Thinking different: how diversity is fundamental to the pursuit of innovation
The success of Apple must in part be credited to its mantra that ‘inclusion inspires innovation’. In other words, different perspectives lead to more creative outcomes.
At a time when law firms are striving for greater innovation and a fresh take on the delivery of legal services, the business case for greater inclusion has never been stronger. It is surely not coincidental that when one looks at the organisations in the upper echelons of the recently published Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, one finds organisation which on the whole are not afraid to do things differently in their field.
However, if the legal profession is serious about fostering greater creative and original thinking about the delivery of legal services, it follows that it will also need to be bold about addressing workplace inequality and fostering a more inclusive culture. The scope of ambition needs to extend beyond having the right policies and procedures in the workplace, and reach into intervention at an earlier stage in the development of the next generation of lawyers.
That’s one reason why, for the last year, we have been working in partnership with Stonewall’s ground-breaking schools education programme which provides resources and role models to support schools in tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Members of our LGBT network have undertaken training to become Stonewall role models, and are now going in to secondary schools around the UK to share their experiences. This helps challenge stereotypes and assumptions children sometimes have about people who are LGBT. Our hope is that it will inspire the next generation to embrace the value in our differences between one another.
Our aims are, unashamedly, not altogether altruistic. Yes, we’ve been doing this because it’s the right thing to do – but also because creating equality of opportunity has long been a priority for the legal profession. It seems difficult to imagine how a young person who is not able to be themselves at school – for instance because of their own sexual orientation – can hope to flourish. Lord John Browne, former Chief Executive of BP, has written and spoken compellingly about the strain he felt in hiding his own sexuality throughout much of his life and career – and the extent to which that diverted his energies and focus away from achieving his potential.
If intolerance persists in schools and playgrounds, that will in turn impact the flow of talent into the profession long before the point at which law firms can typically influence events in a more direct manner as an employer.
Of course, a more diverse workplace will bring its own need for adaptation and evolution of the workplace environment. Something we have spent a lot of time working on in recent years – under the auspices of our Family Support Network and LGBT Network – has been thinking about how best we can support same sex parents. This isn’t just about direct support to the parents themselves, but helping to promote understanding across the workforce of some of the unique issues they face. As a result, for instance, we now actively engage our same-sex parents in the development of new family-friendly working policies to ensure the language and contents is inclusive and relevant to all family structures.
All of this requires time and effort in an industry which sometimes focuses on the former to the expense of the long term. However, the profession as a whole will be struggle to maintain the undoubted momentum around innovation – which is becoming a selling point for the UK profession globally – if it is unable foster a diverse workforce. As Steve Jobs would say: think different.
Kate Fergusson is Head of Responsible Business at Pinsent Masons
09 Mar 2016