In any sector, it can be hard to engage employees in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives. In the legal sector, this issue is further amplified by the tight time constraints within which lawyers work. This means engagement and incentivisation must come from the top.
Sara Bailey, Senior Partner at Trowers & Hamlins, spoke to Chris Mansfield, Co-founder of GoodCourse, about her journey to understanding what the firm needs to achieve in EDI, and how she demonstrates commitment to it to encourage colleagues to do the same.
I started here as a trainee in 1990 and worked up to Senior Partner throughout my career. I’m a real estate lawyer; I was a Managing Partner for eight years, and have been Senior Partner for two.
Most lawyers can never imagine being in a management position because we all love client work so much, and I still do love that work. However, I got to a point in my career where I was asked to go into management, so I had to decide whether I wanted to embark on that challenge for the firm. Initially, I wasn’t sure about management, but once I committed, I really put my all into it. After eight years, I was Managing Partner and also Head of Real Estate when the firm wanted to promote me to Senior Partner. As people generally are with any big changes, I wasn’t sure it was the right choice at the time, but I decided to go for it.
One of the reasons I said yes to Senior Partner was because my daughter was going into law around the time I was asked. She told me it was my duty as a woman to take the role, which was a real eye-opener. At Trowers, we have always been diverse, and I have never experienced a glass ceiling — I was always encouraged to progress. That meant I was perhaps a bit shielded from the broader issues of the legal world. So once I started to think about inclusion and diversity, it drove me to take the position.
It’s the right and moral thing to do, of course, but I also think that diversity of voice is what makes for a successful business.
In terms of fostering that sense of inclusion, we considered where we sat within society and whether we had the right representation. When you look at it that way, it’s quite stark. We could see that we still have a long way to go. It’s the right and moral thing to do, of course, but I also think that diversity of voice is what makes for a successful business. If you just have one type of person, you never learn anything new, so I’ve been pushing for diversity of voice, which I think the profession as a whole should embrace.
It’s all about the culture of the firm and what comes down from leadership — if the leaders aren’t promoting it, then it won’t happen. For us, it’s also about looking at the work differently; so in terms of bonuses, they aren’t just offered on billable hours but on the value that our employees add to the firm in general. That includes EDI work and anything else that makes the firm a better place. Then at the partnership level, we have what we call a ‘balanced scorecard’ which intentionally takes the focus away from billable hours and asks what else each partner brings to the workplace.
You also need to be able to bring yourself to work, and not come as someone else. This is why we have placed a heavy focus on mental health. We realised that in terms of our initiatives, there was a gap at the partner level. People at all levels need different spaces to speak about these issues. We make sure that everyone has permission and space to speak about how they are, as well as ensuring that it’s a better work environment for those joining the firm.
The first thing we did to get to the heart of our firm’s diversity was critically look at the data. We reviewed pinch points and invested in thorough analysis. We also felt strongly that the board had to own this and be responsible for it — we have published our targets and numbers transparently so that this year we can show where we are against the targets. They are not easy to meet. We have deliberately made them challenging so we constantly hold ourselves accountable.
We then looked at our key focus areas. Everyone is important, but some people are underrepresented and therefore need to be a point of focus. We looked at how we could bring in more diversity, how we could retain those candidates, and which areas need to be solved. As a business, we look at many areas and collaborate with other firms to join efforts.
Be yourself, and be proud of that.
Sharon Webster, a Senior Partner who comes from a different background and has stepped into the EDI piece. She is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met, and I think she’s very brave too.