Our TABLE Has Five Legs

We’re living in exceptional times. Our world was already changing at a pace that was difficult to maintain, but since the onset of Covid19, traditional thinking and working has been uprooted and deposited as a new challenge. But this also presents us with an opportunity: an opportunity to test our resolve, our systems and processes. It is also a chance to discard convention that is inconsistent with the future direction of society’s travel and calibrate organisational culture with purpose.

Our new destination is to make companies more agile, reactive to societal changes, with a beacon of leadership that proposes a more inclusive future for all stakeholders.

I’m talking about evolving our organisations into TABLE organisations, reshaping relationships with customers, staff and other stakeholders.

A TABLE is one that exhibits the following characteristics: T – THINKING with reflection A – ACTING with purpose B – BEHAVING inclusively L – LOOKING diverse E – EXPRESSING EMOTION

T=Thinking With Reflection

A TABLE organisation is one that allows time for thinking and reflection. It has a culture that welcomes a coaching-style approach to leadership and encourages everyone involved to take individual responsibility for their actions. At the same time, it is led with the benefit of experience and reflection, as well as an appetite for thinking and learning. The Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, has given us an excellent opportunity to pause, reflect and institute impactful changes that address the persisting challenges around racism.

A=Acting with Purpose

In the words of Simon Sinek, a TABLE organisation starts with “why”. The “why” is the purpose.

A purpose that is specific to the particular organisation can act as a litmus test for all organisational activity, constantly asking the question: is this consistent with our purpose or are we straying away from it?

During lockdown, the overriding purpose of most companies has been to ensure both staff and customers are coping well, are connected to each other and are safe. With such a narrow focus and purpose, many leaders were surprised at how quickly they could set up channels of communication, how much empathy colleagues and bosses displayed, how dedicated and motivated everyone was and, in the end, how well everyone coped.

An organisation that unites behind a clear and stated purpose is better equipped to motivate and pull in the same direction. And that became crystal clear during the lockdown.

B=Behaving Inclusively

Most of us think of ourselves as being inclusive. And for the most part we are, so long as it doesn’t require much effort.  We encourage and support, we extend rules and policies and we welcome a few token individuals that make our circle more diverse.

But rarely are these efforts enough.

When I talk about “behaving inclusively”, I mean going the extra mile to understand what we don’t know or see and then another mile to develop new habits that allow us to better understand and cater to people from vastly different backgrounds.

L= Looking Diverse

Diversity is the reward for inclusion. An inclusive culture is able to attract, retain and promote a diverse population.

Diversity increases the level of creativity and innovation, begets new ideas and offers previously unnoticed experiences and opinions. It is the gateway to a more complete set of data.

The more diverse and inclusive an organisation, the more information it has to utilise for the fulfilment of its purpose. Lack of diversity at the top therefore, limits what we can achieve.

E= Expressing Emotion

An organisation that is in touch with its feelings, that is unafraid of expressing decisions and motivations in terms of emotions will be better equipped to attract the talent of tomorrow. Emotional and psychological safety is a large part of today’s and tomorrow’s well-oiled, well-functioning organisation. Creating and demonstrating safe space conversations that allow colleagues to express how they feel are valuable tools for leaders who want to attract bright talent. An organisation that speaks from the heart and the mind will be better equipped to deliver on its purpose for more of its stakeholders.

Does your organisation have 5 legs?

To find out which of the 5 legs of your TABLE organisation are more stable and which require more support, get in touch with me.

Mind Your Language!

A few years ago, Voice At The Table had a popular workshop, talking to senior leaders about the significance of using the right words. And then its popularity waned. Now, it seems, the notion that words matter is back: businesses everywhere are dropping old-fashioned terminology like “blacklist” and “master and slave” servers.

Last week, Twitter and JP Morgan announced that they are dropping these controversial terms as well as “whitelist” and “man hours” along with other offenders.  Estate agents are also reconsidering the use of the term “master” bedroom.

And what about this “mis-step” by H&M?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words have a massive impact. We often use them without thinking and without intent to offend.  But a simple reflection on some of the words and phrases we regularly use discloses their historical meaning, which is no longer reflective of society:  businessman, chairman, black sheep, guys, lads, psycho, schizo, “call a spade a spade”, “boys will be boys”, blind drunk, deaf to the world and many more.

You’re probably surprised about a number of these (as was I), but there are the very basic terms which ought to be obvious.  For instance, only days ago, I received an email - an FT newsflash – that announced the stepping down of Lloyds Bank’s current chairman – Antonio Horta-Osorio.  His replacement – the next chairMAN – was yet to be named! Does this mean a woman is not a possible contender for the job?

These are shocking mistakes that should not be made these days, especially by organisations that are looking for our trust and loyalty.

Many of us don't think twice when using these well-trodden words, as they have established meanings that don't mean to exclude.  In the end, however, communication is less about how you say things and more about how what’s being said is heard.  That’s why the Use of Language is one of our eight Inclusive Behaviours.

When expressing yourself, instead of saying things like a “female engineer” or a “blind man”, say “a woman on our engineering team” or “a man who is blind”.

Avoid the use of jargon – which is easily caught up in non-inclusive history – and above all, avoid labels.  Labels overgeneralise and lump all of us together into one pot, which is most certainly too small to comfortably fit the myriad of shapes, sizes and colours of humanity.  Oh, oops, have I just done what I’m asking others not to do?  Well, I don’t know.

My main point is, we ought to try, and be more conscious of our words.  If we do just that alone, we will be far less likely to mis-step.

Will Covid Wipe Out the Macho Leadership Culture?

By Melissa Jackson

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during the Covid pandemic, it’s that some of the best leadership skills - in the face of a crisis – have been demonstrated by women. It feels like the time is right to shed the macho leadership style that has dominated politics and the boardroom and look to a future where empathy and co-operation prevail. [continue reading]

Let’s take the most extreme example of macho leadership – Donald Trump – the man who consistently and bullishly holds such inflated self-belief that he selectively ignores the opinions of others, believing his “superior” judgement is beyond reproach. Predictably, he’s rejected the advice of medical professionals and unsurprisingly, the US currently has the world’s highest death-rate from Covid-19.

Then there’s Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly trivialised Covid-19, describing it as a “little flu” that did not warrant “hysteria” and claimed that his country would be protected from the virus by its climate and youthful population. Brazil is currently second in the league table of global Coronavirus deaths and - in an almost retaliatory act of irony – the virus has infected Bolsonaro.

The countries with some of the lowest Covid mortality figures are led by women, including New Zealand, Norway, Germany and Taiwan. Both New Zealand and Norway’s leaders have exhibited leadership styles that have been described as “empathetic” and “collaborative”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently, the esteemed British musician Brian Eno, said, the countries that have come out of Coronavirus “well”  have “spent more time listening to their scientists than to their ideologues” and that “macho posturing has proved to be worse than useless” in the face of the pandemic.

I hear that over-worked conundrum, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” ringing in my ears.

Joining in the Woman’s Hour debate and commenting on the highly-competent and distinguished female leaders, Chair of Time’s Up UK (see link below) Dame Heather Rabbatts said, “We always used to say you can’t show your feelings as a leader. Here they are showing their feelings; at the same time, being incredibly decisive, basing their judgements on evidence, being collaborative and listening.

“I think what we’re seeing now is a formidable sense of ‘this is what constitutes leadership’.

“It isn’t the shouting; it isn’t the vilification of others or the demonising of others. It is absolutely about this sense of humanity, aligned with clear leadership.”

Dame Inga Beale, former CEO of Lloyds of London, told the programme that she was often criticised for not being more autocratic, a behaviour that is allied with a male leadership style.

Dame Heather said the female political leaders have demonstrated collaboration, building alliances, listening and humility.

These are skills that could usefully transfer to the boardroom and the corporate hierarchy.

For years, there have been suggestions that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. But too often, political organisations and companies have focused on persuading women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. However, the female heads of state, operating in a Covid world, are a case study of the leadership traits men may want to learn from women.

It’s time they were adopted across the board and the macho tactics eradicated. Let’s seize the moment and see something positive emerge from this crisis to shape the leaders of today and tomorrow.

For more articles related to this, click on the links below.

Leaders  (Guardian)

 

Leadership Lessons Men Can Learn From Women (HBR)

Time’s Up UK

The story of pink!

What do you associate with the colour pink?

Nowadays, most would consider pink to be a girl's colour.  We're told it's a colour that stands for charm, politeness, sensitivity, tenderness, sweetness, childhood, femininity and romance.

So why would Voice At The Table – a gender parity and balance advocate – choose pink as its dominant colour?  Doesn’t that reinforce the stereotypes attached to women and, as such, go against everything we stand for?

Not as I see it.

I chose pink to defy the stereotype and encourage others to move away from labels.  We help people see beyond convention.  The challenge we offer is for each of us to be confronted with something that seems straight forward and learn to understand the complexity beyond.  Let’s not judge books by their covers.  Let’s read the pages in between and gain a greater understanding of people and perspectives.

Let’s start with the colour pink.

Pink didn’t start out as a colour of girls.  In fact, in the 19th century, pink was a colour associated with boys.  As red was the colour closely-associated with men, pink – a lighter shade of red – was the colour most often chosen for little men, as boys were then regarded.

In June 1918, an American trade publication even wrote:

The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.

Pink also had different connotations in different cultures.  In India, for example, pink was seen as a symbol of a "welcome embrace", while in Japan it was the colour of masculinity and now, the colour of Spring (when the famous cherry blossoms colour Japan pink throughout).  In Thailand, pink is the colour of Tuesday so anyone born on that day may wear pink on a Tuesday and adopt pink as their colour.  Italy’s sports newsletter La Gazetta della Sport uses pink paper to stand out and awards a pink jersey to the winner of Italy’s biggest bicycle race.

In Catholicism, pink symbolises joy and happiness.

Nowadays, the colour is closely associated with women’s issues and empowerment, as well as the LGBTQ+ movement.  And of course we all would recognise the pink ribbon as the emblem of breast cancer awareness.

I am surprised at how many different meanings the colour pink conjures up, and for all these meanings and reasons, I’m pleased to peg our name to it.

The Gender Pay Gap

Guest blog by Jacqueline Heron

In the beginning

With one of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe, in 2015 David Cameron set out to end this ‘scandal’ within a generation. In 2018, Theresa May said she wanted her government to end the ‘burning injustice’ of the gender pay gap.  As a first step, organisations with over 250 employees  published the gap in hourly pay between men and women on April 4th 2018. This will be an annual exercise.

It’s somewhat of a blunt instrument.  A company might have a gender pay gap if a majority of men are in top jobs, despite paying male and female employees the same amount for similar roles  - and there’s no adjustment for employees’ different roles, so CEOs are compared directly with PAs. Gaps can be skewed by a few high-earners.

However, everybody’s talking about it - from Boardroom to shareholders to customers and employees.  And what’s clear is that most of the UK's medium and large organisations pay women significantly less than men, and that there aren’t enough women in top paying jobs.  No surprises there but it’s useful to have it in black and white. And what we’re seeing so far, is that many organisations are recognising that this isn’t good enough and are publishing the actions they plan to take start closing those gaps. Since this will be an annual exercise, we can monitor their progress.  It’s a case of ‘what gets measured, gets done.’

The results are in

Of the 10,019 firms that submitted gender pay gap data  only 2,255 (22.5%) have a median women's hourly wage that is equal to or higher than that of men. The remaining 7,764 (77.5%) pay women less than men. Across the UK, men earned 18.4% more than women in April 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It impacts all industries: The construction sector reported the worst average median gender pay gap at 25%. This was followed by finance and insurance at 22% and somewhat surprisingly, education, with a pay gap of 20%.

And the gender pay gap becomes the gender pension gap

Older women are disproportionately affected, with those in their 50s experiencing an 18.6% pay gap, compared to 5.5% for women in their 20s.  This worsens as they reach pension age.  HMRC data has shown the gap between the amount of pension income received by men and women is widening. Women received just 37% of the total amount of income drawn from pensions last year, down from 39% in 2012-2013. Last year, women received £46.5bn in pension income, while men received £79.3bn.

The reasons are complex

Most industries fail to promote enough women. This is a global issue. McKinsey’s found that, whereas half of graduate entrants in American law firms were women, only one in five equity partners was. A study by SKEMA Business School in France found that, although women made up 52% of banking employees globally, only 38% of middle managers and 16% of executive committee members were women.

Men’s and women’s salaries start diverging from the childbearing years. Women pay a significant financial penalty for being parents. They may also play a non-parental care role – unpaid work looking after relatives, partners or friends with illnesses or disabilities. As a result, they are more likely to work in part time roles which are often lower paid with fewer opportunities for progression.

Structural discrimination plays a part. One in nine new mothers is dismissed, made redundant or treated so poorly that she leaves, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Subtler biases favour men in hiring, performance reviews, pay and promotions. A study in 2016 by Warwick University found that, among workers who asked for pay rises, men were 25% more likely than women to be successful.

As does unconscious bias. Take academia, where studies have shown that unconscious bias comes into play when science faculty members receive applications from students with feminine names, judging women to be less competent and less hireable than a man with an identical CV.

 Working towards a solution

Companies should beware of kneejerk reactions and take time to diagnose what lies behind the numbers. They need to look at how they hire, how they pay, how they promote and ask the question: are our practices fair?

The case for diversity demonstrates a positive impact on the bottom line.  McKinsey found that companies in the bottom quartile for gender and ethnic diversity in leadership were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability. An analysis of the data shows that in companies where women are fairly or slightly overrepresented in the top pay band, the median gender pay gap shrinks relative to the composition of the company as a whole.

Professor Sucheta Nadkarni, Director of the Cambridge Judge Business School Women’s Leadership Centre says: "Whether it is because women are getting paid less for the work that they are doing or because women are not getting equal opportunities to get into positions where the pay level is high – it doesn’t matter what the reason is, but there is a gender pay gap and in most cases it’s an issue of equality and justice. In both cases it’s an issue of an imbalance of some sort."

We should be using the gender pay gap as a means to an end, focusing not solely on the outcome, but rather the lack of equality in opportunities for women.

Your company’s Inclusion Score: Comparing Lyndales’ culture to our Inclusion Criteria

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

This time we look at Lyndales Solicitors, a boutique firm.  With a practice that ranges from civil litigation to family law to commercial property to private clients to company commercial, this firm punches above its weight.

But how well does it fair in diversity and inclusion terms?

The first thing one notices when looking at the team of solicitors at Lyndales is how diverse it is.  The Lyndales team is small and perfectly formed, gender-balanced at 50-50, with representatives of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.  Granted, at partner level the firm is striving towards diversity (with only 1 of 5 partners being a woman), but if we judge by appearance only, it would seem the firm is keen to address this nuance. And, while the team of lawyers is relatively small, it also spans a number of generations (the youngest member being in their 20s whereas the oldest in his late 60s), adding to the mix of views, experiences and opinions of the group.

Having interviewed one of their senior solicitors, Noga Kogman, I quickly reached the conclusion that the firm is aware of the benefits of diversity and inclusion as a business proposition and is shaping its work environment to attract and retain a diverse mix of people.

How do Lyndales measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Noga moved to London from Israel and, as a mother of a young child who is ambitious and career-minded, Noga wanted to work at a firm that can offer her an intellectually-stimulating role and also let her be a mother on her own terms.  Lyndales offered her just that.  Working a full 5-day week, Noga usually works from home once a week and on another day leaves the office at 4pm to pick up her son.  Noga is also free to make other arrangements needed to accommodate her role as a parent and a commercial transaction lawyer.   Noga doesn’t have to hide that she’s leaving to look after her son and doesn’t feel judged because of it.  She feels fully respected and valued by all her colleagues and is therefore able to be fully herself in the office.

In fact, one third of the lawyers work from home one day a week (including a male member of the team) and one of the solicitors also works a shorter week in addition to one of her work days being from home.  In other words, the firm accommodates agile working for everyone who wants it.

Noga describes the culture at Lyndales as healthy and open-minded.   The partners trust their colleagues to be professionals and don’t second-guess how or where they get the job done.  Performance is measured by output and everyone’s targets and progress is openly discussed at team meetings.  People are engaged, committed and happy to be at work – a testament to a tolerant, respecting culture.

Noga feels that there is a genuine interest in diversity at the firm, beyond it being a requirement imposed by the SRA.  The firm has an open-minded approach to candidates and views CVs without regard to a person’s background, name or gender.  The firm is genuinely interested in attracting people from various backgrounds (reflected in the composition of the legal team).

Interviews are conducted by a wide group of people to ensure a lack of bias and a good personality fit with all.  It is therefore not uncommon that lateral hires come from bigger City firms to find a home that respects their varied backgrounds and values their technical skills.

When asked about the firm’s leadership style, Noga explained that the partners are inclusive and considerate.  Noga and her colleagues are routinely engaged in most decisions that affect them directly, from office moves to new hires.  Partners consult with their colleagues regularly and listen and act on feedback.   Partners can be described as balanced in their attitude, open-minded and professional and the tone for the firm’s culture and business is set by its managing partner.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, Lyndales story is strong.  Most lawyers stay for a long time, with hardly any turn-over of legal staff.  The two longest serving partners are the founders, each with 40 years under his respective belt. The firm recently expanded with 3 lateral hires and a newly-qualified solicitor who trained with the firm.  The female partner at the firm returned from maternity leave to work flexibly, working 4 days per week, one of which is from home.

Lyndales do not offer special arrangements for parenting, such as maternity coaching or specific policies around maternity, although one might argue that, with an open attitude towards accommodating most flexible working requests and a friendly open-minded environment, such support services aren’t strictly necessary.  The firm’s maternity leave is comparable to that of any bigger firm and it encourages fathers to play their role in child care.

The firm encourages lawyers to maintain their personal development, supporting their individual training initiatives.  As a small firm, it doesn’t have a central training department yet encourages each person to think about their own growth.

As with most other law firms, the path to equity partnership isn’t entirely transparent, but according to Noga, the partners are aware of this and are keen to address it.  The managing partner has taken it upon himself to ensure the partnership track is transparent and is actively working on making it so.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

The drive for a diverse and inclusive culture in this case is not coming from the outside world.  While it would be fair to say that clients do think about diversity and prefer to work with diverse and able teams (and, as a result, benefit from their more creative and insightful solutions), in the case of Lyndales the firm culture is naturally inclusive and is designed to give lawyers independence, responsibility and accountability.  As a result, the firm benefits from the diversity of its people by allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and tap into their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

In terms of the gender pay gap, the firm is too small to have to report on it, but internal sources suggest that there is a gender pay gap at the firm (currently not quantified), as a function of the fact that, at partnership level, there are more men than women.

The firm is not a signatory to any diversity charters (including the legal diversity and inclusion charter) and is too small to need Employee Resource Groups or networks.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Lyndales Solicitors an Inclusion Mark of Growing and Nurturing their existing inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, proving that D&I is not something that pertains only to bigger organisations.  As a diverse and inclusive culture is something that can be nurtured from the outset, the size of the business doesn’t matter. Small businesses like Lyndales stand to benefit from an inclusive environment as much as (if not more than) any bigger organisation that puts D&I front and centre to its growth strategy. Congratulations, Lyndales! You’ve accomplished a remarkable feat without trying too hard!

If you would like us to review your organisation’s diversity and Inclusion Mark, please email info@voiceatthetable.com

 

Do you feel out of it? by Joanna Gaudoin*

How are you feeling about your career? Do you feel you are progressing as you want to? Importantly, do you enjoy the environment you work in?

There can be lots of things that prevent the answers to those questions being positive but one core reason is rife in workplaces - office politics.

The simple fact is where you have people with different values, goals and assumptions, office politics will be there, so that will be everywhere then!

Research shows that at its worst negative office politics is one of the biggest causes of stress at work. As well as a negative impact on individuals, it can be highly detrimental to organisational performance. A lack of trust, high levels of conflict and lack of faith in top management lead to poor and inefficient decision making and ultimately lack of action and productivity. If you experience all of these in your organisation then the political climate is likely to be extremely negative. Some of these will be present in most organisations.

Another key indicator that office politics is in a negative state is rumblings of people "just wanting to do the day job and not wanting to get involved in other stuff". This state of mind frequently leads to people not progressing in their careers and in many cases the loss of valuable talent. Research also shows that women typically have less time for negative politics and are more likely to try to avoid it, which can affect career progression

However, politics can be positive, it can be turned around. Once people understand what politics is, why it happens, their current behavioural profile and the effect their own behaviour can have on the overall environment, progress can be made.

As a licensed practitioner with the Academy for Political Intelligence (http://www.tafpi.com/), and an associate of Voice at the Table, I run diagnostic profiling with groups and individuals, so they understand their current behaviour and understand that of others. This is looked at in the context of the organisation, it is not simply a personality test. This is supported by looking at the behaviours that need to be focused on going forwards at an individual, tailored level to influence the overall political environment and the progression of individuals in their careers.

Imagine the impact better decision making, increased action taking and a more trusting office environment could have on the performance of your organisation and the career progression of those in it?

What could it mean to your organisation to have improved morale, increased knowledge sharing and productivity, together with increased retention rates?

As an individual, imagine if you knew the key things to focus on to progress in your career and manage the challenges of how you work with others with less stress?

Testimonial from one of my recent one-day workshops on positive organisational politics:

“We were hoping for an off-site event at which our Business Services team leaders would pick up useful skills and insights to help them deal with the increasing pressures of a demanding ‘high touch’ professional services environment.  Joanna exceeded our expectations.  She won the confidence of the group from the outset and proved an open, insightful and action-oriented facilitator.  Our group came away energised by Joanna’s skills exercises and universally positive about Joanna’s impact on the group.”

Director of Business Services, Leading Global Law Firm

*Joanna is Founder of Inside Out Image - Personal Impact & Influence Consultancy

If you'd like to understand more about how this works at an individual or group level, contact us to find out more. This is not something that is taught in business schools and very rarely on training courses. Typically, progress can be made in this area in a day with a group or 4 short sessions with an individual.

Your company’s Inclusion Score: How does your culture compare to our Inclusion Criteria?

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

Our first participant is international law firm Withers LLP.  Withers caught our attention because of its impressively-gender-balanced global partnership. It prides itself – rightly so – on a partnership that is 42% female, a statistic that many law firms find, at present, unattainable.  This is a commendable statistic and a great starting point to our investigation into the type of culture that makes this number possible.

A quick glance at Withers home page gives you a clear idea of where this success might come from.  Front and centre on its website is a blog by a male associate talking about the recent Presidents Club debacle, voicing not only his view on the event but also providing guidance, seeking to mitigate clients’ potential exposure to similar outrage.  A law firm that isn’t afraid to openly address topics that others prefer to avoid.

Withers’ London office has been managed by a female partner since 2002, and is also the first City law firm to appoint a woman as chair in 1999.  And, while its management committee needs an uplift in terms of gender balance (evidencing only 2 women on a group of 13), within the EU, 5 of the 6 regional leaders are women while the global management board comprises 4 women and 4 men.

How does Withers measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Suzanne Todd, a partner in the London’s family practice group, describes the culture of the firm as a ‘why not?’ culture, where it’s more common to ask ‘Why couldn’t a woman be the Prime Minister?’ or ‘Why couldn’t a woman be our chairperson?’ then to stick with convention.  Although traditional law firm etiquette and approach continue to dominate, the firm is open to change if it considers the change to be in the best interest of its clients and its workforce.

Suzanne describes the vast majority (upwards of 75%) of female partners as mothers, with a return from maternity rate that is second to none.  Virtually all 1st time mums return to their employment.  There is of course attrition at various levels, yet there are no noticeable discrepancies in attrition between the genders.

Many of the female lawyers work 4 days a week, serving as relatable role models to others, and there is a myriad of other flexible working arrangements across the firm.  In pockets, the firm continues to reflect our traditional views and expectations of private practice where men tend to work full time, yet this is starting to shift gradually, as well, with a few male lawyers routinely working condensed hours, i.e. 9 out of 10 days per fortnight.  The firm recognises that parenting is not the only reason that warrants the need to work flexibly and is fully supportive of agile working across the entire firm, both for lawyers as well as support staff.

On the recruitment side of things, the legal field does not suffer from lack of female graduates, so at the intake level, Withers takes on more than 50% of female trainees – and with a 42% female partnership record, it seems that it also is able to retain many of them.

Recently, Withers have been working very hard to widen their candidate pool to make it more diverse.  From using ‘Rare’, a contextual recruitment tool to expand the diversity of the group of universities from which it recruits, to sourcing a wider range of talent through the legal apprenticeship scheme, which enables qualification without the need to go through law school, Withers have been actively addressing this point for the last five years.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, there are no noticeable patterns of attrition that indicate gender inequality.

The firm is very keen to ensure the path to partnership is consistent and clear and has put in place programmes for trainees and new hires that explain the firm’s criteria to partnership.  Transparency of the process does tend to vary from department to department, but there doesn’t appear to be an innate preference for promoting men over women.  The gender balance of partnership promotions may swing one way or another from year to year, depending on the business case, but women at the firm would agree that the partnership opportunities are as accessible for them as they are for their male colleagues.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

Suzanne explains that Withers understands the need for a diverse workforce on two levels: (1) the firm’s clients are very diverse and the firm needs a workforce equally as diverse to understand and relate to its client portfolio; and (2) legal transactions are becoming more and more complex, and the firm understands that the best way to tackle complex problems is to approach them from a very diverse range of knowledge and experience.  The need, therefore, not only for diversity but also for an environment that nurtures and values it, is seen as a strategic business requirement.

This is also echoed in the firm’s Global Chairman’s statementOur client base is diverse. It is an imperative that we have a diverse workforce to ensure we are effective at meeting those clients’ needs. It means we can build better relationships with them and innovate to find solutions that work better for them.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

The law firm is subject to the new Pay Gap regulations which will require it to report on the discrepancies (if any) of their pay between women and men.  Moreover, the firm is also a signatory of the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter and is a member of the International Women's Forum, First 100 and One Loud Voice.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Withers an Inclusion Mark of Building the Foundation towards a strong inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, where female leadership and strong female representation among partners and senior staff is still the exception, rather than the rule.  Congratulations, Withers! You’re well ahead of the pack!

If you would like us to assess your organisation’s diversity and inclusion, please email info@voiceatthetable.com