diversity characteristics (age, gender, race etc). We then must complete a test at the end – 80% or more is a pass. 

What else has Russell-Cooke done to celebrate diversity?

We tend to run events along with a recognised diversity calendar. For example, during Pride Week we organised a fun run. We have also had themed film nights – in Black History Month we watched ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, and invited speakers to our Putney office. Once we had a workshop on wellbeing and we had our IT consultant (who is also a nutritionist) come in to speak to use about nutrition and wellbeing. The firm then provided us lunch based on the nutrition advice that she gave us. We intend to host a Women in the Law event in November promoting women in the judiciary. All in all, the main aim of our diversity initiatives is to discuss serious issues across in fun ways and promote awareness.

Ashurst LLP: Deborah Dalgleish

Deborah qualified as a lawyer with what was then Herbert Smith and joined the real estate department. She rapidly realised that she was more interested in lawyers than in the law, and has spent the remainder of her career focussing on recruitment, early careers, training and in the last decade, diversity and inclusion. She established a D&I function for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer before being approached by Ashurst to do the same for them in 2011. Ashurst produced its first global D&I action plan in 2019.

How would you describe the culture at Ashurst?

When I first arrived at Ashurst I conducted a series of structured interviews to understand the culture, and obtained a very consistent impression – it’s a nice firm, supportive and informal. People take their jobs seriously, but not themselves. This makes it a very pleasant place to work – but because people know it’s so nice, it can also be a challenge to get people to understand that there can still be significant challenges, notwithstanding all the niceness!

In your view, has Ashurst taken enough steps to empower women in the workplace?

You could never feel that enough steps have been taken until you had a completely representative firm at all levels. We are doing much better than we were 8 years ago (a quarter of all our partners are female, and we have set a target to reach 1 in 3 in the next couple of years, more of our senior management team are female (32%) and more office managing partners), but we are a long way off being able to point to sufficient female empowerment.

Are you a member of any diversity-related groups?

Ashurst has five employee support networks – for gender, BAME, LGBTI+, disability & resilience, caring responsibilities – and we also have working groups to look at social mobility and BAME career progression. I belong to all of these and attend all the meetings. In smaller offices, we have diversity committees which cover the range of D&I issues, but in the larger offices it’s more effective to work in strand related networks.

This year, Ashurst celebrated reaching over 100 female partners globally. What is the next step?

To carry on in the right direction! We have an enormous celebration coming up in November to celebrate our First Women – we have researched not only our first female articled clerk, partner, board member, maternity returner – but the history of the daughters of our founder, William Ashurst, who were all radical liberals in the context of the Victorian era in which they lived – anti slave trade, pro female emancipation, very active in many different areas. It’s been fascinating. I would say setting our first gender targets 7 years ago has had the greatest impact – it changed the focus and ensured that the Board, Executive Team and everyone talked about whether we were retaining and promoting our best women – the improvement in our statistics speaks to the value of setting targets. (We now want to extend targets beyond gender).

Does Ashurst have affiliations with any diversity organisations? If so, what impact have these affiliations had on Ashurst?

We have a number of affiliations and the main ones are listed below:

  • The Valuable 500: we are launching a workplace adjustments passport to mark this step – a document which will travel with individuals as they move to differen departments or offices, and mean that there is an agreed record of what support they need and what reasonable adjustments the firm needs to make to ensure their disability does not hold them back in the workplace
  • The 30% Club: the greatest impact was a professional services firms initiative starting back in 2012 which looked at barriers to women’s progress in the workplace; we learnt a lot from that, and one direct consequence was the introduction of work allocation managers as the project identified that work allocation is subject to unconscious bias; our resource managers really help to manage down the impact of this.
  • Stonewall: we have belonged to Stonewall for many years, and take part in the Workplace Equality Index, which helps us to see where we are supporting LGBTI+ colleagues well and where we need to do better. We set up our Allies programme as a result of this.
  • Business in the Community: we have been members for some time and have twice been listed in the Times Top 50 places for women to work – this is a gender benchmark which is run jointly by BITC and the Times.
  • Investing in Ethnicity: we joined this organisation in 2018 and benchmarked with them. A direct result of looking more closely at our support for BAME colleagues was setting up our BAME working group, which now has 9 workstreams up and running.
  • The Social Mobility Foundation: we benchmark with the SMF to look at what we are doing.
  • The Business Disability Forum: this provides us with expert advice and support.

What else has Ashurst done to celebrate diversity?

Each of our networks organises a programme of events to raise awareness over the course of the year. Some highlights from the last year would include:

  • Michael McGrath speaking about his expedition to the South Pole as a wheelchair user and raising money for his foundation.
  • Akala speaking to mark Black History Month about his book ‘Natives’ and the impact of the structure of the British Empire on people of colour in the UK.
  • Dr Louise Ashley speaking as part of Social Mobility Week, exploring the challenges of widening participation in the professions.
  • Professor A.C. Grayling talking about atheism, humanism and the idea of the good.

Can you please tell me about the #IamRemarkable workshop that Ashurst recently participated in?

One of our associates took a group to attend this workshop which looks at the need for under represented groups to learn to speak up about their achievements in an authentic and comfortable way. We received very good feedback on it.

Can you please tell me more about Ashurst’s ‘Social Mobility Week’ and why social mobility is important to the firm?

Our Social Mobility Week was part of ‘Make a difference month’ run by our corporate responsibility group, and we decided to come together to focus on social mobility as it is a topic addressed both at CR and D&I levels. If we don’t recruit broadly we know we will miss out on high potential talent, so we are looking at how we recruit (using more objective approaches for instance), how we employ (setting up apprenticeships for those who do not wish or cannot afford to go to university) and how we support people in the workplace (the greatest challenge as it involves raising awareness among the existing partners and staff that they need to be more inclusive).

Would you like to make any further comments?

The key issues to progress a D&I agenda are senior management buy-in and accountability – so this year we published our first global public D&I action plan, to ensure that we are all held to account. Our managing partner is personally accountable to the Board for delivery of our D&I programme. We have a global body of partners and senior business service leaders who all sponsor one diversity strand and oversee our global approach. Our managing partner personally sponsors our gender programme, our Chairman sponsors both BAMe and social mobility and we are about to appoint a senior LGBTI champion.

If you would like to read more about diversity in law firms, here are some interesting articles/links that you could take a look at:

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