Diversity and inclusion

Introduction

It's a firm belief that a diverse workforce is key to our success so having a diverse workforce at all levels within the firm is not a new phenomenon for us. We have been topping the tables for the proportion of women and LGBT employees and partners for the last 20 years. 

Recognising and respecting individuals and supporting their ideas and aspirations has made us the successful firm we are today.  

We are not complacent about the diversity of our workforce and are working on numerous community projects to attract those who would not traditionally consider law as a career, into the legal profession.  Current projects focus on young people from underprivileged backgrounds and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.  We also recognise that certain groups within our workforce benefit from tailored support, networking opportunities and a collective voice.  The firm therefore has networking groups in place for parents, women and LGBT employees.  Additionally, all our employees receive training on our policy and approach to diversity and inclusion.

Creating an inclusive environment

In the UK day to day responsibility for diversity rests with the firm's Diversity Committee, chaired by Partner James Copson. The Committee works closely with our Diversity Manager, Jaya Louvre.The Committee is formed of partner, associate, director and business support representatives.

Our current action plan is split between focusing on creating an inclusive working environment and reaching out to groups under represented within the firm. 

Diversity Training

This year we have been talking more openly with staff about the benefits of a diverse workforce and we are keen to get everyone involved. Last year, all staff were required to undertake Diversity Awareness Training, which is now compulsory for all new joiners. The 90 minute course covers the legislative framework, the relevance of equality and diversity, and tackling prejudices. Following this, we will be looking for Diversity Champions within the firm. 

Internal Networking Groups

The firm encompasses  three internal networking groups - for Women, for LGBTs and for Parents. Members of the groups not only provide help, support and mutual encouragement to each other but also advise the firm on policies, issues and benefits which affect them. The groups and their current activities are listed below:

Women

42% of our Partners are female, 40% of our global offices are headed by women and women make up 65% of our workforce. (27% of our female workforce have been with us for over 10 years). Getting women to join and stay has never been a problem. Our challenge going forward is sustaining this position by keeping well-informed of the issues that affect women. Our women’s group is currently exploring internal mentoring and sponsorship programmes including networking triples; a buddying system for those on maternity leave to complement professional support before going on leave. The group also sponsors a series of talks during the year from inspirational females from both within the firm and from external organisations. The Firm won the Financial Mail’s ‘Breaking the Mould Award 2013’ for our work on creating a pipeline of women leaders and supporting women in general.

LGBT

Our LGBT group is currently working with a number of other mid-sized law firms to create a LGBT forum called 'LeGal BesT'. Pooling resources has ensured some interesting high profile speakers - from Lord Chris Smith, Britain’s first openly gay cabinet minister to Peter Tatchell, well known political activist. Daniel Danso, from Stonewall has also visited us to lead a talk focussed on sexual orientation equality in the legal sector.  In addition, Withers is a Stonewall Diversity Champion.

Parenting

The Parenting group have held seminars on issues from children’s e-safety and nutrition to dealing with elderly parents. The group are due to launch their online discussion forum enabling parents to share ideas, problems and information. Every year the network also puts on a Christmas panto for employees and their families to enjoy. This year's instalment was a wonderful rendition of J.M. Barrie's 'Peter Pan'.

Flexible Working

Our readiness (and IT capability) to offer both flexible and remote working has been influential in creating the working environment needed for some members of our staff. Approximately 15% of our people work part-time and many others have non-standard hours (earlier or later start times) at their request. 

Increasing numbers from underrepresented groups

We have been working hard to ensure that potential applicants from ethnic minorities and the disabled population are aware of the opportunities available within the firm.  Working in partnership with several charities we have successfully increased the number of applicants to us from these groups. We review our statistics twice annually to monitor our progress and participate in the BSN League Table and the Diversity and Inclusion Charter.

Ethnic Minorities

We are actively involved in the following programmes:

ACD (African & Caribbean Diversity)

We currently have 25 employees participating as Mentors to students aged between 13 and 18 students from largely African and Caribbean backgrounds via ACD’s mentoring programme.

We also participate in ACD’s annual career dating event. Modelled on speed dating; the event gives students a 4 minute chat with several members of staff with varied roles from within the Firm.


 

PRIME

We are a member of PRIME. Our structured work experience programme gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds a real and undaunting insight into our work and the profession – ensuring students come away well informed and confident in their potential to succeed.

Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO)

In partnership with SEO, we offer support to 18 – 20 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, in the form of presentations, training courses and general guidance on gaining their career of choice within the City.

Prospects in the City

We have collaborated with Prospects in the City in helping to introduce school pupils from the fringe boroughs of London to opportunities within the city and the legal profession in particular through involvement in their ‘City Walk’ and ‘Open House’ programmes.

The Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme

We support this scheme by offering promising Law Students who face exceptional social, educational, financial or personal obstacles to qualification both work experience and finance towards the LPC.  The firm is a signatory to the Law Society's Diversity and Inclusion Charter.

Think Act Report

Withers is supporting the Government's Think Act Report, a voluntary initiative prompting gender equality and transparency.

Disability in the Workplace

We have recently sought advice from specialist disability charities and organisations on how we can better market to the disabled population.

Current Workforce

We monitor our workforce on an on-going basis. Click here for a breakdown of the diversity of our London based staff and Partners.

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