Recognition, inclusion, and creating a sense of belonging all contribute to better engagement and productivity in any organization, and it’s up to those in people management to come up with inspiring initiatives that help to make that a reality.
Wendela von Munching, Global Chief People Officer of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, sat down with GoodCourse Co-founder Chris Mansfield to discuss the initiatives she has been a part of in her People Management career so far.
I am the Global Chief People Officer for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a global law firm. I am based in New York and have a global remit, so I spend time monthly in our London office and travel to other global offices. We operate across 28 offices and act as one unified firm. We focus on creating an environment that helps people build meaningful careers and a sense of belonging in our culture.
I graduated from university and did a postgraduate degree in Human Resources (HR) which was called People Management back then. I had some more operational roles but realized early on that this was the role for me.
I feel I add value because of the variety of roles I have had in my career; I have a range of knowledge and expertise.
I’m proud to have worked in many industries; it enriches me professionally and privately and allows me to draw on different experiences and take from various tools and knowledge. This can allow for creating different solutions for situations I deal with in my role. If you think about colleagues that work for the firm, they all come from different backgrounds too. This gives the firm diversity of thought and experience and allows everyone to benefit from talented individuals with unique skill sets.
Engagement is the most important thing for any firm, regardless of industry. It is essential that people feel valued; everyone wants to feel like they are part of a team.
A key element for people engagement is to ensure colleagues see first hand the contribution they are making, its positive impact and how it supports the firm and clients more generally.
A key element for people engagement is to ensure colleagues see first hand the contribution they are making, its positive impact and how it supports the firm and clients more generally. This recognition is hugely important.
It’s surprising how much a simple ‘Thank you’ can make a difference, as well as other areas of recognition.
When it comes to utilising technology to that end, we have proven throughout the pandemic that we can operate without meeting up in person, and we did that very successfully. In addition, technology enables us to support our colleagues and provide everyone with learning and development and easy access to services.
However, there is a huge amount to be said for personal contact and in-person engagement. For us, technology comes into play because we need to operate 24 hours a day as a global law firm, and sometimes our client mandates mean that people have to work at different times — you don’t have to be sitting in an office for that to happen. It’s important to know that we can operate in that way.
It’s very important that initiatives are supported in the right way, and I truly believe that all of our diversity and inclusion activities here are purposeful and focused. First, we have made a series of commitments through goals and targets, part of a five-year plan. In the last year and a half, we have published our annual report based on how we are progressing against those goals and targets for the first time, and soon, we will publish a second. I think this is a significant change for the firm.
The major thing here is that it is publicly communicated. Everyone knows about these goals, so we are always held accountable. When you hold one another to account with public commitments, it makes change more likely — and we are delivering that change at the firm.
For example, we brought in a new group of partners last year where almost half were women. And our recent announcement on partner promotions for this year showed of the 30 promoted colleagues, 53% of new partners are women. An outcome which shows we are walking the walk.
We have made commitments in terms of Black associates, too, with a goal of increasing the number by 50%, and we actually increased it by 67% last year. The important thing to remember is that this is a journey for us too. It’s not about doing one thing; it’s something we will continue to do over time.
We have a global sponsorship program specifically focused on female associates in their journey to partnership which has been running for seven years. Then we have our Future Leaders Program directed at ethnic minorities in the firm. This is a bespoke program that has seen a lot of success. We also have a Black Affinity Network, which I am very excited about — we are seeing so much enthusiasm for this, which is amazing.
You have to support people and provide interesting and challenging work. If you create the right environment, you can encourage people to be curious and creative — that’s when people start thinking about things and delivering change