Following an inspiring internal workshop on Unconscious Bias with Linklaters' Learning and Development Manager, Wenying Li, we were curious to find out more about how and why the law firm promotes diversity and inclusion within its various international offices.
with Silke Bernard, Investment Funds and Diversity & Inclusion Partner, and Melinda Perera, Capital Markets & Banking and Community Investment Partner, Linklaters.
Why does Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) matter to your business?
Melinda: Diversity is present within all of our businesses, sometimes more than you may even think. It is a given fact that your workplace will be diverse to some extent – even if you don’t always see it at a first glance. People around you have different genders, sexual orientations, social backgrounds, etc. It is therefore important to follow up on diversity efforts by creating an inclusive working environment because our people will only be able to perform at their best in truly inclusive environments. I believe it is our responsibility to ensure people have the opportunity to fully harness their talent within an organisation. If we don’t, we run the risk of losing both current and potential talent.
Silke: The D&I footprint is definitely a factor of high (and ever-increasing) importance for the recruitment and retention of talent – in our business like in many others. We see D&I as an element that attracts young talent and reflects the natural expectations of their place of work. The D&I strategy of a firm and its day-to-day implementation are being systematically inquired about in job interviews. Employees are no longer satisfied with affirmative action but expect true engagement on an every-day basis. D&I has found its way into society and the values of many firms.
Besides HR considerations, and to some extent as a natural consequence of the above, D&I is also turning into a driver for business. We all know the statistics confirming that diversified boards tend to make better decisions, create more robust businesses and generate better performance. Moreover, clients and counterparties start selecting the firms they work with based on criteria such as D&I.
What are the most urgent topics to address in Diversity & Inclusion?
Silke: I believe there is more than one general answer to this question. The needs and urgencies in D&I vary from one firm and community to another and depend on concrete circumstances. I think it is important that D&I is not approached from a window-dressing angle, but in a holistic way that includes all strands of diversity to actually live D&I every day; turn it into a “normality."
The approach we, at Linklaters, have chosen to take in our D&I reference group is to try and make diversity a positive experience within our firm. Rather than raising eyebrows and giving lessons, we try to give people D&I experiences. I personally like the idea of making it “desirable” rather than imposing obligations and constraints. It seems to work out – the perception of diversity and inclusion in our office has changed quite massively over the past few years and we are positive that this journey will continue going forward.
We also have actively engaged with many clients on our D&I journey, reflecting together and exchanging on our experiences. This is an aspect we highly value.
What made Linklaters Luxembourg set up its Diversity Reference Group?
Silke: The creation of our D&I reference group resulted quite naturally from a feeling amongst a few of us that we could have a great impact if we took a more structured approach to D&I. When setting up the group we engaged with LIST – the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology – to help us identify areas within D&I that we are doing well at as an office and the areas we need to focus on improving further. This gave a great starting point to our diversity journey. Our reference group has now grown to 16 members who meet on a regular basis and organise awareness-raising initiatives, both for our internal people and our clients.
On a personal level, my motivation for joining our reference group and becoming the office's D&I partner stems from my own personal conviction that more diverse and inclusive environments are vital for successful and responsible organisations. Furthermore, I participated in the firm's Women’s Leadership programme, a structured career development course aimed at high-potential female talent, in early 2014 and it motivated me to take on a leading role in our firm’s diversity journey.