Herbert Smith Freehills HRD on championing diversity in the legal industry

Law firm’s HRD on championing diversity in the legal industry

Herbert Smith Freehills HRD on championing diversity in the legal industry

When it comes to creating brilliant workplace culture, HRDs know that the most powerful change comes from the top down.

With the support of the C-suite, ambitious initiatives can drive real change and create an inclusive, forward-thinking workplace.

But what happens when you put D&I in the hands of your employees?

Recently, we’ve started to see an uptick in companies actively bringing staff into the fold in order to tackle issues that matter to those on the ground.

Global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills has just done that.

The company launched People Forums in November last year with the aim of giving staff more say over the direction of the business, its culture and each region’s priorities.

HRD spoke to Alissa Anderson, the company’s Australian HRD about the thinking behind the company’s people-centric approach.

“Like most companies we conduct engagement surveys and what has come out of that is that people are keen to have a closer connection with our firm's leaders, but they also want to play a greater role in helping to shape the direction of the business,” she said.

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A global initiative, each region has a dedicated People Forum made up of around 10 employees.

Staff were asked to apply for the position and Anderson said seeing the passion and interest from employees in their video submissions was one of her highlights of 2020.

The groups are made up of a diverse range of people, spanning different seniority levels and life experiences.

“The huge benefit of these forums is that they purposefully give senior leaders access to diverse perspectives that they might not ordinarily get,” Anderson said.

The idea of creating the forums came from the company’s newly-created People and Culture Board which came into fruition in June last year and reports to the global executive team.

Another global initiative HSF has committed to is improving the diversity make-up of the company, after the tragic killing of George Floyd in the US last year.

CEO Justin D'Agostino said the company is not yet where it should or wants to be in terms of ethnic representation.

But he said the firm’s leadership is passionate about re-doubling efforts to improve hiring diversity and champion the voices of those who are often underrepresented in the legal industry.

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The company’s 10 Actions For Change initiative covers a wide-range of goals, including improving diversity among senior roles, committing to becoming an anti-racist organisation, improving data collection within the company and supporting diversity within the supply chain.

Regional executives will be held accountable for driving change in the diversity space.

Anderson said the initiative offers a framework but each region has its own unique challenges when it comes to advancing D&I.

Programs to support indigenous law students are already an important part of the Australian HR strategy, as well as cultural awareness training and diversity training for the firm’s recruiters.

“We are also looking at how we collect diversity data, because that’s a challenging element and it's different for every region,” she said. “That work is just at the beginning.”

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