May 11, 2021
Hi Julian and thanks for speaking with us. Your diversity, equity and inclusion work focuses on the legal sector. How far does the framework you use to guide DE&I objectives apply equally across sectors?
The fundamentals of our inclusion consultancy and training solutions are applicable to multiple sectors. This is central to why we were appointed to the government commissioned taskforce to boost socio-economic diversity across financial services and professional services.
Currently we are supporting delivery for a FTSE 100 bank and a ‘Big-4’ accounting firm. But DE&I implementation is most effective when it is bespoke to the needs and nuances of an organisation and the ecosystem it operates within.
Our specialism is the legal sector. We twin contextual understanding of the life-cycle of a lawyer – from trainee to senior partner – with understanding of how modern law firms operate; their structures, processes, client base, and more.
Specialising gives us a competitive advantage. Understanding how a law firm and its talent respond to change enables us to tailor support and be more effective for our clients, compared to sector-agnostic D&I consultants.
Your research paper ‘The 1% Study’ will be published this year. It reviews the key contributing factors that have assisted black solicitors to reach partnership within major law firms in the UK. What inspired the research investigation?
Our primary research investigation is progressing well. We are grateful to the law firm partners and managing partners who have participated. Our thanks also go to the Black Solicitors Network and to David Lammy MP (Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice) who is the official patron of ‘The 1% Study.’
The study was born out of a frustration. Most bodies of research on ethnic minority career progression in the UK are limited to the categorisation of ‘BAME.’ This problematic aggregation conceals the disparities that exist across and within different ethnic minority groups – a case in point, I was surprised to learn that only 1% of partners at major law firms in the UK are Black.
We are excited about the potential impact of the study. As a way to better inform junior Black solicitors, and the next generation, about the actions they can take to improve their chances of career progression within the law.
Equally, our evidence basis and the leadership insights will help to guide law firms on their investments in DE&I solutions and targeted equitable support. Our mission is to improve the retention and progression of Black and ethnic minority solicitors to leadership / partnership.
extense was recently appointed to a government taskforce working to boost socio-economic diversity at senior levels across UK financial and professional services. What initiatives are you hoping to emphasise via your contributions?
It is an honour to be appointed to the taskforce working group which was set up by HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It being led by the City of London Corporation and we are proud to be contributing alongside leading organisations, such as Allen & Overy, Goldman Sachs, PwC, BlackRock, J.P. Morgan, Deloitte, Schroders and Morgan Stanley.
extense will be responsible for designing and delivering workstream outputs relating to a productivity analysis across financial services and professional services. Our aim to is drive equity of progression and equality of opportunity. To attract and retain the best talent it is crucial that organisations prioritise a high-performance and inclusive culture, ahead of ‘polish’ and ‘cultural fit’ in the context of people strategy.
At Drax our work is guided by the equation: performance = balance + diversity. In many ways this is the marrying of demographic diversity and cognitive diversity. Mathew Syed touches on this in Rebel Ideas. What are your observations around cognitive diversity?
Rebel Ideas is an essential read. I enjoy Matthew Syed’s previous works too – Bounce is a personal favourite! In reality, there is often an overlap between demographic diversity and cognitive diversity. People from different backgrounds with varied cultural heritage are likely to bring with them different lived experiences and perspectives.
It is exciting to think of how much capacity there is for companies with largely homogenous workforces to perform better, by interrupting their groupthink and improving ‘collective blindness.’
I absolutely value the intersection of demographic and cognitive diversity. However, I am cautious prioritising cognitive diversity in isolation. Organisations should be conscious of the signalling that an over-emphasis on cognitive diversity may send to talent from marginalised groups.
Occasionally, there can be a danger of cognitive diversity causing distraction or being used to defend the status quo of an organisation’s demographic representation. There are no shortcuts. Significant heavy lifting is required over a sustained period in order to increase, retain and progress underrepresented talent. However, the rewards are demonstrably worthwhile and well established.
What’s next for extense and what industry-wide DE&I outcomes are you hoping to see over the next five years?
We are motivated to be an agent for change within the legal industry, and more broadly across financial services and professional services. I would like to see organisations capitalise on current momentum by taking more ‘non-optical’ action and allyship.
Specifically, investing, incentivising, and upskilling teams to be inclusively led, and harness the differences of employees to achieve higher quality work outputs.
It is not enough to simply add diversity and stir. Hiring underrepresented talent is important but it is just as important to cultivate a culture, particularly across middle management, that draws upon identity-related knowledge and lived experiences. Both of these are resources for reconceiving how to perform core work better and achieve stronger business outcomes.