Eliminating bias drives Freshfields’ diversity push

Ranked in The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women, international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is working hard to build a more inclusive and open culture. A key step is ensuring all its partners recognise their unconscious bias that could affect how they recruit, employ and promote people. The firm chose Pearn Kandola to design and run the awareness training because of our in-depth knowledge in this area.

While acting as Freshfields’ Global HR Partner, Caroline Stroud gained top-level backing for a diversity plan aimed at creating an environment where everyone can thrive and feel their work is valued. Besides reaching consensus that this was simply the right thing to do, it was also driven by greater diversity within the firm’s client base and evidence that mixed groups make better decisions. The plan’s main goal was to address the under-representation of women at senior level. Failing to develop their potential was effectively wasting investment and resources.

‘We recruit equal numbers of male and female trainees, but this isn’t reflected in the number of women who go on to become partners. From our internal engagement survey and our own experience, we know that women tend to feel less motivated and confident, and often miss out in areas like work allocation, business development and client entertainment,’ says Caroline, who received an Opportunity Now award for her commitment to inclusive talent management.

To tackle the situation, alongside a focus on unconscious bias, initiatives such as coaching and skills development; mentoring; and women’s networks are now in place.

Unconscious bias is a key firm-wide focus as the firm encourages partners to think more carefully about the reasons for their decisions and whether their motivations are the right ones. The Pearn Kandola workshops, piloted by Freshfields’ corporate partners, covered all London-based partners, including members of the partner recommendation committee and those involved in recruitment interviews. To reflect real life, people who normally work together attend the same workshops.

The picture across the firm is now beginning to change, says Caroline: ‘The subject of unconscious bias is much more transparent to the extent that it’s now on the agenda at the partner conference. There’s also some evidence that our culture is becoming more supportive generally and that people are being shown greater consideration in terms of discussion and advice.’

Kate Laffar, Freshfields’ Head of Diversity and Inclusion, adds: “Like many other professional services firms, we acknowledge the importance of eliminating unconscious bias in achieving greater balance and diversity of people. Pearn Kandola’s programme was a valuable first step in creating a broader awareness of the issue. We now want to build on this to develop a robust approach that will make a positive difference in the longer term.”

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