Diversity – what does it mean for me?
During an event organised by Thames Valley Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Olena Gulyanytska and Anna Gilbert from our London team engaged in an all-female panel discussion on “Diversity: what does it mean for me?”. Chaired by Olena, each speaker drew upon their individual experiences of diversity in the workplace, addressing issues concerning professional development, diversity and inclusion.
In a frank and honest discussion, the panel speakers shared their perspectives on the prevalence of prejudice in the workplace, the appropriateness of quotas, the importance of responsible recruiting and efficacy of supportive mentorship and offered examples of how that was achieved at their firms.
How to realise a diverse and inclusive workplace utopia?
The panel thought meaningful and project-led training, development and mentorship schemes for all are key, providing they embrace and recognise diversity for everyone and at all levels. A great illustration is how TfL applies inclusive design. When a bus stop is being built, it is vital to consider its users. If school children use that stop, it must have access to zebra crossings, or if elderly people are the users then seats are needed. Inclusive design helps address issues of diversity and inclusion.
Diversity is about acceptance and enrichment. The one thing common to us all is that we are all human. Diversity in the workplace therefore allows us to bring our own perspective to the environment. She suggests that recognizing, embracing and celebrating those differences allows everyone to bring their whole self to work and be visible. The lack of effort to embrace differences may often lead to unfulfilled potential and it is therefore very important to have a supportive working environment without prejudice.
Is it too late to right the wrongs in addressing systematic and institutional prejudice?
It is not too late and leaders of an organisation can really lead the way. A great example was how the previous Chair of the CIArb, London Branch, showed how progress can be made swiftly. In 2019, he pro-actively invited women who had the right qualities to join the committee. While in 2020, equality had not yet been achieved, the following year women of varying ages and ethnicities tipped the scale. It is not difficult, nor expensive to champion diversity and inclusion when bringing in new people.
What is the impact of a lack of diversity on minorities?
When a minority enters a less diverse workspace, they may be faced with lack of cultural awareness, marginalisation / lack of inclusion. One of the panel members related an anecdote of a time when an advocacy trainer suggested to adopt Margaret Thatcher’s style to be taken more seriously.
Another admitted she portrays the persona she has adopted since university days. Coming from a poor Welsh mining village, and being the only person in the village to go to university, she recalls how she became a chameleon to her peers. Had there been a greater diversity in the workplace, she would not likely have felt obliged to portray her identity in this way.
How is improvement practically achieved?
A first step is to recognise differences and having frank conversations which may allow us to change ourselves to embrace differences rather than to conform.
One panel speaker highlighted the positive steps that her organisation is taking, such as creating steering groups and an Anti-Racism Charter. As diversity is recognised as a priority, time is made for addressing the challenges that come with it. Initiatives to better its recruitment and employee development are in particular, the creation of a Diverse Panel: Shadow Leadership Group, a formal mentorship programme, and a diversity and racism toolkit designed to tackle difficult conversations. All have radically improved the organisation.
Efforts to create and encourage a larger pool of talented minorities often go hand-in-hand with mentoring and inspiring promising, young talent, no matter how informally.
Quotas, a controversial topic, are not permitted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Interestingly, the panel universally accepted the efficacy of quotas to achieve change. In fact, one panel member relayed a positive experience of quotas while working at a Norwegian company and how she believes them to be a necessary evil. Rebutting the stigma of “the quota woman”, she recalls that at least by being chosen, she was visible and was able to show she was better than a lot of people that would might have otherwise be chosen for the role.”
The panel were in agreement that to overcome the barriers faced, strength of character and determination are crucial. The speakers were very alive to typical feelings related to imposter syndrome and feeling that opportunities offered were a result of luck or connections, rather than merit - even without the advantage of a quota.
The stigma linked to quotas was also found to be connected to awards for achievement. A panel member recalled that when she was informed of winning an award for best female scientist for her PhD in mathematics, she almost declined due to the qualification of “female” and wondered whether the award would have been given to her if men were also nominated.
Meaningful advice to your younger self
Suggestions were plentiful. Rather than considering and striving towards a 5-year plan, a longer-term notion would have helped to better handle disruption. Not letting a career get in the way of having a fulfilled life. To realise that adaptability is key, together with flexibility and having support networks. Being authentic and not pretending to be someone you’re not is vital to success since we cannot break through barriers by conforming to expectations. Do not forget to sell yourself and advocate for yourself because no one else is necessarily going to take the lead. Championing yourself as a genuine person with integrity and respect for others is one of the most powerful but intimidating things necessary to achieve progress.
Interestingly, the event closed with two questions from white male practitioners, the first wanting to know how to be supportive without being patronising and the second how to encourage women to speak up for themselves when uncomfortable situations occur. The responses from the panel to these questions demonstrated how thorny an issue diversity and inclusion can be when conversations such as these are not had. In relation to the first issue, the panel was unanimous in encouraging the questioner not to avoid helping people out of fear they might be negatively received. Indeed, a common theme running through the event was the importance of those in power doing what they can to welcome new voices. In response to the second question, the panel welcomed such positivity but cautioned that when wanting to complain in the past they had been faced with negative outcomes so the key would be to create an environment in which such issues can be raised.
The event provided timely discussion around sensitive issues to achieve an exciting and hopeful outcome. The moral of the event is to be bold and to be yourself, help others as much as you can and be the change you want to see in the world. Fortune favours the bold!
If you are interested in viewing the discussion, please email email@example.com for details.
Chair Olena Gulyanytska FCIArb, Counsel, Hausfeld London
Anna Gilbert MCIArb, Counsel, Hausfeld London
Burçu Osmanoglu FCIArb, Secretary of the European Branch
Karen Akinci FCIArb, Chair of the Practice and Standards Committee, Secretary of CIArb European Branch,
Ekindayo Akande FCIArb, Contracts Compliance Manager at TfL
Bernadette Barker FCIArb, Principal of Barker Consultants
Karina Albers FCIArb, Owner of Algeny, Honorary Secretary of CIArb London Branch
With the leadership of our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committees at Hausfeld, we are continually examining and improving all aspects of our recruiting, hiring, training, career progression, leader development, policies and practices to ensure a diverse and dynamic work environment. For more info.