AAL: Do you think diversity across the legal sector is progressing?
EP: Absolutely, and it’s great to see. Firms are taking diversity very seriously making it a priority. For Olswang, having diversity across the firm is important as we believe having a diverse workforce that is truly inclusive creates an engaging environment where employees want to stay and develop.
We don’t want carbon copies of lawyers; we want individuals, people who bring their own experiences to the firm and help shape the culture and personality of the firm.
I think generally across the profession, firms are seeing that there are so many talented individuals from such a wide range of backgrounds that it’s vital to work with organisations to gain access to these groups as candidates might not be aware of firms and their opportunities.
AAL: Is it simply diversity initiatives that are driving this change or is this a natural process?
EP: I think it’s a bit of both. There’s a realisation amongst the profession that to really have the best lawyers, we need to open doors.
Diversity initiatives are great as they give firms an opportunity to meet certain groups and facilitate events which will give the candidates a chance to get to know the firms and vice versa.
AAL: What initiatives does Olswang implement to improve diversity?
EP: We have a number of active and growing internal networks to that encourage and cultivate a diverse working environment, diversity including our Family Network, which supports people with family responsibilities; the Olswang Pride and Equality Network (OPEN), our employee-led network for the LGBT community and its allies; and our Women in Business networks, which meet regularly to provide one another with support to create personal and cultural change.
In addition, our well-established Corporate Responsibility team is fantastic and very active within this area. They work with many local schools and partner with our clients to raise awareness to help improve diversity within the firm and profession.
AAL: How have you seen these changes influence your workforce?
EP: Very positively. It has created an inclusive environment internally and has meant people across the firm have found common ground they might not have without these initiatives in place.
Having diversity programmes and alliances both internally and externally not only sends a positive message to the workforce, but it creates a real community whereby staff feel empowered and encouraged to be themselves at work – and this benefits the firm as a whole in more ways than one.
We have seen attendance and membership of our internal groups grow and more people across the firm looking to get involved in diversity events, so we're looking forward to seeing how these will grow in the future and continue to benefit our staff.
AAL: What external organisations does Olswang work with in terms of diversity initiatives?
EP: As a firm, we partner with the following initiatives: Business in the Community, Stonewall, Heart of the City, ICRS, EmployAbility, Aspiring Solicitors, womenLEAP.
Within Graduate Recruitment, we work with organisations including Aspiring Solicitors, EmployAbility, DiversCity.
Working with these organisations is a lot of fun and hugely beneficial, we get to meet such a range of talented individuals all from very different backgrounds.
AAL: How do these organisations help Olswang?
EP: Working with these initiatives and the great people behind them helps us understand what more we can be doing to widen access to the profession and shapes us as a firm.
Having guidance and support from diversity initiatives is imperative as it really improves our work within diversity in a sustainable way.
AAL: Do you feel that the days of Oxbridge and Russell Group graduates dominating the higher echelons of the legal sector are coming to an end?
EP: Definitely. The profession has come on such a long way and firms are eager to meet candidates from all universities. I think that along with firms becoming more open minded, students have become more aware of opportunities and have the confidence to choose careers they previously might not have done.
The push on diversity has had a real positive effect on those from non-Russell Group universities and we increasingly see more applications from candidates from these groups.
I previously worked at the Bar and there were many efforts made to ensure the profession was more accessible, but I think many students from non-Russell Group universities see the Bar as unattainable that they tend to rule it out early on. I would love to see more non-Russell Group university students coming through the Bar and although this will take time, I think it will happen.
AAL: How do you feel the legal sector compares with other industries in terms of diversity?
EP: It’s difficult to say as I don’t have first-hand experience with other industries. From what I have seen, I think we have a way to go and we aren’t where we should be yet, but we are getting there.
We aren’t as forward thinking as some other industries, but there is self-awareness and efforts to move forward in this area, and it's those two things that will really help us to move the needle where diversity is concerned in the years to come.
AAL: Olswang has been included in the UK’s top firms in the Diversity League Tables in 2014 and 2015, gaining a top 10 ranking in 2014, which is fantastic. How have you maintained these standards across the years since the rankings began?
EP: We always strive to improve diversity in a sustainable way, it’s not just a ‘box-ticking’ exercise for us. Our aim is to maintain our success and so not only do we place importance on working with organisations to meet suitable candidates, but we try to create an inclusive environment once they are in the firm so they can thrive and perform to their best.
We have a range of activities which focus on a number of aspects of diversity. For example, for women we have Lean in Circles which are small peer groups who discuss challenges and support each other and provide help for specific periods, i.e. maternity.
We have employee led networks including The Family Network and the OPEN network for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff. It’s paramount to us that employees feel supported and comfortable once in the firm and we know that diversity is not something that ends once a person is through the door.
Applications to apply to Olswang’s training contract are open and the deadline is 31st July 2016. For more information on the firm and to apply, click here.