A global approach to managing diversity
Ruth Grant and Alison Unsted discuss the importance of increasing diversity and inclusion across a global business, and the specific challenges this presents in terms of the law and culture of different regions
The moral and business cases for diversity and inclusion are widely understood. What that means in practice is far less so. We are a global practice with over 5,000 people operating across six continents. Our clients are global. Our people live and work across many different countries. They speak different languages and represent different cultures and bring diverse perspectives. But we are one team.
Regardless of location, we want to ensure all our people feel valued and included and can thrive in an environment where they can be
at their best: we are a people business with inclusion underpinning our high performance culture mindset. Diversity and inclusion has never been so important. Evolving political and economic landscapes across every part of the globe affect
us all '“ the outcome of the European referendum, the upcoming presidential election in the US, conflict in the Middle East, the state of the economy in China'¦ the list goes on.
Change is constant and global businesses
in particular need to be able to adapt to
changing markets and have the ability to
respond effectively to evolving client needs.
It is recognised that the different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds of diverse
teams foster creative thinking and innovation. Utilising the expertise of a diverse workforce is what sets successful organisations apart from
their competitors, especially at times when organisational agility is needed.
As a people business, the recruitment
and retention of talent is a key priority. The competition for talent in the law is tough, both in highly developed markets, such as the UK, and in emerging markets in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. If we want to recruit the best, we need to ensure we are attracting the widest pool
of talent possible.
So how do we do that on a global basis? In the UK and the US, we have been focused on diversity for well over a decade. Initially driven by some of our clients, over the years we have developed a global diversity and inclusion structure using the knowledge and experience in some of our markets with less traditional experience of diversity and inclusion concepts.
Then in 2012 our firm management endorsed our first global diversity plan, which included the designation of local partner diversity champions and a set of minimum expectations for every local office to implement.
In developing our global strategy, we felt it was important to understand the local cultures, legal frameworks, beliefs, traditions, and challenges in order to put in place programmes which respond to and meet local needs. In some jurisdictions, however, we were advised that the collection
of 'personal' data, such as ethnic group, sexual orientation, and disability, contravened local privacy and data protection laws.
The many different ethnic groups, not all officially recognised, which exist across the different jurisdictions, create a challenge, and
as a consequence no ethnicity data is currently monitored outside the US and UK. Gathering
any meaningful data other than gender, as
well as taking account of the legal and cultural sensitivities for some strands, made introducing
a uniform action requirement difficult.
Given these challenges, we chose to focus first on gender as the easiest strand we could tackle on a global basis. In doing so, our plan set aspirational targets for the numbers of women in both partnership roles '“ 25 per cent by 2017, 30 per cent by 2022 '“ and key management roles '“ 30 per cent by 2015. Other strands would be addressed locally by the region and office.
Since the establishment of the 2012 plan,
we have seen progress against these targets, objectives, and actions, including:
An increase from 28 per cent in 2012 to
32 per cent for the number of women in management roles, exceeding our target
of 30 per cent women in management positions by our target date of 2015;
An increase in the percentage of women partners to 23 per cent;
The implementation of mandatory unconscious bias training for all partners globally;
An overall increase in focus and attention
on the partner pipeline and retention of women and our talent through an increase
in monitoring and biannual reporting of our gender statistics at recruitment, promotion, and exit stage to the firm's management committees;
A substantial increase in diversity activities across our global offices; and
The implementation of a global agile working policy.
The plan has successfully put gender diversity at the forefront of partners' minds: it represented a cultural shift. There is more active sponsorship in managing careers, better focus on the talent pipeline, and improved active people management at an earlier stage. The agile working programme further supplements this, creating an additional positive impact for our people in the future.
In 2015 we rolled out our current global diversity plan. This has involved expanding our focus from office and regionally led action to practice and industry sector. Our practices and industry sectors operate in a global framework so we felt strongly that having raised awareness globally through our regional actions, it was time to align our diversity strategy with the firm business plan and to ensure a consistent approach to inclusion across the firm.
Extending our programme globally has not been without its challenges. Despite our international clients pushing the agenda for diversity and inclusion, this does not translate to all our
In some jurisdictions, core elements of our UK and US programmes, such as recruitment focused on increasing our ethnic diversity, are not recognised as issues, even where there are clearly good business reasons for improving the ethnic diversity of the pools from which we are recruiting.
Ethnicity is probably the most complex diversity strand to address globally. While most, if not all, countries have experienced migration, the understanding of what is meant by the term 'ethnicity' is not universally recognised and understood. There is acknowledgement that distinct ethnic groups exist, but not always consideration that these groups may be disadvantaged or excluded in the workplace. Classification of what constitutes an ethnic group differ by country and region, even in the US and UK, where ethnic diversity issues are well recognised. In the UK, for example, Hispanic/ Latino heritage is not recognised as an ethnic group, whereas it is in the US. In continental Europe, ethnic groupings are more likely to be associated with nationality and language as opposed to cultural heritage.
Across Asia and the Middle East region there
are other complexities in relation to ethnicity.
In Dubai, for example, Emiratis make up less than 20 per cent of the local population, so who are the ethnic minorities? In this example it would be the indigenous population.
As a firm practising international law, there
is a real challenge in some jurisdictions in the recruitment of indigenous lawyers who meet the necessary requirements for the work that the firm does. In China, foreign law firms cannot practise the law of the People's Republic of China and PRC-qualified lawyers employed by foreign law firms have their practising licences suspended
for the duration of their employment. As a result, many Chinese-qualified lawyers choose to work
in domestic law firms.
The future pipeline of talented lawyers is also affected by a number of other factors, including,
in some markets, the quality of the local education systems, language barriers, and cultural styles. These challenges are not unique to our firm.
Many law firm offices across this region are predominately made up of expatriates and there
is much less client pressure among international businesses to drive change.
That said, market forces do play a part in focusing minds on the need for ethnic diversity across our practice groups. The long hoped for opening up of the Indian domestic market
(see page 12) and the vast opportunities for legal work across Africa have assisted in bringing focus on the need to be able to meet the expectations
of our current and future clients in these incredibly important markets.
The global landscape for LGBT issues is also challenging. Despite the progress being made, there are still 75 countries in which homosexual acts are illegal, and in eight of them, this is punishable by death.
We operate in five of these countries and have to carefully balance our desire for global consistency with the protection and safety of our people.
A report by the Centre for Talent Innovation,
'Out in the World: Securing LGBT Rights in a Global Marketplace', describes three models which are being adopted by organisations in their approach to LGBT inclusion:
The 'when in Rome' mode, adhering to the norms of the jurisdiction;
The 'embassy' model, implementing policies and initiatives within the confines of corporate premises; and
The 'advocate' model, actively lobbying against local laws.
To date, in some offices we have refrained from local communication about LGBT issues. However, that does not prevent us at a firm-wide level from taking an approach which makes clear we are inclusive for all our LGBT personnel, and we are now working to launch a global allies programme later this year.
While taking a global approach to diversity
and inclusion has not been without its challenges, we know for us it has been the right approach.
Put simply, diversity and inclusion has become
just who we are and how we do business. With endorsement from the very top and support
from both our local partner diversity champions and regional teams, we have educated and
raised awareness of these issues across the firm, translating our global diversity and inclusion
goals into locally integrated diversity programmes in which we have made considerable progress, and of which we are very proud.