BCL Legal Recruitment
0845 241 0933

Building a house for elephants and giraffes – addressing the issue of gender diversity… Nicola Mumford, Wragge & Co director and former London managing partner…

 

My favourite analogy is one in KPMG’s 2008 report on gender diversity: “a house built by elephants for elephants that is now trying to house both elephants and giraffes.” The important message here is inclusion – we want a house for elephants and giraffes, not just giraffes. We do, however, need to make big alterations to the house – and the bottom line is that can only mean a change of culture.

The good news is that cultures do change. I have been both surprised and impressed by the cooperation between law firms on this issue. If I telephoned the senior partner at a competitor and asked her to share her firm’s strategy for the next five years I have no doubt what the response would be. However, ask anyone if they can share their initiatives on creating a more gender equal partnership and everyone is more willing.

I think the initiatives we’re taking at Wragge & Co fall into two categories: First, those that I call “small change, big difference” and secondly, the “culture” issues.

An example of the former is a change in terminology. At last year’s International Women’s Day conference one speaker talked about the difference it made to change the terminology from ‘working from home’ to ‘working remotely’ to get rid of any of the negative “lying on the sofa with feet up” connotations. Having started to encourage that at Wragge & Co, we immediately had great feedback on the difference that small change has made.

Another is a tool kit for team leaders to give guidance for when members of their team go on maternity leave. We’ve done this in response to requests from those team leaders who are by and large men. We found that one reason some of our women were feeling uncomfortable around the time they went on leave, and even more so when they returned, was because their team leaders weren’t talking to them about the situation. When we talked to the team leaders, many said that they didn’t know what they could or couldn’t say and so therefore they were saying nothing. This tool kit gives them the confidence to put that right.

When I was moving up through the ranks, the perceived wisdom about equality was that treating men and women equally meant treating them the same. We’ve graduated from that now and we accept that many of our qualities and behaviours are quite different. Indeed, it is this very difference that Lord Davies is trying to capture in the boardroom and is best illustrated by the quip that had it been Lehman ‘sisters’ we may not be in this recession!

‘Sales’ is something that generally speaking men tend to be – or be perceived to be – more comfortable doing than women. While I absolutely accept that firms must recognise and reward the different qualities that the different genders bring, we do need to find ways to help our women do this. We ran three workshops for women to help them be better at sales and more comfortable doing it. These were very well received.

We have addressed the cultural issues from the top and bottom. Our initiative is led by our senior partner, Quentin Poole. To ensure he knew what everyone wanted to see changed – or not changed – he emailed all employees explaining what we were about to do and asked for suggestions, ideas, anecdotes and stories. The response was huge and is the foundation for what we are now doing.

One big issue that comes up every time anyone looks at this issue is the way in which we work, the hours, the presenteeism. I think Wragge & Co is ahead of the game on flexible working and our bespoke working has already won awards. We are, however, reviewing it to take into account all those comments – from both men and women – contained in the responses to Quentin’s email.

Another way we are trying to make the necessary changes to our culture is the appointment of diversity partners for each of the four practice groups. On a more individual level, but nevertheless requiring real commitment from our partners, we are also allocating mentors for the women who our group leaders believe are – or should be – tomorrow’s leaders.

Is ours a house for giraffes and elephants yet? I’d like to think that we are getting there but, like most other firms, there is much more still to be done.

Leave Comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that.

Your e-mail address will not be published and required fields are marked.