Creating cultural change in a large-scale organisation with time-poor employees is a huge undertaking. It takes a dynamic set of initiatives to ensure that everyone feels a sense of inclusion and belonging.
Chris Mansfield, Co-founder of GoodCourse, sat down with Rob Hart, Senior Corporate Responsibility (CR) Manager at HFW, to speak about the initiatives he and his team are implementing to create this culture and promote inclusion across the firm.
I head the Corporate Responsibility team at HFW, and my team drives action on community investment and pro bono, D&I, well-being and sustainability. HFW is a global law firm of over 1,000 people working across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. It is sector-focused, so it's organised by the sectors that our lawyers work within, including aerospace, shipping, construction, commodities, insurance and energy.
My previous work life wasn’t fulfilling, so I thought about what I wanted to change. I realised I wanted to make more impact within my career, and by luck, a role came up at Friends Life Group in their CR team. Although I had no experience in that field, I decided to go for it, and I got the job. I knew the business really well at the time, and my manager knew a lot about CR, which matched up, so together, we were able to make an impact. In terms of inclusion and people leadership, that has been a theme in every sector I have worked in CR for the past ten years.
In every business, success hinges on people feeling like they belong and having a connected sense of purpose with their coworkers. It feels brilliant to be part of an organisation where people can show up as their best selves and feel that way about their role. I love creating that culture. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning.
The most relevant thing at the moment is reassessing and redesigning our approach to employee wellbeing. We’ve done some great mental health work, including supplying Headspace subscriptions to all colleagues — so lots of reactive stuff for those who really need it at the time. Now, however, we are looking to pivot to more of a preventative approach and be more data led. This means identifying the issues that are coming up and ensuring we can support our team.
Back in 2019, we signed up for the Mindful Business Charter, which encourages law firms to think about how they work but engage the clients as well. We are doing a piece of work this year to further embed the four pillars of the charter: openness and respect, smart working & communication, mindful delegation, and respecting rest periods. Core to that will be the idea of team charters so teams can design their work in a way that enables them to meet commercial needs of fee-earning and client service in a way that isn't burning people out and allows our people to thrive.
Those challenges are real, and every law firm faces them. We are looking at existing management training and partnership development programs and beginning to weave inclusion and well-being content into those. This means that those preparing for leadership roles are getting that experience beforehand, which equips them to be better at it when they get there. We have five employee networks, and they all have agendas across those issues. This celebrates diversity in the firm and makes people feel seen and heard.
Another thing we are very excited about is using tech for work allocation called Resource Manager. It’s an internal job board, so if there is a particular issue that someone needs help on, they can put it out there globally and find someone with the expertise and the capacity to take it on. This means we can even out the spread of the work and ensure everyone gets a manageable amount. It also gives us diverse data to work with and lets us keep in touch with how much everyone can take on.
They work very closely with our recruitment team to increase diversity within our trainee intake. We are working really hard to broaden the pool of talent that we hire from and recruit across demographics.
We are working really hard to broaden the pool of talent that we hire from and recruit across demographics.
We do a lot of work with social mobility here, too, and this is woven into the application process and in an outreach piece too. Aspiring Solicitors works with us to remove some of the barriers that affect underrepresented students so that we aren't part of the problem.
You need to be data led because, in CR, you aren't going to see a straight line of whether or not your initiatives are working — it’s a lot deeper than that, and you need to point to the symptoms you are trying to cure. However, you also need to be able to have a corporate mindset and know how to translate all of this to lawyers and let them know why it matters to them in terms of client retention.
Our managing partner and senior partner here — I wouldn’t be here without their backing, and they are both such great advocates for the work I do here. Outside of that, I have to say my previous managing partner David Raine. When I first began working with him, he made me feel very at home in the firm and was extremely personable, which I had never experienced in my career before. He was a very supportive influence on my professional life.
Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. This is where he explores Vimes’ Boots theory of economic unfairness. It argues that the wealthy stay wealthy as they can afford to spend less money overall. If you can buy a higher-quality item upfront, which lasts longer, compared to someone who has to buy, repair and replace lower-quality items more often, then you spend less in the long run. This is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. This was what woke me up to some of the tangible impacts of privilege, and it planted the seed for what I do today.