Donny Ching, legal director, Shell

Shell’s legal director talks about embedding diversity and inclusion into the company’s DNA, and the importance of leadership driving the debate.

The strategic case

At Shell, diversity and inclusion has always been part of our DNA. D&I is a competitive advantage in today’s global marketplace. Data from McKinsey & Co’s Why Diversity Matters report shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.

Our underlying belief − which is supported by an annual global employee survey called the ‘Shell People Survey’ and other external data – is that inclusive behaviours drive a collaborative and high-performing culture. Moreover, an inclusive work environment is key to innovating, developing and retaining the best talent.

We are constantly on the lookout for best practices in D&I. Part of the journey has been turning something we did implicitly into something for which we are explicitly accountable. In more recent years we have become more transparent with the D&I data, and are then able to move it up a notch in regards to success in this space.

We are quite proud of how we track, how we measure and how we embed. Business leaders have D&I goals and plans, and these also cascade down in the organisation. Employees at all levels are involved in a broad range of D&I activities, such as attending a lunchtime awareness-raising session, participating in a ‘deeper dive’ leadership programme, or mentoring staff from under-represented groups. Last year around 10,000 of our 90,000 employees were involved in some kind of formal D&I learning activity. In addition to that, many extra activities are sponsored and organised by our D&I employee networks or employee resource groups. These vary country by country, but some of our most established networks focus on gender balance, as well as supporting LGBT employees, people with disabilities and various different communities in terms of ethnicity/race.

The leadership at Shell have KPIs regarding D&I, and I recently had my review with the CEO on how Shell Legal is tracking on our D&I goals and activities. This focus goes all the way up to the board, and is embedded in the key attributes we are looking for from our senior leaders as we take them through leadership training.

The leadership really needs to show up in regards to D&I. Our credibility comes from action and outcomes: it’s one thing to say we encourage gender diversity but if the figures don’t show diverse leadership teams, it doesn’t ring true. We need our current leaders to break the glass ceiling for others by breaking the barriers from above.

Role models and mentoring

Both of these are incredibly important and are the ways in which people often first see real outcomes and results from the rhetoric and the initiatives. People are not going to believe that you are seriously dedicated to this once you are in a senior role unless you act as a role model.

When I first became general counsel I received a lot of congratulations from our staff in Malaysia, but what surprised me was all the messages I received from other groups. I had become a diversity beacon because I was a business leader who was not white. The impact that you have, that echo in the organisation, is huge; so you do need to make sure you show up in the debate to lend credibility and weight across the broad spectrum of D&I issues. For example, I have spoken on issues such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, generations, nationalities etc, in my role as a diverse leader, propelling the whole D&I effort forward.

The pipeline

We are happy to mentor people in our law firms on D&I best practice. In the Netherlands, for example, one of our external firms was trying to improve on its LGBT diversity, and they reached out to Shell Legal after attending the 2014 Workplace Pride International Conference at our headquarters in The Hague. A colleague from HR and I then met with them to share our learnings and our best practice. I don’t necessarily believe in setting targets for the sake of targets and so we may not dictate a representation target to external suppliers, but we are clear that we have an expectation that our outside counsel also demonstrate good D&I practices.

We can also help in having real conversations with law firms and across the industry generally about why women drop out mid-career. I think this is a combination of factors: a lack of inclusion, potentially a lack of role models, but also self-exclusion. What are the factors that cause women to self-exclude? We have done work internally to get to quite a granular level here at Shell in terms of understanding what these factors may be, and we are seeking to share these insights as part of our talent review processes and leadership development programmes.

Some of these challenges for women mid-career are acute in the West, and are less prevalent in Asia where, for example, you have access to affordable domestic help. All in all, it really comes back to the inclusion aspect – understanding the global nature of our talent pool and not having an assumption that one size fits all. This is distilled in our employee value proposition, in nine keys aspects, customised for people going through different phases of their lives.

The role of the in-house lawyer

One of the ways in which the legal department has a key role in influencing strategy and implementation around D&I is through our annual ‘Shell People Survey’, where we track people through 52 questions and competencies. In 2016, the employee take-up rate for the survey was 80% across the entire company. There are about six questions focused around D&I, and Shell Legal generally does well in this area. It is an example to others in the company of what is possible and we share our best practice.

The future challenge

Efforts can get very focused on the diversity part of the equation, therefore we are ensuring that we focus on the inclusion. Inclusion is harder to measure but if you don’t bring the inclusion part in, your D&I work will be perceived as a tick-box exercise. It also means that you are not reaping the benefits of your efforts on diversity. Inclusion for all groups, and at a global level, is therefore the future challenge.