In today's business landscape, the pursuit of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) has become increasingly intertwined with the commercial objectives of companies. Many leaders have realised that these two goals are not in opposition but are mutually reinforcing, working in tandem to build a welcoming culture that benefits employees and clients. Few understand this better than Andrew Edginton, Chief Operating Officer at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP, who has helped his firm to become one of the most progressive employers in the legal profession.
Andrew sat down with Chris Mansfield, to discuss issues ranging from Gowling’s Inclusion for All strategy to the importance of technology in the future of the legal profession.
I hold two roles at the firm: Chief Operating Officer for the UK LLP and the Chief Financial Officer. I have direct responsibility for many aspects of the business, ranging from business improvement and procurement to finance and client services. I also oversee IT as well as attending our executive board and chairing our operational board. It’s a busy and varied role, and no two days are the same.
Gowling WLG is an international sector-focused law firm. We employ around 3,000 people worldwide, and we have offices in the UK, Canada, Continental Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Our UK business has about 1,200 employees, including 800 lawyers. From a strategic point of view, we are highly global, and we share a vision and values with our colleagues worldwide.
My background isn’t actually in law: I spent most of my career in a combination of management consulting and finance. As a management consultant, my focus was on optimising operational focus and helping people to improve what they do. I have a naturally inquisitive mind about how we can keep improving things: it’s not just about making sure things run smoothly; it’s about going in and actively making them better. I start every day reflecting on the previous day and thinking about what I could have done better. There’s always a way to improve. As you grow in your career, your leadership style evolves. I remember when I was at NPower, I went on a leadership development program. I was told that whilst you can choose to be a 'manager', you don’t choose to be a 'leader'; others choose that for you. That’s always stuck with me. Being a good leader is about giving people a reason to choose you, and the best way to do that is by being authentic and putting your best self forward.
I’m a huge believer that we’re all shaped by our experiences. When I was at NPower, I spent some time in Tanzania. I remember sitting in a field near the Ngorongoro Rainforest, reflecting on how our experiences shape our lives. It was an incredible moment. In all of my roles, there have been experiences that have stood out. At PWC, I learned the value of being clear, concise, and personable in communication. People want to listen to other people, not robots, so you need to be your natural self if you want to communicate effectively. The most important attribute any of us have is ourselves: it’s important to find a place to work where you can be your real self. I've also learned it’s vital to recognise and embrace the things you aren’t as good at. That can help you to understand your strengths, and focus on making these the best they can be. I think inclusion is the factor that draws everything together, and that’s been central to my work here at Gowling WLG. One of the highlights of my time here so far has been our role as official legal advisers and sponsors of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games: it was not only a chance to be heavily involved in a once-in-a-lifetime event but also to open up opportunities for everyone in our firm and the wider community.
We frame our thinking in this area around an Inclusion for All strategy. That does exactly what it says on the tin - trying to include everyone in building an inclusive culture. When I first joined the legal field, I think inclusion was seen as something other people did. But what we’re trying to do is make people realise it’s a key aspect of all of our roles, and it’s essential that everybody plays a part. So we make sure all of our teams have plans and set commitments around inclusion, and we discuss it as part of our agenda at our team meetings. We also have a focus on storytelling and encouraging people to share their experiences, whether it’s through round tables or our employee networks. I work closely with two networks: our Enable Network, which works closely with people with visible and non-visible disabilities, and our Embrace Network, which supports employees from underrepresented groups. I’m also really proud of our Black Talent in Law bursary scheme. It’s designed to support better access to the legal profession for Black students, providing tuition funding, work experience, and mentoring.
We’ve tried a lot of approaches over the years, but ultimately it comes down to putting inclusion work on the same level as client work. Ultimately, we believe that allows us not only to provide better service for our clients but also to deliver on our EDI commitments. Research has shown that professional services firms and their clients derive more value from diverse teams. We’re careful never to measure our people on single metrics, and we try to evaluate performance in a rounded way that considers contributions to our culture. We want people to be their whole selves every day. At the end of the day, we’re a people business, so we need to build an environment where everyone feels like they belong.
Just be yourself. I learned early in my career that people value authenticity. If you’re in an environment where you can’t be yourself, you’re probably in the wrong place. And if you’re an aspiring lawyer, make sure you learn about tech! It’s becoming crucial in how the field is developing, and it will only be more valuable in the future.