Diversity And Eversheds: Don't Let It Get Too Technical

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

Diversity In Europe:A Brief Background

"Diversity" in the workplace is often treated as an elusive, complex and mysterious, even "delicate," subject matter.I have seen an interesting chart which depicts diversity in the form of a floating iceberg, with some of the most apparent of the diverse characteristics like gender, race and age well above the waterline. Other attributes, like nationality, language and religion, are shown below them with some touching the surface and others just under the surface. In the vast bulk of the iceberg are other, but also diverse, attributes shown as submerged deeper and deeper below the waterline, including job function, heritage, life experiences, value systems, education, thought processes, sexual orientation, family status, talents, perspectives, skills and beliefs. There are so many diverse attributes of humanity that it is impossible to list them all. At a minimum, such a chart shows how complex the evaluation of and reaction to "diversity" can become, especially if one wants to get "technical."

As in the USA, laws in Europe do try to address some of these diversity issues. Some approaches are vague, such as Section 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which aims to forbid "discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status."

Other laws in Europe are considerably more specific, such as the Norwegian law which went into effect on January 1, requiring all public traded companies to have a mathematically specific percentage of women on their new boards of directors.

Suffice it to say,Europe is becoming more aware of "diversity" issues but has not yet evolved a systematic, let alone a uniform, response to the subject.

Diversity At Eversheds

The Big Picture

Eversheds is one of the largest law firms in the world, with offices in 19 countries. We have more than 2,000 lawyers in 36 offices worldwide, including offices in Doha (Qatar), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Shanghai. We are diverse, by the very nature of what we do worldwide, no matter how you define the term "diversity." We long ago made the decision to give "diversity" a wide definition and a wide range within which to flourish, even if a specific diversity issue is not legally mandated. Thus, we not only have a full-time Diversity Director (Caroline Wilson) but also a formal Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, comprised of some "diverse" people, and which is headed up by Alan Jenkins, the chairman of our law firm.

At Eversheds, we are used to diversity and live it and practice it every day. Our employment demographics, our employment policies and our client base all reflect our commitment to diversity in all its forms.

Most of our lawyers and most of our non-lawyer employees are active in our various offices in Europe, which extend from Dublin to Sofia and from Stockholm to Rome. The modern Europe in which we operate is itself an example of diversity. The European Union has 23 official languages, and eight out of 27 of the current EU Commissioners are women, from a broad variety of countries.

There is also an EU Commissioner for Multilingualism (Leonard Orban, a Romanian) whose core EU mission is based upon the fact that "multilingualism is a plus-factor for European integration, competitiveness, growth and better jobs and [as] more and more companies are made up of people from different national and language backgrounds" (Speech dated 7 December 2007).

At Eversheds, many of our lawyers speak more than one language fluently, and we have published practical legal dictionaries with important legal terms in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish, which we provide to clients and friends free of charge.Substantial portions of our website are available in many languages.

The demographics of Europe are far more diverse than ever before. New laws, new educational opportunities and new attitudes have translated into a modern Europe in which, for example, companies and their employees operate across the entire continent. Nevertheless, each country tends to retain much of its cultural diversity, including different ways of doing business.

Demographics of The Eversheds Law Firm

Within this setting, Eversheds' demographics represent the new diverse face of Europe. We keep track of our diversity numbers so we can better understand and improve our diversity. A few statistics, which may be taken as representative of our firm as a whole, are offered here.

As of January 31, 2006, we took a statistical snapshot of our non-lawyer personnel (then about 2,200 people). In terms of gender equality, we are doing better than the European Commissioners! There is about a 55 (female)-45 (male) gender split in our non-lawyer employees. This represents quite a change from the same time a year before, where the breakdown of these numbers in our firm was about 50-50.

It is important to recall that certain cities and regions within Europe have differing demographics within the general population. For instance, the city of Birmingham, England has a large percentage of its inhabitants who are of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, far more than Barcelona, Spain or Munich, Germany. We keep track of the numbers with this in mind. Consistent with the general local population, our figures for Birmingham track the local population ethnicity demographics. We find our other offices track varying local statistics, too.

Office by office, we find pretty much of the same ethnicity, age and gender distribution.

When we focus on our lawyers by gender, we find that the breakdown is about equal, but with women outnumbering men by about 8 percentile points in the 26-30 age group, reflecting a trend of more women joining and advancing in the profession.

Our Equality and Diversity Policy

We are committed to providing outstanding service by maintaining the highest standards of professional excellence. To meet this objective, we have a written Equality and Diversity Policy, committing us to support the principle of equal opportunities for all. We are committed to recruiting, training and promoting the best person for the job, regardless of gender, marital status, color, race, nationality, ethnic origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation or parental responsibilities. We are also committed to creating a working environment which supports our corporate "Vision and Values" and which is free of any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying and within which all individuals are treated with respect, fairness and courtesy.

This policy specifically covers:

• recruitment, selection, learning and development and promotion;

• terms and conditions of employment/terms of engagement;

• disability;

• discrimination, victimisation and harassment;

• our collective responsibility for effectiveness of the Policy;

• complaints and disciplinary procedures; and

• monitoring.

We also have a separate written detailed Policy regarding religious diversity in which, among other things, we raise awareness within the firm regarding some of the world's different religions. For each, our policy guidelines include explanations about key terminology, diet and dress codes, festivals and holy days, marriage, raising of children and burial customs.

Outlook For The Future

Our law firm has been expanding rapidly. New offices joined recently in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic and Switzerland. The future will bring more change and more diversity for us.Among the things we will be watching as the future unfolds:

• We work regularly in many languages and cultures and it is standard cross-cultural procedure for Eversheds lawyers (especially our younger lawyers) to spend several months working in other Eversheds offices (internal secondments) and at our clients' offices (external secondments).This program, however, is not limited to lawyers.

• We have had considerable success with our firm-wide recruitment policy entitled "Career Pathways," in which we offer employees the means to ensure that they have access to our support and advice to help them achieve their personal career and life style aims.

• We have been selected as the lawyers for the London Olympics and related Paralympic games in 2012, placing us in the high profile position of "diversity ambassador" for the whole world.

• We have consistently ranked as one of the top UK employers ("Best Place to Work"). Commitment to diversity is an important criterion for this status.

• We publish our diversity statistics on our website and we welcome suggestions for change and further improvement.

Lifestyle And Personal Choices

In 2002, we instituted a practical way of simplifying things, by offering everyone at our law firm a wide range of lifestyle choices. We believe that everyone should have the right to request different working arrangements and we make it clear to everyone at the firm that they can request informal changes when needed or desired, whether for family, study, religious or other reasons.

Our successful lifestyle program has been used by hundreds of our lawyers and staff.We also have an in-house brochure in which we explain that:

• Talented people are more likely to stay and flourish if they are satisfied with the work/life balance that they prefer.

• It improves the ability of the firm to complete its overall worldwide work load more efficiently and at off-peak periods.

• We are a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year worldwide business and this type of flexibility is both necessary and natural.

• The process starts with an informal chat with the relevant manager or supervisor and arrangements, once made, are reviewed every six months.

• There is also a range of more formal lifestyle options, including part-time working, job sharing, annualized or monthly hours, self-rostered teaming, career breaks and sabbaticals for periods as short as three months and as long as five years.

Conclusion

I don't think I have ever seen a study which "proves" scientifically that being diverse makes an organization measurably better and measurably more profitable than one which is less diverse.

We are firmly committed to the fact that diversity is not merely the right thing to do but is also good business. It helps us to attract the best people, based upon merit and ability, helps them to grow with the skills they already have and to develop additional ones, and helps to keep them with us, and thus to build and improve the firm during the coming years.

Paul Smith is a Partner at Eversheds LLP. He is an elected member of the firm's Board of Directors and Chair of the Regulatory practice. Over the years he has defended a number of multi-national companies in relation to criminal investigations. Paul is also an acknowledged expert on law firm partnering and convergence as a result of his role as client partner for DuPont and he provides consultancy services to in-house legal departments on external law firm management. He was recently included in The Lawyer Magazine's List of the "Hot 100" Lawyers for 2008. Paul may be reached at 44-20-7919-4500.

Please email the author at paulsmith@eversheds.com with questions about this article.