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Diversity and inclusion at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP

updated on 28 September 2021

The diversity and inclusion (D&I) of our workplace is hugely important to our firm and is reflected in our global values. Over many years we have invested in D&I as a central part of our vision – recognising that we are fundamentally a ‘people business’ and that attracting and retaining diverse talent is essential to delivering the best service to our clients and supporting our future growth and success.

We work for sophisticated clients who themselves field diverse teams and we operate in some of the most diverse locations and communities in the UK and worldwide – and our business should reflect and harness that diversity.

We want to create an inclusive workplace where our people can be themselves, celebrating the fact that we’re all individuals. We are committed to attracting and retaining talented people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

We give D&I the resource and leadership it needs to drive action.

  • Andy Stylianou, our chair, is the firm’s D&I champion.
  • We have board sponsors for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity and for mental health, wellbeing and disability.
  • We have a dedicated D&I team led by a head of D&I, reporting to our HR director and chair.

Our latest D&I strategy, ‘Inclusion for All’, empowers leaders and colleagues at all levels to play an active role in making progress on D&I – it is being rolled out in 2021. This strategy is based on collaboration, and gives all of our people the opportunity to make a positive impact on improving equality and diversity. By means of annual action planning at a team level, our people have greater influence on the type of change they want to see.

Our networks

We have five employee networks at the firm which all work to raise awareness and education around key issues as well as offer a safe space for our people to share any concerns and get support. They are the driving force in bringing our inclusion agenda to life.

  • Enable – our disability, mental health and wellbeing network.
  • EmbRACE – our ethnicity network.
  • Family Matters – our family and carers network.
  • OpenHouse – our LGBT+ and allies network.
  • Thrive – our gender network.

Over the past year, key activities have included:

  • Let’s Talk About Race events which contributed to the development of our Black Lives Matter Action Plan;
  • Let’s Talk About Disability events to raise awareness of visible and non-visible disabilities;
  • a series of events to help people balance work and home-schooling during lockdown;
  • events looking at the intersectionality between race and sexual orientation;
  • piloting a mentoring scheme for Black students; and
  • raising awareness and education on the menopause.

Each of our networks have detailed business plans that align to the firm’s strategy and our D&I strategy and dedicated budget for delivery. The networks are led by our people, for our people and everyone is encouraged to get involved.

Black Lives Matter Action Plan

The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and their consequences sparked an unprecedented global focus on the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and the experiences and social and organisational structures that have made such campaigns necessary.

Sadly, these are the latest in a long chain of such events and we, along with all people around the world, need to learn and question how we – as individuals and as a global business – can help to change the way society thinks and behaves about race.

We have more than 1,500 legal professionals worldwide, who all bring different perspectives and experiences to the firm. It is important that we ensure that our people represent the communities in which we live and work, and black talent is properly represented in our firm and the legal profession as a whole.

In the UK we have focused on ethnicity inclusion for several years, but we know that we need to do more. In 2020 with the input of our EmbRACE employee network, our people and leadership we have developed a clear action plan to help us increase the representation of ethnic minority and particularly Black talent at Gowling WLG. This action plan covers:

  • culture, transparency and values;
  • recruitment;
  • talent management;
  • community outreach; and
  • client/market engagement.

Increasing female representation

Across the legal profession there is a visible lack of female talent at the top, and we have been focused on changing this at Gowling WLG for several years. In 2016, when 18% of our partners were women, we set targets to increase representation of women partners at the firm, with the aim to reach 25% women partners by 2021 and 30% by 2026. This is by no means our end goal, but by setting targets we focused our efforts. As of 30 April 2021, we were on course to meet our 2021 target.

While we are making progress, we recognised in 2020 that progress was slow and we wanted to really understand what barriers and challenges were holding us back in seeing accelerated progress. We undertook our largest research project on gender to date called ‘Thriving in Partnership’ (TiP), framed around a core question: “what should/will it take to become and thrive as a female partner in our firm?”. In effect this covered both the route to partnership and then, once a partner, thriving in the role.

Our research used quantitative analysis alongside qualitative interviews and roundtables with a focus on the following five areas (but inevitably covering a wider range of thoughts and observations):

  • representation;
  • attrition;
  • staying and thriving;
  • promotion; snd
  • external Hiring.

We have our most comprehensive data set and feedback on these issues to date. Some issues are very real; some might be perceptions that have become fact in many people’s eyes. These issues and perceptions are going to take sustained effort, creativity and change to overcome.

Delivering the ‘Thriving in Partnership’ recommendations has been led from the top with executive board oversight, support and commitment from the whole partnership, and a robust governance model to ensure that we make tangible and sustained progress against each of the report’s recommendations.

Inclusion Allies

In November 2020 we launched our ‘Inclusion Allies’ programme which was the result of each of our networks recognising the important role allies play in making progress. Their advocacy and support helps to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace where all of our people are free to bring their authentic selves to work. Often hearing from people who don’t have a vested interest in a topic can be powerful and they can use their roles in the organisation to create and inclusive culture.

Our allies are asked to do the following:

  • Challenge – openly challenge any behaviour or language that goes against a diverse and inclusive workplace.
  • Participate – look for internal or external events, roundtables or feedback sessions they can participate in.
  • Include – foster an open environment by sharing their own stories of difference and asking their colleagues to do the same.
  • Educate – understand the unique issues and challenges their colleagues face and ask questions.
  • Share – show their colleagues that they are an inclusion ally and create a safe space where colleagues can approach them.

Our allies register and share their motivation behind being an inclusion ally and are given access to resources and tools to help educate themselves on being effective.

The above projects highlight some of our key areas of focus in the D&I space to attract and retain diverse talent. Our extensive D&I programme covers a wide range of initiatives from mentoring, sponsorship, training, events, mental health champions, domestic violence champions and much more. Our ambition is to ensure that everyone at Gowling WLG feels that they belong and can achieve their potential.

This information is supplied by Gowling WLG.