Women in Law

Touching on topics as important as Black Lives Matter, equality and making a difference, Bernadette Kisaalu, Principal Lawyer for BT Customer Experience and Chair of BT’s Ethnic Diversity Network has been talking to The Attic for Black History Month. Bernadette shares her legal journey and aspirations, the role models that have inspired her along the way and what she is doing to help improve equality in her community.

Please tell us about your professional journey

My first professional role was with Impellam Group, a leading global talent acquisition and workforce solutions provider where I worked as a Contract Risk Manager. At that time, I had completed all my legal exams but needed to secure a training contract in order to become a qualified solicitor. As a Contract Risk Manager, I worked with lots of different stakeholders in the business and was exposed to different types of legal work. Due to my passion and determination to become a solicitor, whilst working for Impellam Group, I applied for several training contracts and used my annual leave to do vacation schemes at law firms. Having completed a few vacation schemes, this confirmed that I didn’t want to work in private practice. Instead I wanted to work in-house, being at the heart of a business, seeing a matter from the beginning to the end and helping shape it. I have Rebecca Watson (Impellam Group, General Counsel & Company Secretary) to thank for believing in me, she saw something in me, and gave me the opportunity to complete my training contract in-house at Impellam Group. This was a company first, as I was the first trainee solicitor the company had taken on!

After qualifying at Impellam Group, I stayed with the company for a further two years before moving on to Avon Cosmetics. I joined Avon Cosmetics as Legal Counsel for UK and Republic of Ireland. At a time when their business model was transitioning from a direct sales business which primarily involved door-step selling from Avon brochures to online digital sales. My role covered a broad spectrum of legal work ranging from advertising to commercial contracts and personal injury law. After a few years at Avon Cosmetics, I decided that I wanted to become a subject matter expert and moved to Vodafone in 2014 as a Consumer Lawyer, looking after their Mobile portfolio. This was a fantastic opportunity and really helped my career to grow. One career highlight was taking part in Vodafone’s International Short-Term Assignment Programme (ISTAP). This gave me the opportunity to work for Vodafone Italy to develop an understanding of how their Italian consumer business operated.

In 2016, I then moved to BT, in a Senior Lawyer role in the Consumer Law and Advertising Team. This was an exciting time for me as, soon after I joined the business BT acquired EE. So, I found myself working in one of the largest Consumer Law legal teams in the UK. Four years on, I am now the Principal Lawyer in the BT Customer Experience Legal Team. I advise BT’s Consumer business (BT, EE and Plusnet) about how they sell BT products and services to UK consumers, in compliance with UK Consumer law and Ofcom regulations. With my team of three, I advise the CEO of BT Consumer, Marc Allera and his Senior Leadership Team. The business comes to us with questions like, “We want to create this new cool product for our customers, what should we look out for?” Things I look at include, what do we need to make customers aware of when they’re buying products and services from us online, or over the phone? What information should be part of the customer order journey? What terms and conditions need to be created? This creates a fast-paced work environment which I love, as no two days are ever the same.

What is BT’s Ethnic Diversity Network?

I’ve been Chair of the Ethnic Diversity Network (EDN) at BT since November 2019. The EDN was created in 1992 and has now been operating for over 28 years. It was created to promote and develop the professional image of BT’s BAME employees, with only 9 members. Today, the EDN has over 1,400 members. With lots of different ethnicities, it’s a strategic part of the business and has backing from the BT Board to empower and amplify the voices of BT’s racially diverse colleagues. The EDN also has an integral role in creating a community, especially since COVID-19 where colleagues are working from home and want to still feel connected to each other.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, the EDN really amplified and empowered the voices of our racially diverse colleagues. Having chaired an open conversation with Philip Jansen, CEO and his Executive Leadership Team, giving Black colleagues the opportunity to express how they were feeling and let Philip know what actions they would like BT to take. This elicited a strong statement from Philip, executive engagement with Black colleagues around the world and the production of BT’s Ethnicity Rapid Action Plan. This plan includes a series of actions to improve employees’ experiences through several measures including race awareness training, a reverse mentoring programme, mandatory diverse short lists and a new talent programme for high-potential ethnic minority colleagues.

We also connected with our colleagues in America and set up an Ethnic Diversity Network Americas chapter after creatively using internal social media tools to promote Black Live Matter and encourage candid debate in teams across BT.

What do you value in life and work?

In life, my family is very important to me. My parents have been together for over 43 years and I’m one of six children. Growing up my parents always raised us to first and foremost love and respect one another and to help each other wherever possible. Like any family we naturally have our highs and lows but, throughout it all we remain extremely close.

I also value my health. It’s too easy these days to become all consumed by work, social media and our devices that we forgot to take time out to maintain our mind and body. I try to strike a balance and regularly go to the gym, where I join spin class, pilates and kettlebells. At work, BT offers a lot of benefits and I practice mindfulness twice a week. This provides me with a great form of release, a time to reset and be still.

My work values are linked to discipline. If you’re disciplined, you’ll do the right things. It’s important that businesses and the people they employ are flexible and can respond and adapt to changes in business needs for example the present global issues such as COVID-19 and BLM.

How did your upbringing and education / experience help to strengthen your sense of core identity?

My upbringing and education strengthen my sense of identity. I was born to parents who were not British citizens (my father is from Uganda, my mother is from St Kitts & Nevis). My father came to the UK in hope of a better life, and my mother was the byproduct of the Windrush generation, she was brought to the UK as a child with my great grandmother. My mother was a chef and my father a qualified accountant for the Ministry of Defence, both are now retired. They worked hard and were positive role models for me.

I witnessed some of the challenges my parents experienced. For example, I recall countless stories from my parents telling me that they had been spat on and racially abused in the street and on occasion at work. I personally don’t know how my parents coped during these times. However, they always taught my siblings and I to rise above it and turn the other cheek. When I saw that my parents prevailed in the face of adversity to become successful professionals, supporting our family unit this really inspired me. My parents said, if I worked hard, I would be able to go on and do anything that I set my mind to. This gave me a great tenacity.

As a child, I grew up in predominantly white areas. The schools, college, and university I attended were all predominantly white. I was maybe one of two pupils who were Black or from an ethnic minority background out of a few hundred. I looked different, I had Black skin, an African surname (which very few people ever cared to try and pronounce or spell correctly), and natural Afro 4C hair which my mother neatly braided every Sunday. Inside our home it was completely different, there was a strong sense of Black culture, from the records my parents played (Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross), to the books I grew up reading (Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) and the traditional cultural foods my parents prepared for us. As a result, I always had a strong sense of my identity.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

As a celebration of the amazing contributions of Black people to the world history we know today, Black History Month is very important. The month of October acts as a catalyst for meaningful change. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, it’s essential for everyone to have hard conversations and to allow some issues to come to the forefront. These issues need to continue to change and evolve.

Businesses need to look at what it means to be inclusive. It is time to educate others because students were never taught Black History in school. Not only would it be beneficial for all students to learn a more representative curriculum but, it’s important that Black students can see themselves in the lessons they are taught. Eradicating the achievements of Black people throughout the centuries, avoiding subjects such as Britain’s colonial past or teaching history from the perspective of white people only serves to drive further racial inequality in the modern day.

It is also time to be proud of everything that we’ve achieved, to acknowledge all the pioneers that’ve come before us, to celebrate what makes us unique and the progress we’ve made.

However as much as I love Black History Month, I wish there wasn’t a need for it to exist. If we shined a light on it every day, it would become mainstream. We are on a path to gaining equality. It would be great if we could get to a place like that.

Who are your role models?

My parents are my biggest inspiration and role models. Another role model is Michelle Obama. When I read her book Becoming, I was in awe. A lot of what she said resonated with me. She had a very important job as the first African American First Lady of the U.S. She taught Black young girls to dream big, that you can be anything that you want to be, particularly if you look or sound different. It’s important to have high profile people as positive role models.

Someone else who is important in Diversity & Inclusion is Rihanna. One of the world’s richest musicians, she really shines with her sense of business acumen. She launched two incredibly successful brands in cosmetics and lingerie. Rihanna was inspired to create Fenty Beauty after years of seeing a void in the industry for products that performed across all skin types and tones. I like the fact that she noticed a gap in the market via her own experience and did something about it. Her brand is now distributed in retail stores globally with a range of over 40 different shades from light to dark in what was essentially a whitewashed beauty industry.

Can you talk about the causes and non-profits you support?

Within BT, we support the Aleto Foundation to create lifetime opportunities for young people and shape the next generation of leaders. We aim at providing high achieving university graduates from BAME communities with real-life educational foundations to equip them in the corporate world.

I’m also a trustee of a charity called Sour Lemons. It was founded to address the diversity gap in leadership roles in the creative and cultural industry. Sour Lemons aims to be a disruptor. They challenge the systemic barriers that prevent diverse leadership from thriving in the first place. They do this by placing those who have been excluded from the conversation, at the heart of reshaping it via the ‘Making Lemonade’ Programme, “turning one sour lemon into lemonade at a time”.

The Attic wishes to thank Bernadette Kisaalu for sharing her experiences and for the inspiring work she does to support diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

Making Work, Work

What does Black History Month mean to you? That’s the question we are asking leading BAME figures in the legal industry this October. Here, we talk to Oliver Gayle, Director of the legal team responsible for credit restructuring at Barclays Bank PLC, about his career, his influences and his work helping to assist those from less privileged backgrounds get into a career in law.

As a director of Legal at Barclays, Oliver Gayle can work with his team of six lawyers on headline exposures worth several hundreds of millions of pounds as well as on smaller projects such as a local chain of floristry stores. Reaching this position in the banking industry came after many years of hard work, including in the major global financial crisis, where his specialism was all of a sudden in high demand.

Oliver had a somewhat unusual start to his career – having accepted a training contract at Garretts, the legal arm of Arthur Andersen, he found himself being approached to move to Addleshaw Goddard whilst at law school 18 months later, when one of the partners at Garretts moved to Addleshaw Goddard. He says “it was pretty unusual to be approached by another firm without ever having worked a day as a lawyer”. It was a move that would prove pivotal to his career given the subsequent collapse of Andersens and Garretts in the wake of the Enron accounting scandal a couple of years later. He admits there was a level of irony in that Addleshaws had previously rejected him for a training contract.

A restructuring legal team in a bank was a novel concept.

After eight years at Addleshaws as a restructuring lawyer, Oliver was approached by Barclays about what seemed like a unique opportunity. “They were seen as leaders in restructuring field, and regarded as having one of the best teams in any financial institution” he says. “They were considering setting up a restructuring legal team to support them, which was pretty novel at that time [2007].”

Oliver joined Barclays in August 2008 – six weeks later, the financial industry imploded. Lehman Brothers, HBOS, RBS – the UK banking industry followed the US banking industry in its demise. “Within weeks [of starting at Barclays],” he says, “I was talking about the liability of other financial institutions and the impact of their failure.” It was undoubtedly an interesting time to be working in banking and finance as a restructuring specialist, and he admits the timing benefited him in heightening his profile within the organisation. In 2013, he took responsibility for the UK restructuring on the legal team and in 2016 the role expanded to cover European exposures.

“Things I value are people, integrity and respect.”

Before accepting the role with Barclays, he asked his prospective boss what she was looking for in a colleague and she responded, “I want them to have integrity, be technically skilled at what they do and have fun.” This was something he says immediately resonated with him and has stuck with him as a work mantra since.

However, Oliver’s true sense of identity has deeper roots – his parents. Born in Jamaica, they moved to England where they met and married, his mother a nurse, his father a company director. They had a very strong Christian faith and it impacted every aspect of the way they lived their lives, their work ethic, how they treated other people how they spent their time and money. Being black in a predominantly white neighbourhood, and attending school where he and his sister were part of a handful of black children was challenging. His father said ‘life isn’t necessarily gonna be fair but you just got to adapt and work hard or harder. Retaliating or reacting negatively doesn’t help.’ Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s before political correctness, Oliver learned to adapt to the adversity that he was up against.

“The ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ sentiment was not unusual for my parents and the Windrush generation.”

At age 18, tragedy struck when his father was killed in an accident. At the funeral, he realised that his father, who he considered to be “just a regular guy,” had in fact impacted many people’s lives. There were hundreds of people there, with speakers rigged up outside the church as they couldn’t fit inside – the engineers and shop floor workers from his company in their overalls, directors of companies he did business with in different countries were all in attendance. Oliver drew a life lesson from this painful episode. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be around in life – when I die, I hope that I’ve generated that sort of impact on other people,” he says.

“Black History Month gives people a chance to sit back and recognise the achievements of black people and significant individuals who have made a contribution to how today’s world is lived – so much has changed in the last 50 years.”

“It’s hard to overstate both the impact and legacy of Nelson Mandela.” Oliver also highlights the achievements of the U.S. Senator and Civil Rights leader John Lewis who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. “He was very young when he was there at the start of the Civil Rights movement,” he says, “he’s always really impressed me.”

In the 1960s in the U.S., college students put themselves in the way of bodily harm to end racial segregation. In this struggle, Oliver has huge respect for some white people who stood up for the rights of people of colour at a real risk of harm or being ostracised by their community. “They acted purely for the benefit of others, which was particularly selfless.”

At Barclays, Black History Month events include displays, exhibitions, special food every Tuesday and Thursday, and they also have black entrepreneurs coming to discuss their businesses, and panel-type discussions with senior management of colour.

Why is BHM so important in terms of understanding social history, identity and gaining equality in the workplace?

“As a society, you can learn where people are coming from and their perspectives from events like Black History Month. It helps you gain respect and understanding of their points of view.” Being a big advocate of diversity and social mobility, Oliver is convinced that more equality in the workplace will result in more equality in society. That’s why he is heavily invested in educational initiatives with charities and pro bono schemes. He’s on the board of Frontline, a charity that seeks to develop high quality candidates as social workers and leaders working with vulnerable children.

“Children’s opportunities in life are materially impacted by their parenting and immediate home life and the charity Frontline looks to impact the lives of the most vulnerable children and families.”

Outside of work, he also supports various schemes helping to diversify the entry into law, working with minority ethnic groups and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. At Barclays, he is involved in a children’s literacy scheme that partners with primary schools.

“I understand that the opportunities I had were just because of who my parents were. You don’t choose your parents and in my case, it was to my advantage.”

To unplug from his professional life, Oliver keeps himself quite fit and exercises in the gym, and he’s also keen on cuisine. “I’m quite handy in the kitchen,” he says, “And sometimes do catering on the side, at functions such as christenings or private parties. My wife, who watches MasterChef, urges me to apply but the standard is so high nowadays, I’ll just stick to law for now.”

To us, this sounds like the perfect way to unwind after long stressful days at the office.

Oliver Gayle is a director in the Barclays legal team and is head of legal for the Bank’s Credit Restructuring team. He has been at Barclays for 10 years and prior to that was at Addleshaw Goddard and legacy firm Addleshaw Booth for 8 years. Oliver is also on the board of the charity Frontline and has a keen interest in supporting initiatives for diversity in the legal and other professions. He is married with no children (yet!).

The Legal Update

Japan is known for its bright city lights, tall buildings and weird and wonderful technological innovations. However, behind the scenes the country’s innovation, especially in the legal sector, is suffering due to its conservative culture and demographic problems. Ken Onda, business intern at Obelisk Support, takes a look at these conflicting elements and what needs to be done to sustain legal innovation in Japan.

The Status of Women in Law

A recent domestic scandal, where one of the most prestigious medical universities in the country admitted to manipulating entrance exam scores of female candidates to keep their pass rate under 1 out of 3, drew attention to Japan’s ingrained conservative outlook on gender roles and the lack of progress being made on equality across professional and technological industries. The fixing was allegedly done due to the belief that women had a higher chance of leaving the medical profession after conceiving children, causing “an intolerable burden for already overworked doctors”.

It is no surprise on hearing this news that Japan is ranked 114th out of 144 countries in gender equality, one of the worst for a developed country. In the legal sector, female attorneys make up merely 18.2% of Japan’s lawyer population, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Of that 18.2%, only 11% are partners. This is a quite unbelievable disparity between men and women. Despite its shrinking demographic with 30% of its population 65 or over, Japan continues to discriminate against half of its population. This lack of representation is one of the reasons why Japan is suffering economically, and is increasingly unable to deal with international legal matters and lacking innovation in the legal sector.

Conservatism vs Legal Innovation

As far as the structure of its legal system, Japan has fewer per capita lawyers compared to other industrialised nations such as the US and EU countries. There are fears that at the current state, Japan will face a major problem in an ever-globalising world. Japan has adopted a Western legal system to settle legal disputes in courts despite significant cultural mismatch. Japanese people tend to resolve issues privately through negotiation without the involvement of lawyers. If there is no resolution, the conflicting parties will often go directly to court and litigate without private/commercial mediation. However, as lawyers are often not taught about mediation during university, they are not well equipped to solve problems in non-litigious ways.

Chart source: Wall Street Journal

This is a problem as when foreign entities – especially those in the West – try to do business with Japan, they are often caught off guard by the norms within the Japanese legal industry. This makes them less willing to work with Japanese entities, which is a significant barrier to collaborative innovation.

Moreover, the driving force of innovation – start-ups – are the most under-supported sector in Japan. Japan embodies a vertical collectivism, where bureaucracy, group-thinking and strict regulation dominate. It is a country where people are generally less inclined to take risks. For instance, Japanese landlords often want to see at least 2 years of profits before renting space to a company. It is therefore no surprise that venture capitalists often do not invest on high-risk ventures such as emerging technologies in the legal sector.

Although Japan invests heavily in R&D and is known for its technological advancement, it lacks entrepreneurship and application and capitalisation of its research due to its culture and regulation. Japan is still at its core a highly conservative country that does not embrace change readily as other developed nations, especially concerning new technologies. Japanese corporations such as Fujitsu, Hitachi and Sony are too slow and bureaucratic to keep up with agile foreign competitors in countries such as the US, Germany and South Korea.

Japan’s Missing In-House Lawyers

Japan is facing a major demographic problem involving shrinking population, going below the replacement rate. Subsequently, its market is also shrinking. For this reason, many Japanese companies are being more inclined to enter foreign markets, such as by conducting outbound M&A. However, due to the lack of experience in M&A and human resources, especially for SMEs, most of these deals fail according to the Asia Business Law Journal. This is exacerbated by the fact that Japanese firms tend to not employ in-house lawyers, but instead, make their departments deal with their own respective legal issues (e.g. a finance department deals with finance-related legal issues). This means that senior management is not given legal guidance when going through an M&A deal that is often full of legal issues. This increases the likelihood of the M&A deal not going through. Even when there is a legal department present, they often take traditional roles such as reviewing contracts and dealing with litigation. According to the Association of Corporate Legal Departments in Japan, only 6% of in-house lawyers felt that senior management frequently implemented the advice of in-house legal counsel.

Illustrating this trend, only 5% of qualified lawyers in Japan work as a legal counsel. One of the main reason for this is because the Japanese Bar Exam has been deliberately designed to be one of the hardest in the country to pass. On average, people take the exam 6 times before finally passing to qualify as a lawyer. For this reason, a lot of Japanese law students go on to work after graduation as in-house counsels without being qualified. Could foreign-qualified lawyers be the answer to Japan’s lack of qualified lawyers?

Not so. The barrier for foreign lawyers to work in Japan is high, as it requires extensive documentation and in-person visits to the Japanese Bar and Ministry of Justice, taking at least 5 months. Conversely, hiring foreign-qualified lawyers for matters such as international arbitration is seen as a strenuous process for firms in Japan and in practice, not common. The resulting short supply of lawyers stunts the demand for innovation and change in the Japanese legal industry.

The Bottom Line

There is a serious need for legal innovation in Japan. To do this, the country first needs to address the core issue regarding gender discrimination. There needs to be progressive reforms and auditing of university admission process by the government to break entry barriers for women in male-dominated professions such as law and STEM. Additionally, university teaching of law should include the concept of mediation, as often practiced internationally, and the general practice of law around the world, especially in Western cultures. This is essential to keep Japan in the global stage.  

Then there is the lack of supply of qualified lawyers, especially in-house counsels. This will be a major problem in the coming years for Japan due to the rapid pace of globalisation, and increasing importance of IP and technology. The scarcity of in-house counsels means that Japan is increasingly unable to deal with international disputes, especially for SMEs. Despite the efforts to increase number of lawyers in Japan, little progress has been made. Japan needs to encourage not only domestic lawyers, but also foreign lawyers. On the one hand, the Japanese Bar Exam should ease its examination requirements while not losing its quality in order to encourage fresh law graduates to take the exam. On the other and, work barriers for foreign-qualified lawyers should be loosened to also increase the global availability of lawyers.

Finally, Japan needs to change its approach to business. In the age of rapid technological advancements, Japan needs to move to a more agile approach to business and loosen regulations to enable startups and entrepreneurship to thrive. Japan needs to place as much emphasis on commercialisation of technologies as it does on R&D. It will be interesting to watch progress over the next decade to see how the country can reconcile its contradictions to perform to its full potential on the global stage.

Women in Law

Are female leaders in professional services still heavily outnumbered? That seems to be the conclusion of a slew of recent reports, which have found that management consultancies and other professional services are still haemorrhaging female talent at senior levels.

This is also an all too familiar picture in the legal industry. Women lawyers and consultants are still leaving the profession early or are being overlooked for promotions. In an ongoing study on women in the legal industry in Ireland, the author refers to the long hours culture that has become more widespread in the last 20 years preventing career progression, not just for Irish women lawyers but in the industry as a whole.

The New York Times also describes a ‘bleak picture‘ for women trying to rise up in American law firms, based on the 2017 Law360 Glass Ceiling report. While smaller law firms perform slightly better with the percentage of female lawyers obtaining partnership/equity partnership, the average number remains around the 20% mark, barely rising from results from the previous year. There are some examples of individual success stories, but the lack of overall progress is startling, especially considering the focus there has been on improving gender and diversity within law firms in recent years.

And the problems go beyond the fight to get to the top – female partners where they exist are earning 24% less, according to a survey commissioned by legal recruiter Major, Lindsey and Africa, with average annual compensation for a female law firm partner at £502,841 compared with £667,521 for their male peers.

So how can we ensure that organisations worldwide can hold onto and develop female talent into leadership roles? From the studies, we’ve highlighted the 5 points of change that employers in the legal industry need to make to create more female leaders:

1. Stop Dismissing the ‘Big’ Issues as Being Outside of One’s Control

Wider societal obstacles to female leadership, such as the lack of fathers taking up paternity leave, are of course not solely the concern of firms and consultancies. However, inroads can be made towards changing these patterns by more employers actively promoting flexible working and shared parenting policies for all. Societal norms can only be challenged and changed with positive actions from power holding stakeholders, and employers have a great deal of power to be a catalyst for change within their industries and can help lead the way for society at large. More often than not it is not societal attitudes that are the problem – many people would share the carer burden if they could, but too often the responsibility falls on women as they face obstacles in their professional development, leaving families with little other choice.

2. Incentivise Flexible Working Policies for all Employees

It’s a point we’ve touched on before but it bears repeating – flexible working shouldn’t just be seen as a problem solver for special cases – it should be an innovation driver that is actively encouraged in the workplace. Large corporate firms such as Lloyds Banking Group and Cisco have cited productivity improvements as a direct result of flexible working practices, and they are not alone. Shutting out valuable talent and experience due to long and rigid office hours makes increasingly less sense as technology and methods of communication and data sharing progress. Organisations both large and small need to take a proactive approach to encouraging people to work differently, to keep up with the competition.

3. Work to Ensure a Predictable Workload

It’s not always about flexibility or less hours in the office for female professionals – often the problem for those trying to balance caring responsibilities is the simple need for a more predictable work schedule, with advanced notice on travel and meeting requirements. This requires an empathetic and collaborative approach with clients to manage expectations and set regular boundaries for work hours, allowing people to plan childcare and other home arrangements. The attitude that only those who are able to drop everything at short notice are the ones that deserve senior positions needs to die out – everyone, regardless of gender, has a personal life that they value and there should be more emphasis on making the most of the talent available and suiting their needs, rather than expecting everyone to fit inside an increasingly narrower box.

4. Place Higher Value on Different Role Options

This leads us to our next point of focus – the idea that part time working or shared roles are indicative of a lack of desire to move forward. Progression should not be impossible in these circumstances. One of the suggestions that Source Global Research gives to help retain female talent is to place higher value on part time workers, give them more wide ranging responsibilities and client facing work to allow them to continue their career trajectory. This approach would also ensure that part time workers are respected amongst their colleagues and peers, changing the culture of the workplace and showing others that there is always another path to take, instead of feeling that their only option is to leave as life responsibilities change.

5. Stop Measuring Performance Solely on Revenue

Most growing organisations are broadening their focus in performance reviews beyond simply how much money a department is raking in. For as long as we measure individual performance and productivity solely on revenue, we overlook the value that a strong leader can bring to the whole organisation. Leadership skills that help employees develop in their personal goals, that create a more communicative and healthy work environment, a different background of experience that enables the organisation to become more outward looking – these are all important qualities that ensure long term growth and gains. Leaders within an organisation are part of a much bigger picture than % profits, and the more diverse the leadership is, the more value they can bring.

These, and many other detailed recommendations for encouraging more female leadership are not revolutionary and have been discussed time and time again. There needs to be more openness to change. Professional services must adapt their practices to retain vital talent, as new generations place higher value on work that works for them.

Making Work, Work

Law firms should be focusing on growth through diversity in their workforce, challenging the legal industry’s appalling status that means it needs to catch up with other industries on diversity. While women make up 47% of all lawyers, this number falls to 33% when considering partners. Cultivating an inclusive and diverse work culture in the law is a social justice issue, but it can make a real difference to the global growth and financial performance of a firm. At Obelisk Support, diversity in the legal profession (or the lack thereof) was the very reason we were founded in 2010 and it still makes total business sense for us. This could be anecdotal but it’s not. It is reinforced by the statistical findings of a January 2018 McKinsey report, Delivering through Diversity.

An organisation cannot aspire or claim to be global without true inclusion and diversity (also referred to as I&D) throughout each level. Often I&D in the workplace is talked about in terms of targets and numbers, but it shouldn’t be just about bodies; there needs to be a clear and thoughtful approach to creating a diverse working culture and inclusive leadership.

Why Diversity is So Strongly Linked to Financial Performance

Why should firms concentrate so much of their efforts on growth through diversity? The link between diversity and company growth is not an unexpected one: A company can only really claim or aspire to be global with a global and diverse team to drive them. By employing people of different ethnic and social backgrounds, you bring in a broad range of talent and viewpoints to help gain better understanding of different markets, clients and societies at large.

In the McKinsey report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity were 15% and 35% more likely to experience above average profitability. Exploring this correlation further, the more gender diversity within an executive team consistently correlated with higher profitability. Overall, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability.

McKinsey’s hypotheses about what drives this correlation are that “more diverse companies are better able to attract top talent; to improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making; and to secure their license to operate—all of which we believe continue to be relevant.” 

An ethically and gender diverse workforce attracts the top talent as it brings fresh perspectives from global enterprises and structural philosophies. Diversity brings first hand experience of other cultures and ways of working that can enrich and improve an organisation’s approach to all aspects of their work, from workplace culture to communications, client relationships to hierarchies and departmental structure.

Expanding Measures to Improve Diversity in the Law

Ethnic and gender diversity in the law still lags behind many other sectors. As frustrating as it might be, the industry is still trying to figure out the best approach to incentivising and encouraging diversity in the law. The typical starting point is targets, however it has been argued that targets in the judiciary are not effective. Writing in The Times, David Pannick QC states that though he agrees the lack of diversity of ethnicity age and gender present a real problem, but he believes targets would only serve as a distraction.

To some degree he is correct: there is little sense in implementing national targets when the focus should be on the factors that are not just preventing people entering the law, but also staying and progressing in their career. Going further than targets, some companies introduce incentives and punishments such as HP’s diversity mandate, which we previously discussed here. However, targets and incentives should not be the first point of call. We need to answer the questions as to why women are disproportionately leaving the law to have children/care for family. Also the motives need to be correct: with targets in place there is less focus on an organisation adapting to ensure it is a good environment for a diverse workforce and making the best use of that talent, and simply reduces it to good representation on paper.

How to Successfully Implement a Diversity Strategy

Diversity can be incentivised, but this needs to come with true inclusion and a vision for growth. This is a slower process focusing on the culture and attitudes within the organisation, and approaching the issue from a business perspective as well as a social justice concern can be more effective. The suggestions put forward in the McKinsey report for implementing a successful strategy for diversity are:

  • Commit and cascade. CEOs and leaders must articulate a compelling vision, embedded with real accountability for delivery, and cascade down through middle management. This commitment can be solidified by making a formal pledge, such as the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity & Inclusion in the USA, which was started by a group of business leaders including the US chairman of PwC.
  • Link I&D to growth strategy. The I&D priorities must be explicitly defined based on what will drive the business growth strategy. Leading companies do this in a data-driven way. This fascinating Forbes report on Innovation through Diversity features examples and case studies from companies such as L’Oreal, Deutsche Bank and Mattel demonstrating how each have leveraged I&D priorities to meet their business innovation goals.
  • Craft an initiative portfolio. Initiatives in pursuit of the I&D goals should be targeted based on growth priorities, and investments made to both hard- and soft-wire the programs and culture of inclusion required to capture the intended benefits. Examples of initiatives employed by large corporations include Intel’s Diversity in Technology Initiative and Ericsson’s participation in TechWomen. Initiatives can be applied to smaller organisations at a local level too.
  • Tailor for impact. I&D initiatives should be tailored to the relevant business area or geographic region context to maximise local buy-in and impact. If your firm deals with more than one locality or business area, initiatives need to be tailored, taking into account the priorities and/or cultural differences within each. This is where local, first hand expertise becomes vital, and it may be worth considering employing the services of a diversity consultant to ensure these are applied successfully.

All of these things can be applied to legal services and the judiciary. A clear commitment to reducing barriers to diversity from the top, recognising those values as being key to future success and global impact, and implementing a range of initiatives and targets once the problems and barriers in each sector have been identified and have begun to be addressed. Diversity in the law is in danger of being reduced to another buzz word, when it is central to performing better as lawyers, and being better as humans first.

Women in Law

The judiciary was once a male-only bastion. Times have thankfully changed and with that, the female presence in the Scottish (and indeed U.K. judiciary) has markedly increased. Obelisk consultant Nicola Evans explores the history and progress of women in the judiciary.

In times gone by, access to the legal profession was governed by three factors: Gender, social class and wealth.

In Scotland, 1901, Miss Margaret Howie Strang Hall petitioned the court asking to be admitted as a member of the then-termed Incorporated Society of Law Agents. The courts refused, referring to the Romans refusal of allowing women to act at prosecutors. It was not until 20 years later that Miss Madge Easton Anderson became the first woman solicitor in Scotland and a further two years until Miss Margaret Kidd became the first woman advocate. Incredibly, Miss Kidd remained the only female advocate until 1948.

Judge Selection Process | Overdue Overhauls

Both England and Scotland have, relatively recently, had a considerable overhaul of the selection process for judges. Judicial selection is now much more transparent. In Scotland, the Judicial Appointments Board was introduced in 2002 and as its website states it was designed ‘to bring transparency to the selection process and to build a system in which the public, the profession and the politicians can have trust and confidence.’
In England, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 established the Judicial Appointments Commission, which is now responsible for appointing judges. The 2005 Act specifically states that appointments must be made solely on merit.

However, the U.K. still has one of the lowest proportions of female judges on its benches, according to a report by the Council of Europe. If we take a closer look, we see the Scottish legal system continues to struggle with equality in terms of appointments. As of 2016, there were only 125 women working as advocates (who represent clients in the higher courts) out of 462 people who are members of the Faculty of Advocates.

Of Scotland’s 113 QCs, only 21 are female. Further, of the 31 judges in post only nine are female. Europe-wide, systems with the lowest percentage of women among professional judges were Azerbaijan (11%), Armenia (23%), Northern Ireland (23%), Scotland (23%), England & Wales (30%) and Ireland (33%), with an overall average of 51% in Europe.

Female Judiciary Role Models

There are several inspirational women of note in the judiciary. In England, Lady Hale was appointed Deputy President of The Supreme Court in June 2013. In January 2004, Lady Hale became the United Kingdom’s first woman Lord of Appeal in Ordinary after a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer, and judge. In October 2009 she became the first (and remains the only) woman Justice of The Supreme Court. As such, Lady Hale is the most senior female judge in the United Kingdom.

Lady Dorrian QC was appointed to Scotland’s second highest judicial post as Lord Justice Clerk in 2016. This appointment made Scottish judicial history as no woman has served at this level prior to this. Lady Dorrian, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, was admitted to Faculty of Advocates in 1981 and served as Advocate Depute – the first woman to hold the position – between 1988 and 1991, and became a QC in 1994.

Lady Hale is a regular speaker about issues such as feminism, equality and human rights – and has notably been happy to be open about the ‘imposter syndrome’ that she has experienced. This characteristic affects more women than men and is the feeling that despite academic and professional success the person will be found out to be a fraud. Many studies have looked at this and found it to be a natural symptom of gaining expertise.

Success for Women in the Judiciary

Lady Dorrian has referred to only a modest amount of sexism in own her career – and that was largely in the sense that it was simply less familiar to have women appearing in court and conducting cases. She does not attribute her success to having a particularly pioneering attitude, but simply to working hard and taking opportunities that seemed sensible.

It is interesting to note that both Lady Hale and Lady Dorrian almost seem to downplay their respective success in the profession: a characteristic that people who ascend very hierarchical institutions often exhibit. Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead looks at this tendency and unsurprisingly, many of the case studies are female.

Family-Friendliness | the Bar vs Private Practice

Although not necessarily an easy option, the Bar has been considered a more ‘family friendly’ career option than private practice. Roisin Higgins QC, commented in the Scotsman newspaper that far from being a hostile environment to female advocates, there is the suggestion that for women hoping to combine a legal career with family, advocacy might offer the most family friendly path.

Remaining Challenges for Women in the Judiciary

Lady Dorrian has pointed out the real ‘challenges’ facing the future of the profession in relation to its composition, access to it and progression within it. In a recent conference, ‘Equality means Business’ in Edinburgh in May 2017, Lady Dorrian highlighted that the legal profession as a whole should be representative of the society which it serves. Without this diversity, the profession runs the risk of not being able to offer access to justice for a wide range of practice areas (often the poorly funded areas) or for a wide client base. To be respected, the legal profession has to reflect the society it represents.

Accordingly the benefits of putting equality and diversity as the focus of the profession, she points out, isn’t just about doing the right thing but is enshrined in legislation, putting duties of equality on the shoulders of employers and public authorities.

The profession should take heed and retain talent by constantly seeking to ensure it is nurtured in the correct way.

Nicola Evans has a background in commercial law having worked  in-house for an international company and also having lectured in law. Nicola works as a Consultant for Obelisk Support, specialising in commercial law and providing remote, flexible services.

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

We often talk of the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of diversity in the legal profession, so it is but it is important to also look at the achievements and positive trends to inform and inspire future progress within the industry. Encouraging more diversity in recruitment is just one aspect of this progress – alternative business structures and a culture rethink is required to retain diverse legal talent. Here at Obelisk we work to lead by example and change the culture of the legal services industry to create a flexible working model accessible to all.

In June, there were some encouraging trends coming out of the UK Law Society’s annual statistic report, showing that the number of BAME and women solicitors is on the rise. Solicitors coming from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds now make up 16% of the profession, and 57% of these are women, in contrast to 48% of white solicitors who are women. Overall for 2015-16, 62% of admissions were female, up from 53% 15 years ago.

What Firms Must Do Address a Lack of Diversity in the Legal Profession

Any private practice or other public company who is actively working to tackle the complex issue of diversity is to be celebrated. Working to minimise recruitment bias, tapping latent and underused talent and incentivising company diversity are just some of the key areas of focus for diversity programmes and innovations. Some specific, high profile examples that have been particular talking points in the legal profession include HP’s diversity mandate that withholds a percentage of fees from firms who do not meet their set diversity requirements, previously discussed here in the Attic.

Another example is Nixon Peabody, which has adapted its approach to recruitment – ensuring that 20% of candidates called are diverse (the definition of a diverse workforce for Nixon Peabody CEO and managing partner Andrew Glincher includes all – BAME, women, LGBTQ) and first candidate called for leadership position is diverse if equally qualified for the position. The firm has earned a 100% ranking from the Human Rights Campaign in its Corporate Equality Index for ten consecutive years.

Talent retention

Of course, it’s not just about attracting talent to create a more diverse workforce, but also to maintain a culture that retains such talent. In fact, it can be detrimental to the success of a diversity programme if the focus is too much on recruitment and hiring. Firms need to look at the whole picture and focus on changing the mindset in recruitment, investing in people who want to build their careers and develop with a company long term.

Work that works for everyone

The profession needs to acknowledge individual difference and recognise that people’s needs will change over time. They need to work closely with those talented individuals and use their experience to inform company decisions, recruitment and training in future. Rather than expecting individuals to come in and adapt to an existing culture they should have a role in shaping it for the better. There are signs that this concept of a total change in culture and working patterns is becoming more popular, with the Law Society survey reporting that 475 alternative business structures (ABSs) were in operation: 116 more than a year earlier making up 5% of all firms.

Adapt or be gone

When it comes to diversity measures conversations often turn to criticism of so-called positive discrimination. It’s important to be clear that levelling a playing field and creating a working culture that allows everyone to progress in their career no matter what their background or personal situations. Nobody loses out if more people are more meaningfully able to compete and challenge one another – we all do better when the game is fair, and more of society is reflected in institutions that represent them. As Law Society president Roberts Bourns puts it: “Firms with good diversity, inclusion and social mobility policies have a competitive advantage… Not only do solicitors themselves come from an ever widening pool – reflecting the diverse society of which we are part and which we serve – but new business models are flourishing, allowing us to provide an ever more tailored service to our clients.”

The progress we’ve seen shows there are many steps in the right direction. But the rise is diversity in the industry globally is slow, and it is important to remember that law remains the least diverse profession in many countries, including the US. It is vital to see more leaders actively tackling the issue, and championing alternative ways of working to retain talent and create a more open and accessible industry.

Making Work, Work

We watched with interest recently as the debate unfolded around HP director Kim Rivera’s direct action on diversity in law firms. HP’s diversity mandate goes further than stating they require diversity from outside legal staff, declaring the company will withhold a percentage of fees from firms who do not meet those requirements.
The move is something of a step up from measures that seek to incentivise diversity. It’s also more direct than advocating for organisational quotas or targets, where little consequence exists if companies fail to meet the requirements laid out. It’s little wonder then that the mandate has been met with some consternation by commenters, who see it as a punishment and a step too far. Rivera has responded to this criticism by emphasising that the measures are not intended to be punitive – rather they are an additional incentive; one that has been openly discussed and embraced by outside companies and collaborators of HP.

The Short Game

So are penalties the next step in encouraging more diversity in law? Should we be considering, if incentives don’t seem to be having the desired effect (and progress remains slow), more measures to drive change forward? Is it a natural progression that companies who are committed to diversity are employing extreme alternatives that actively penalise organisations for not paying enough attention to their own diversity profile? Or should there be another way?

There is a need for both a long game and more immediate action. We need more representative boards and visible diverse faces in law right now, to lead by example and act as mentors to others coming up the ranks. However the long game is essential too; quotas and incentives are tools that are used, but change seems very slow. So, the use of a financial penalty is being used as a tool to hit law firms where they will take notice and thus drive change much more actively.

The Long Game

Inclusivity can be tackled by education, and changes in working culture are both aspects that are worked on behind the scenes. These will not generate headlines and has a ‘slower’ burn effect, but it is essential action to make business more open and accessible to everyone, whatever their background, gender, race, or current social situation. Solutions such as HP’s diversity mandate are more ‘explosive’ in their impact both in terms of news and direct effect but may well be more effective. If greater commitment to diversity in law is the aim – a mix of actions which put it back into the spotlight are being tried – a ‘means justifying the ends’ may be the correct approach. It is interesting that HP (a client of law firms) is seeking to exercise its purchasing power to drive the diversity agenda forward in a separate organisation.

The long game also requires better recruitment practice, and a focus on working practices, shared parental responsibility and flexibility. The main problem with many corporate policies approach is that many are focusing on training in diversity as a separate strategy or problem, rather than looking at overall culture and changes required to allow diversity to thrive and benefit all within the organisation. It’s about finding the balance between enforcing standards and creating a working culture that is open to all. If we focus our efforts on removing obstacles to work, rather than expecting people to work around them, we can move towards a time when quotas and targets will no longer be needed.