Interview with Uzma Hamid-Dizier, Head of Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility at Slaughter and May.
Why is having a diverse workforce important?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that developing a diverse workforce and creating a culture where people feel able to be themselves is the right thing to do. However, it is much more than that; there is also a strong business case for firms like ours to be prioritising our work in this area. Our people are central to the service we provide and we need to draw upon diverse perspectives and viewpoints in order to provide the very best advice to our clients. Having diverse teams of lawyers from different backgrounds and with different experiences brings different ways of looking at problems and means that we can provide our clients with innovative solutions. As such, we see diversity and inclusion as not just a ‘nice to do’ but a business imperative.
What initiatives does Slaughter and May have in place to ensure it recruits a diverse workforce?
Our focus recently has been to challenge the perception that City law firms are not inclusive places to work. One of the ways we do this is by inviting students to the firm to give them the opportunity to experience our inclusive culture for themselves.
We run regular recruitment events targeted at undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds. The aim of these events is to provide students with an insight in to working in the firm and the City more broadly. Attendees hear about the career journeys and experiences of a diverse range of our partners and lawyers and have the opportunity to meet people throughout the firm over the course of the day. These events have proved very popular. The students who attended have told us that they are now seriously considering applying to the firm when they previously felt like it wasn’t an option.
We partner with a number of external organisations to reach out to diverse talent. These include My Plus Students’ Club, an organisation which provides advice and support to disabled graduates as they pursue their chosen career path, and Women in the City Afro Caribbean Network (WCAN). We’re also involved in sector-wide initiatives such as DiversCity, an annual event and mentoring scheme for LGBT students interested in a career in law.
We have also been working hard to ensure our recruitment processes are inclusive. We were the first law firm to engage Rare Recruitment, who specialise in sourcing exceptional people from diverse backgrounds into some of the world’s top organisations.
We also contributed to the development of the Rare Contextual Recruitment system and use it across all our trainee recruitment activity. The system helps us identify candidates with the greatest potential by putting candidates’ grades and achievements in the context of their social and educational background.
How has Slaughter and May been working to improve diversity in senior/leadership positions?
We want to retain and develop a diverse pipeline of talent through to the partnership. To do this we have introduced a range of target development programmes for diverse groups.
We know that mentoring is a highly personalised form of career development and, if it is offered equally, can be one of the most effective ways to improve diversity at all levels of an organisation. We have been participating in the high-profile 30% Club cross-company mentoring scheme for five years, which matches our high-potential women with a senior leader mentor from a FTSE 100 company. We also provide similar cross-company mentoring opportunities to our LGBT employees through our membership with OUTstanding and were the first firm to develop a bespoke cross-company mentoring scheme for our BME employees.
Having a mentor outside of the firm brings with it many benefits. It provides a confidential space to discuss your career with an experienced professional, learn from new perspectives and develop external networks. These schemes are also a great way for our people to meet diverse role models with similar backgrounds and experiences. In addition to the external mentoring, we also offer an internal mentoring scheme which provides our associates with the opportunity to be mentored by a partner outside of their legal group. Our associates can request a mentor from a particular background if they wish.
We’re also celebrating the fifth anniversary of our Female Leadership Development programme for mid to senior level female associates, which we host in partnership with our European Best Friend firms. The six-day programme is run across three European cities and focusses on building leadership skills within the legal sector and relationships across the firms.
How does Slaughter and May avoid diversity becoming a box-ticking exercise?
We approach our work in this area from an inclusion perspective and our definition of diversity goes beyond the protected characteristic under the law. Our aim is to ensure everyone feels valued, included and supported.
Our eight diversity networks are central to this. They play an important role in increasing the visibility of diversity and fostering a spirit of inclusion within the firm and work together as a ‘Network of Networks’.
A key part of the success of our networks is that they genuinely involve people throughout the firm in the discussion. All of our network’s activities are open to everyone in the firm, regardless of whether they identify with a particular group. Everybody is encouraged to attend a network event to learn from different perspectives and meet new people from across the firm.
What assurances would you give to individuals who want to apply for a training contract but feel hesitant to do so because of their gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity/background/disability/any other diversity-related reason?
I would encourage anyone who feels hesitant applying to a firm, whether it be to Slaughter and May or others, to experience the culture for themselves. A firm’s website and brochure can provide useful information, but it can be difficult making a decision on where to begin your career based on this alone, so meeting people at the firm in person is crucial. Make the time to attend open days, law fairs or other firm events and ask partners and lawyers questions about the things that matter to you most. Events are also a great way to meet a diverse range of people working at the firm and hear directly about their experiences. Finding out more about the culture and day-to-day life at the firm first-hand should help make your decision a little easier.