Today's blog article has kindly been provided by Chris Burnett, IP Inclusive taskforce member and Associate at A. A. Thornton & Co., and is about how his firm approached the IP Inclusive Charter in order to put together their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy. A. A. Thornton & Co. are one of our Charter signatories.
Chris writes: "I was involved with IP Inclusive fairly early on, and was keen that my firm should be among the first to sign the new Charter. I was confident that the partners would agree to sign the Charter, and was pleased that they readily agreed without me having to mount my soapbox (there’s a slight, slight, element of regret about this!). However, agreeing in principle to the commitments of the Charter was one thing; acting on them and bringing them to fruition is another thing entirely.
Fortunately, I could count on our Head of People, Karen Genuardi, to help. Karen had previous experience of implementing diversity and inclusion policies. We sat down and discussed how A. A. Thornton could make each commitment of the Charter happen, and more importantly, work for the firm:
1. The first commitment was easy: “Having in place a named individual within our organisation as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officer. This person will be sufficiently senior to make change happen and to be accountable for our progress”. Karen gamely volunteered for this role, given her experience, and is part of the senior management team. The second part of the commitment is definitely important – it would be very easy to delegate the role to anyone with enthusiasm, but a partner, CEO or head of HR is much more likely to have the clout to ensure there is firm-wide buy-in.
2. The second commitment was far trickier. “Having in place a written Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy for our organisation and making everybody in the organisation aware of it”.
It’s all very well taking a template policy, such as the one helpfully provided on the IP Inclusive website, and sticking it in the company manual, but to do it properly actually takes some time. Whilst this template makes an excellent starting point, you still need to think about your firm, and what the current situation is in terms of your firm’s pre-existing policies, and attitudes to diversity and inclusion. In developing our policy, we thought about the company culture and the things we did well. We took into account the feelings of all of the staff.
The key, we thought, was to make the policy achievable. Fortunately, A. A. Thornton is already a firm with a diverse and valued workforce, which practises inclusivity by taking into account people’s differences (e.g. we train our managers in understanding differing personality styles and preferences; we have a variety of flexible working arrangements in place; and a range of social events that don’t revolve entirely around the consumption of alcohol). However, we didn’t want to be complacent, and thought about the things we could do differently and better.
To help inform our diversity policy, we sought an external view and undertook a diversity audit. Yes, such things exist. They were able to bench mark our firm against other law firms, and provided tailored recommendations which we could build into a plan covering short, medium and longer term initiatives.
We also considered how the policy can benefit the existing workforce. We make everyone aware of the various IP Inclusive events and support groups, and provide updates on our intranet. We also learned of a group called City Parents from the diversity audit, and made our people aware of this.
The final part of Commitment 2 is to actually make everyone in the firm aware of the policy. Our policy was rolled out in a dedicated meeting/talk which everyone was asked to attend. I was very pleased with the level of engagement, and the discussions it provoked.
Having rolled out the policy, it is important to train line managers and staff about the policy and its implementation, and a training element needs to be part of any worthwhile diversity policy.
3 & 4. Commitments 3 and 4: “Promoting openness and transparency so as to demonstrate merit-based equal opportunities in our recruitment and career progression processes” and “Acknowledging the effects of unconscious bias and introducing measures to tackle it” are included in elements of the A. A. Thornton policy. Some examples include:
We thought further about recruitment, including a longer-term approach to selecting candidates, and also our firm’s corporate responsibility policy. This resulted in a new scheme of offering, annually, two work experience places, with travel and expenses covered. These are to be offered to students from under-represented backgrounds. Plenty of organisations exist that work with such students, and they are desperate to find placements, so making connections that enable us to implement the scheme is certainly achievable.
5. “Monitoring and reporting internally on our progress using measures and at intervals that are appropriate to our size and nature”. This needs to be considered as part of a diversity policy too. Continued assessment and feedback is required if the policy is actually going to make a difference.
One way, confidentiality considerations notwithstanding, could be to collect diversity data and monitor how it changes over time; and to monitor internal processes, such as promotion and development, to ensure that opportunities are accessible by all. Existing staff can be approached for feedback, to make sure they are happy and feel included. Regular benchmarking against other firms can be considered.
Work policies are of course dynamic, and require constant review and revision. My recommendation is to begin with small steps – highlight what you already do well as a firm, put that in writing and keep doing it! Start to think about things you do less well, and think about the steps that can be taken to address them. These steps can also form part of the policy. Bigger and bolder plans can always be added later (workshops, school visits), once you as a firm are ready.
6. That just leaves Commitment 6. “Sharing our experience within the IP Inclusive community to help build an effective network for equality, diversity and inclusion across the IP sector”. You are most welcome!"
Thank you Chris for writing this article.
If you would like to write a blog article for IP Inclusive, on anything diversity related, please email Emily Teesdale of Abel & Imray. Guest bloggers are always very welcome!