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Diversity and inclusion: Q&A with Gowling WLG’s Greg Standing

updated on 31 January 2022

Tell us a bit about your role at Gowling

I have been at the firm for 21 years now and been part of the journey that witnessed Wragge & Co move from a regional heavyweight into London and subsequently into the international firm that is now Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.

I was lucky enough to have a seat at the table through the key moments in this journey as a partner in the firm for a decade. I retired from the partnership in 2017 to move in a new direction with the general counsel team where I now work part-time. I have seen a lot of change and experienced a lot things during this time but I like to think that the same core values and ‘employee experience’ have remained a constant throughout and in some respects, diversity and inclusion being a really good example, things have changed very significantly for the better.

Thanks in part to our diversity and inclusion initiatives, I work increasingly with people from different and more diverse backgrounds than my own and that is something that I really enjoy and equally learn a lot from.

What have been the most rewarding experiences so far in your career?

Well, as a litigation lawyer I was successful in the Court of Appeal twice which was great for the CV  and I will never forget that feeling, as an aspiring associate, of new post landing on my desk in the morning with thick batches of new instructions that had my name on. Looking back that feeling of winning new work was definitely what most excited and motivated me as a young lawyer.

But if I had to choose the most rewarding thing, I would say it is working with talented younger people and watching them develop and grow. In my current role I am lucky to be working with two such individuals – they know who they are! Thanks in part to the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, I work increasingly with people from different and more diverse backgrounds than my own and that is something that I really enjoy and learn a lot from.

What challenges have you faced?

Due to an inherited mitochondrial disease, I lost my hearing (and became a type 1 diabetic) while still a relatively new and young partner. Sometimes (often) people struggle to understand what it is like to lose your hearing. I can only describe it like this: it is not being unable to hear people speak, but being unable to make sense of speech. It is isolating, confusing and exhausting.

While it created some obvious physical challenges for me in effective communication, with the benefit of some distance and reflection, perhaps the biggest challenge was that I found it very difficult to accept and adjust to in the context of the pace and pressure of my life at that time – both as a partner and a husband and father of young children. It went straight to my sense of self identity, I felt ashamed and suffered what I can only describe as a quite catastrophic loss of self-confidence. I supressed and internalised a lot of negative emotions and put on a ‘mask’ at work for many years, which I can now say is really not healthy and risks collateral damage to yourself and those close to you.

At the end of the day it all comes down to having good people who care about each other.

How have you overcome the challenges?

Firstly, I am not sure that if something like this happens to you later in life whether you ever truly overcome all of the different challenges you face because so much of your sense of self identity is already in-built and so much of your life has been lived differently. It might be different for those who have faced challenges from birth or have never known any different, or it may be more simply that everyone is different and deals with stuff differently. In that respect I am uncomfortable with being labelled as a role model. But, you can definitely process what has happened, learn to live with it and be successful.

I would say that two things are absolutely essential to this: the first is taking the time and space to work it all out; and secondly you need good people around you to support and help you. You also need to define what success looks like for you.

What is your top-tip for ensuring a truly inclusive workplace?

At the end of the day it all comes down to having good people who care about each other. I got lucky. Someone who worked in a completely different part of the firm reached out to me one day after a meeting (incidentally a diversity and inclusion network meeting) and simply said: “Are you okay?”

Looking back this may have been my sliding doors moment. She created a safe space for me to talk and over a period of a few years talking eventually led me towards a change in direction, pace and lifestyle and a sustainable future working-life. I consider myself lucky to now have an understanding and supportive team around me – it makes the biggest difference.

I often wonder what would have happened had she not asked me that question. So, for my top tip I will turn to Bill & Ted and say simply, “be excellent to each other”!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I am going to cheat and give two. On the hearing front, a partner at another firm once said to me, look it’s not your problem that you can’t hear them; it is their problem if they do not make themselves heard. This has always stuck with me and I remind myself of the irony regularly when I encounter ‘those’ people. The second bit of advice comes from me: it really does help if you can leave your ego at the door.

Greg Standing is head of enterprise risk management at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.

Visit LCN’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling, for more on what the firm is doing to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.