Making diversity happen

Sally DaviesSally Davies, London senior partner at Mayer Brown, discusses the firm's diversity and inclusion approach in the City.

Studies show diverse teams deliver better results across industries and economies. However, what steps should law firms take to improve diversity and inclusion?

In our experience, increasing diversity and inclusion is a full-team effort that requires leadership and investment. At Mayer Brown in London we focus on our recruitment and development policies and processes. A number of programmes and initiatives were born from this approach.

School-leaver apprenticeships

Our apprenticeship scheme for school-leavers is one example. Launched in 2013, it gives young people from all backgrounds who do not want to (or cannot) go to university an opportunity to develop core business skills and build their careers. The 12-month programme sees our apprentices work within one of our Business Services departments four days a week, with one day a week spent working towards a business qualification.

For many of our apprentices, joining Mayer Brown gives them their first taste of work in an office. They are allocated a mentor, supervisor and buddy and to support their on-the-job training, we designed a tailored skills-development programme covering everything from time management and dos and don'ts in the office to goal setting and making an impression.

Watching our apprentices progress and grow in confidence has given our Business Services managers and mentors huge pleasure. We have benefited from their hard work and the invaluable coaching opportunities their presence creates. We have also permanently hired three of our former apprentices.

Vocational route into law

The success of this programme inspired us to introduce a vocational qualification route for would-be lawyers. In 2015, Mayer Brown was the first international law firm in the City to launch an earn-while-you-learn programme that leads directly to qualification as a solicitor. We currently have three people pursuing qualification on the six-year scheme. They work at the firm whilst studying part-time for an LLB over four years. In the remaining two years they will complete the Legal Practice course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC).

As an advocate of work-based training, we are delighted that many more law firms will now offer vocational training through the government-backed Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship scheme. Along with a number of other firms, Mayer Brown also offers this training. In addition to opening up the profession to a pipeline of diverse talent deterred by the cost of full-time academic study, it enables firms to integrate future lawyers into the business at a much earlier stage and tailor their training to suit their needs. It is a win win.

Having hosted 21 state-educated apprentices since 2013, 57 per cent of which from a BAME background, we are making progress to increase those under-represented are groups' access to opportunities within our firm.

Embracing recruitment diversity and collaborations

We also constantly review our trainee recruitment processes. Adopting a 'blind CV interview policy' in 2014, where the background information of potential candidates is not revealed to interviewers, has given us greater confidence in our ability to neutralise any bias towards certain universities. Over the past four years, the range of academic institutions from which we recruit our 15 trainees has expanded from nine, drawn predominantly from the Russell Group, to 14 including a number of non-Russell Group universities.

We recognise how important it is to connect with school-age students from under-represented groups to increase their access to opportunities and raise their aspirations. We do this by delivering and supporting a number of aspiration programmes. There are some great initiatives in this area within the legal profession, including PRIME and City Solicitors Horizons, both of which we are closely involved with.

Equally, CSR partnerships are a rich source of ideas for our recruitment practices. Those with refugee charity Breaking Barriers, Mencap and Angle House Foundation, have led to us offering work placements and employment to refugees, people with disabilities and other under-represented groups.

Embedding D&I

Working in a profession where women are under-represented in senior roles makes the female talent drain a key priority for many law firms. It will come as no surprise that our commitment to the retention and development of our female talent led us to introduce mentoring a proven way to unlock and realise potential. In 2016, we joined the 30% Club cross-company, cross-sector mentoring programme to encourage our female talent. To date, 18 of our female senior associates and managers have participated. Their experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

Unconscious bias is probably one of the most common obstacles to diversity in the workplace, particularly when it comes to recruitment and development opportunities. Challenging our personal biases is the only way to tackle this. The unconscious bias training that we provide in the London office encourages our people to take the time to consider whether their assumptions or "groupthink" are adversely affecting the objectivity and their decision-making.

We also have a number of active affinity networks - LGBT+, women, BAME and family. In addition to championing the interest of their members, these networks accelerate our diversity drive by challenging our thinking and practices, demonstrating leadership on key issues and building insight and awareness amongst our people.

More to do

The reality is, there is no quick fix, or a one-size-fits-all solution to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. We are making progress, but there is more to do. Encouragingly, our collaborations with clients, our people, charities and a variety of organisations and peers, continue to present opportunities for us to learn, adapt and move forward.

There are some great initiatives in this area within the legal profession, including PRIME and City Solicitors Horizons, both of which we are closely involved with.