Diversity Doesn’t Work Without Inclusivity
Many firms will understand the benefits behind diversity. Not only will it attract more clients, but it also enables the firm to gain more insights from a variety of backgrounds, thus leading to creative solutions and a more integrated network.
Speaking to Olivia Balson, who is the Director of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Global Centre, she pinpoints ways in which law firms can try to be more integrated and inclusive.
Do you think firms just want to ‘tick the box’ on diversity, rather than really wanting to be more inclusive?
I really hope that the legal profession doesn’t just want to tick the box. I don’t think that anything will change if we have this mindset. It is really important that we endeavour to recruit and retain diverse, talented people. Diversity is important due to the innovation and collaboration that it brings to a firm and for the engagement of our people.
I think that when you are bringing people together, having a common goal and purpose is really important.
How have you seen diversity change over the years in the legal sector itself?
I think it has changed in a way. One of the things I mentioned [in my speech] was about diversity and inclusion; I think people have always been quite aware of diversity in the workplace, but now it is actually the impact of diversity on businesses and on firms which has really come to the forefront of what we are trying to achieve. It impacts how we can engage with our people, how we can better our reputation, how we can increase our revenue, how it impacts responsible business and the creation of ideas; and I think over the course over the last 15 years, the importance of diversity has become more prevalent, we now understand the impact more.
What do you suggest law firms can do to increase inclusivity and encourage discussions on the matter. Does team building work, for example?
I think that when you are bringing people together, having a common goal and purpose is really important. Everybody is different and people will be sitting and working alongside others who may be very different to them. A team could have a mixture of men, women, ethnicities, orientations, ages, abilities, backgrounds; there are so many differences between these people, all bringing unique skills and experiences. If you can find a common purpose, and create an inclusive environment, then people will work together and collaborate then you can see great results.
It is important to recognise and reward inclusive leadership.
How can you ensure that people higher up in the firm are just as serious about diversity and that people under them or in their team are as diverse as they can be?
I think there are a number of ways you can encourage leaders to really believe that diversity is important. But it is not just about diversity, it is also about inclusivity – it is not just about the differences between individuals, it’s about bringing them together to achieve common goals through collaboration. It is important to recognise and reward inclusive leadership.
The legal world is changing and the more we can bring together different skill sets and knowledge from a diverse range of people, the better able we are to support our clients.
Do you have an example of how inclusivity has worked well in the legal sphere?
In the global centre in Manchester at Freshfields, we have a number of business services functions and we have our Global “Hub” which delivers our legal services globally to the firm and our clients. It could be easy for those functions to operate in vertical silos, however, we actively bring them together to work in a collaborative and inclusive way. We often run projects across the various departments, such as a technology or innovation project, that will bring our people together working towards a common purpose; inevitably we end up with an absolutely outstanding output and also have achieved inclusivity. The legal world is changing and the more we can bring together different skill sets and knowledge from a diverse range of people, the better able we are to support our clients.
I do really think mental health is incredibly important to be aware of.
You also mentioned mental health – what do you think could be done to promote support and understanding of mental health in legal practice?
I am part of our global mental health first aid support team, and so I have been through the mental health training at Freshfields and it was an eye-opening experience. I went into this training not really appreciating that mental health is just as significant, if not more significant, than someone’s physical health. With physical health, you can see fairly quickly if someone is struggling, but with mental health, you can’t so easily. I do really think mental health is incredibly important to be aware of.
I think that it is important that we voice around the firm and our industries and clients how important mental health is, that we have people who are trained and are able to spot signs of issues and that we have people that employees can go to talk to about their issues in a safe environment.