Setting the benchmark: Diversity and Inclusion at Clifford Chance

James Boyes speaks with Caroline Flanagan, Fiona Prowting, and Theodora Fajembola about the firm's stance on Diversity and Inclusion.


Fiona Prowting: I’ve been with the firm for almost two years, working as a Continuous Improvement (CI) Project Manager within the Global Financial Markets practice. Prior to joining Clifford Chance, I worked at a legal publisher, first in an editorial role, and later progressing into process improvement and project management, and became formally certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Caroline Flanagan: I also joined the firm at the same time as Fiona, and I'm a Senior Legal Project Manager (SLPM) covering our Corporate and Real Estate practices here in London. Prior to joining Clifford Chance, I worked in a couple of other city law firms as an LPM and previously at the same legal publisher as Fiona, albeit we didn't know each other then!

Theodora Fajembola: I joined Clifford Chance in 2006 and have held various roles in the firm.  I am currently the Continuous Improvement (CI) Portfolio Manager for our Litigation & Disputes Resolution (L&DR) and Real Estate practices; prior to that, I was a CI Project Manager in Finance and Capital Markets. I am also a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.


The role of a legal ops professional within law firms' has evolved dramatically over the last 5 years, can you walk me through what your role encompasses?

Theodora: CI is about improving our clients' experience. We do this by reviewing our legal processes to identify ways to make them better, delivering greater efficiencies.  I work with lawyers from across L&DR and Real Estate to identify opportunities for improvement, incorporating the use of technology, alternative resources, and legal project management.

Fiona: Similarly to Theodora, I am responsible for identifying and delivering improvement projects that change the way complex legal services are delivered to our clients. I work directly with lawyers in the Global Financial Markets practice to do this.

Caroline: As an LPM we're part of the matter team, helping to deliver great client experience on live matters. What that means in practice is that we take responsibility for the operational side of legal matters, freeing our lawyers to focus on the legal aspects of the transaction. In reality, this could mean tracking deliverables, client or third-party liaison, or managing the use of technology on a matter, for example.


When compared with other industries, do you think there is a difference in the way the legal industry has developed a D&I mindset?

Fiona: Underpinning D&I are the principles of justice and fairness, which are also at the heart of the legal profession. Although large organisations can at times be slow to adopt new strategies, there have been affinity groups representing women and the LGBT+ community at Clifford Chance as far back as 2007. These affinity groups have evolved to become more representative, and new groups have also formed, such as our Disability Action Group, and the REACH Network (formerly the BAME network). What we have also seen over the last few years is a shift in emphasis; D&I is not something that is on the periphery or a concern of the few, but part of the core of the firm, and focus is on driving active engagement by all.

Theodora: Completely agree with the idea of D&I at the core; D&I isn't a fad and should be embedded in the values of all organisations. In order to ensure long-lasting success, firms must ensure that every initiative designed to create D&I equilibrium in the workplace is credible and sustainable – it takes time to get this right.  As Fiona mentioned, affinity groups within Clifford Chance date back to 2007, and in the last five years (at least), the firm has stepped up its commitment to D&I through various initiatives (Arcus, REACH (formerly BAME),  Accelerate >>> and reverse mentoring). The firm’s goal is to deliver equality of opportunity, and equality of aspiration, and equality of experience to everyone who works here. The firm recognises that true diversity of talent and experience is an essential ingredient for our success.

Caroline: For me, I don't think there is a difference in the way the legal industry has developed it's D&I approach, but I think, as a sector, change was perhaps not 'seen' as early as in some other sectors (due to the previously closed nature of the sector). Law firms have however changed the way they work over the last 15+ years in many ways, and D&I is one that has brought great benefits. As Theodora noted, the firm aims to provide equality of opportunity, and I've seen this first hand with two young apprentices coming into my team about 12 months ago, being given the chance to work alongside our lawyers, delivering services to our clients.


How much awareness do you have of the nuts and bolts of the Clifford Chance D&I approach?

Fiona: We have a fantastic inclusion team at Clifford Chance who, amongst many other things, works hard to share all the D&I work that is going on globally, which really helps raise awareness.  I’m also fortunate enough to be involved in many D&I initiatives as a steering committee member for our gender parity group, Accelerate>>>, which also works closely with other affinity groups in the firm. Most recently I have been involved in our International Women’s Day celebrations, where I acted as a moderator for a panel event interviewing female leaders in the firm, and I'm now helping plan some virtual events for later this year.

Theodora: Agreed - having worked at Clifford Chance as long as I have, and as a member of the REACH (formerly BAME) community, I must say that Clifford Chance's commitment to strengthen D&I within the firm is impressive. The firm aims to address diversity through three core focus areas: gender balance, ethnicity, and society. As Fiona mentioned, our affinity groups work collaboratively to ensure a sustained focus on D&I. I am involved in our successful reverse mentoring programme, which allows our senior colleagues to be mentored by someone different from them, from a diversity perspective.

Caroline: Theodora and Fiona have covered much of our D&I approach.  I would only add that all elements of D&I are now a conversation topic, rather than anything to be discussed behind closed doors. The firm has created a culture where we talk about D&I, whether that is challenging something that we think could be done better, or by celebrating successes. I think it's also key that the firm sees the difference between diversity and inclusion, we have a mix of differences (diversity) but everyone's voice is heard (inclusion), and I think that is what sets our approach apart.


Has the approach changed or progressed recently?

Theodora:  In recent years, the firm has invested a great deal to understand the D&I gaps within our firm, and has implemented a strategy to ensure the continued successful outcome of relevant initiatives. Although we have goals, there is no finish line, there is no day where we all get to say “we have done it” and just go home.  Leana Coopoosamy, our Inclusion, Diversity and Wellbeing Specialist, was recently interviewed on the Cityworks podcast. In it, she talks about the journey so far of the REACH network and the firm's current initiatives to support ethnic minority employees. It is worth a listen: here.

Fiona: As well as this gap analysis and strategy development, I also think that in the last year there has been an increased focus in actively campaigning for change. This campaigning approach has transformed how we think about inclusion. We design campaigns that empower people across the firm to become champions and advocates. During the last 12 months, the firm’s D&I pro bono work has included cases on decriminalisation of homosexuality in Singapore, a partnership with the U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC), as well as our role on the high-profile ‘X passports’ case, with the firm challenging the High Court’s finding that the U.K. Government’s policy to refuse to issue non-gendered passports is lawful. I’m excited by the contribution the firm is making to D&I on a global scale, and by how this will develop.

Caroline: I would agree – I think our approach has accelerated, from the appointment of a Global Director of Inclusion, to being at the forefront of responses to what is happening globally. As an insider looking out I'm glad the firm is not afraid to talk about, and take a stand on what is right, most recently signing the Race Fairness Commitment, and active LGBT+ pro bono work. Active advocacy is the key to achieving and maintaining inclusion and that requires a culture that inspires all of us to play our part, to do this we live by our strategy of changing the rules, change the lived experience, change the culture.


Could you share some examples/benefits that Best Delivery at Clifford Chance has experienced from working more collaboratively with a diverse team?

Fiona: Being in a change management role which involves redesigning processes and solving problems, diversity of thought is hugely important. Without an environment where people can freely exchange ideas, our Best Delivery programme would not be able to develop in the way that it has. The varied backgrounds of the Global Best Delivery team are also key to driving success – many of the challenges we address in London are felt just as keenly by lawyers and clients across the globe, and being able to work collaboratively as a global team means that initiatives can be rolled out at scale.

Caroline: We have a global team, so diversity is an automatic benefit of that, and we come together on a regular basis. The inclusion part is where I think we really excel as we see examples ranging from having a colleague who is based in London presenting in another language to colleagues in other offices to learning how cultural differences impact how we work on a global basis.

Theodora: I fully agree that diversity is essential for Best Delivery (not just in terms of gender or ethnicity, but also in terms of peoples' geographic locations and professional histories).  The manner in which we deliver our projects is designed to be collaborative and inclusive.  We are able to harness the nuances of a diverse team for successful outcomes.


What are your predictions for the future of a 'digital workplace' within the legal industry, and how do you think this will impact D&I?

Fiona: The increased flexibility that a ‘digital workplace’ offers represents a great opportunity for D&I, but it’s definitely not a silver bullet. I think in order to drive meaningful change, it’s important the firm continues to drive sustained engagement across the whole of the legal community, in some of the ways I've already mentioned. It’s also important that we continue to make bold choices, like publication beyond the statutory employee pay gap information to include partner pay, and choosing to expand reporting to sexuality, ethnicity, and disability data too.

Theodora: I agree with Fiona's point that the flexibility of a 'digital workplace' offers a great opportunity. I think some form of 'digital workplace' is an inevitability; the current climate has proven that we can work more flexibly, and I don't see things returning to the way they were beforehand.  That said, from a D&I perspective, I do believe that it will remain important for people to continue to work on breaking down cultural and social barriers, investing in their professional relationships, and promoting true diversity and inclusion at every opportunity.  It is important not to lose sight of the fact that everyone is experiencing this differently, meaning there's no one solution that will enable everyone to flourish in a 'digital workplace'.

Caroline: I fully agree with Theodora's comment about breaking down barriers and promoting true diversity.  It reminds me of a great LinkedIn post by an associate in a city firm, asking for people to stop referring to flexible working (like we're seeing now due to COVID19) as a female-only issue, and I agree. We should be considering the wider contexts of a digital workplace, like more flexibility with geographic location (subject to regulatory requirements), and how it creates a work-life balance that people didn't have before, although we all need to be careful that we don't up end living at work, as opposed to working from home!

By James Boyes


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