Women in Law

To Foster Innovation, Embrace Diversity

For February’s Wednesday Live Breakfast Club we were joined by Rosemary Martin, General Counsel of Vodafone, for a hotly anticipated talk on Innovation and Diversity in the legal profession. A question that has been often asked is this: how is it possible to embrace innovation and diversity in a sector which has traditionally and resolutely been opposed to radical change? Rosemary addressed this issue, giving advice on how to disrupt an industry which seems to be fairly content to stay exactly how it is.

The legal profession, it must be said, is particularly troubled by diversity. As other industries are continually innovated, it seems that this is one sector which has been known to back-pedal furiously: indeed, in the early 21st century, the top of the profession was just as dominated by Caucasian, male, Oxbridge-educated as it always had been. Any change has been extremely slow. But now, the new, more diverse working generation wants to redefine the way we work.

Why has it been so difficult for the legal sector to innovate? In short, because change is only demanded by those who are unhappy with the status quo. And the law firm model is great for those who sit at the top of it. People are still willing to pay a premium for what is simply not the most efficient way of working. A curiosity for change and willingness to break the mould is something which has been drilled out of many lawyers.

So, what can inspire this difference in a reluctant-to-change sector?

  • Remember the power of law. Legislation makes for fast, immediate, effective change, as has been demonstrated by the new diversity laws in Norway.
  • Voluntary codes are also key. Take the Davies review, an independent inquest into Women on Boards. Despite some scepticism which greeted the review upon its inception, it looks likely that the target of 25% women on boards by 2025 will be reached.
  • Active initiatives within companies work well. Rosemary cited a ‘plus one’ scheme at Vodafone, whereby every time a new member of management was recruited, a woman would also have to be hired into the company. As she puts it, the effect of this was electrifying.
  • For women, it helps to have a personal target. From here, create your plan and execute it. It sounds simple, but just sticking to your goals (and your guns) gives great clarity.
  • Women in business need to stick together. Whether setting out targets from the top to filter down, or initiating change from the bottom up, solidarity is key. It’s also great for women to get together often, creating a support network for themselves.

For diversity to work, although it may be a bit clichéd, it’s so important to value the differences of your workforce. The ‘Lean In’ approach, as championed by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, is great in its support of women – but, in essence, it instructs women to behave more like men. Why should this be? Different cultures, genders and backgrounds lead to new ways of thinking. And this is where great ideas come from.

So, to generate innovation, you’ve got to embrace diversity. Support, recognise and cherish the differences in your workplace, and innovation will follow.

By Kitty

Kitty joined Obelisk Support as an intern to work on the First 100 Years project. She graduated with a classics degree from University College London and now manages resourcing and works on engagement with the Obelisk Lawyer community.