In order to make inclusivity a constant learning process rather than a one-off tick-box exercise, it is essential to get everyone involved in an ever-changing conversation about creating a sense of community and safety in the workplace.
Chris Mansfield, co-founder of GoodCourse, sat down with Jonathan Bond, Director of HR and Learning at global law firm Pinsent Masons, to discuss the importance of inclusivity and fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace and how this enhances the learning experience for everyone.
Pinsent Masons is a global law firm with twenty-seven offices in twenty-three countries, with our headquarters based in London. I’m the director of HR and Learning, so I lead our people strategy and everything to do with attracting and developing talent.
I’ve always been interested in HR and training. I’m interested in human behaviour, so this career was a natural progression. I then wanted to get to a more senior point and be influential, which I was lucky enough to be able to do.
I think the two fit together really well. What we learn from HR is how the organisation could do better at attracting talent, promoting it and developing it. Learning is a natural development of that, so I work closely with the head of learning development, who thinks about the commercial goals of the organisation and the gap between where we are now and where we want to be. Often, learning is the answer to filling that gap. That’s why I’d rather have both in my remit, to be more influential.
We’ve done quite a lot of work around this during the pandemic and coming out of it. I took on a piece about unstructured learning — building something that could last beyond the pandemic. Although more people are back in the office now, remote working has increased, so we had to change the way we teach people and include them. For instance, we used to put client calls on speaker so junior lawyers could hear them and gain experience, but with remote learning, we made it so that by default, a junior person is invited to a zoom call with a client instead.
The other thing is about understanding when people feel excluded and knowing what to do about that, as this acknowledges the lived experience of those who have been excluded. I’ve tried to build a learning module based on the experience of those in our organisation, so whenever I’ve been told of a microaggression that has contributed to a feeling of exclusion, with their permission, I’ve used that person’s experience to educate the rest of the workforce. This leads to greater empathy, which has been shown to reduce microaggressions.
One of our success stories is the ways in which we have managed to build inclusion network groups, such as a faith group, a disability group, a gender group, and more. Phase one was finding people with a common interest, phase two was building groups of allies, and phase three was encouraging the workforce to get involved in the groups for education. We expect everyone at the firm to complete twenty-five hours per year on non-work related responsible business pursuits, which this counted towards.
For one, when we launched the mental health strategy, we wanted to show that some of our most successful people had suffered from mental health issues and acknowledge that law students are already a high-risk group for these issues. We ran a series showcasing role models within the business who have faced issues themselves in order to destigmatise it and show that there is support. We are also trying to normalise conversations of checking in with built-in questions about well-being, which comes first and foremost.
One of the key things on our agenda is to do more detailed senior succession planning. It can be hard to predict who will be promoted, but I think it’s important to create longer transitions into roles. With the help of occupational psychologists, we look at what each candidate’s strengths are and ensure that by the time they are ready for promotion, they are prepared to do the job.
Understand the industry you’re in first and foremost. It’s not just about being in HR, it’s also about who you are working for and with. Most often, the thing every sector is in need of is a human element, so bringing compassion and humanity is crucial.
I admire David Morley, who was the senior partner at Allen and Overy, my former firm. He was a great lawyer, but the best thing about him is how normal and approachable he always is, as well as his humanity because he genuinely cares about everyone in the organisation.
One is Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. It shows you the reasons for the disaster, which are all about human behaviour and the organisation’s culture. It has a lot of learning for business in it. I also really like The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters and the idea that we all have a critical voice telling us that everything is going to go wrong and how to manage it better.