Podcast summary

In episode three of Diversonomics, co-hosts Roberto Aburto and Sarah Willis interview Lorna Gavin, Gowling WLG U.K.’s head of diversity, inclusion and corporate responsibility. In their discussion, they explore the challenges and opportunities of implementing diversity and inclusion strategies across a global firm, while also detailing Gowling WLG U.K.’s various diversity networks.

Episode tip

"1 in 4 people will have a mental health problem at some stage [...] it is okay to talk about it and it is okay to ask for help." — Lorna Gavin, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Gowling WLG


Episode guest

Lorna Gavin

Formerly a corporate lawyer, Lorna Gavin now co-ordinates the interaction and overlap between Gowling WLG UK's areas of focus as Head of Corporate Responsibility.

Lorna leads Gowling WLG UK's involvement with Business Action on Homelessness and the Ready for Work program, and leads the firm's pro bono work initiative.

To learn more about Lorna, visit her bio or connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Podcast transcript

Roberto: Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast about all things diversity in the legal profession. I am your co-host, Roberto Aburto, a lawyer at Gowling WLG in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, practicing in municipal law and litigation.

Sarah: And I’m your co-host Sarah Willis, also of Gowling WLG, and I practice in commercial litigation as well as professional liability.

Roberto: We have an upcoming episode with Neeta Gupta who is one of our co-chairs of our National Diversity and Inclusion Council. I sit as the other National co-chair on the Diversity and Inclusion Council in Canada. Today we are continuing with our international theme. Gowling WLG underwent a combination in February uniting Gowlings in Canada with Wragge Lawrence Graham in the United Kingdom and this has led to quite a few opportunities in the diversity and inclusion space.

Sarah: I have learned that first hand, as all of you have heard as well, I am currently in Gowling WLG Birmingham’s office and I have been succonded to the UK to assist on some of the larger litigation matters. Today we are very excited to have Lorna Gavin with us in the Birmingham office but I understand typically works out of the London office. She is the head of Diversity and Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility at Gowling WLG and she is a former corporate partner with Gowling WLG UK. Welcome Lorna.

Lorna: Thank you very much. Thank you and I am glad to be taking part.

Roberto: Very, very happy to have you here today Lorna. Just tell us a little bit about your job as the head of Diversity and Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility. What does that job entail?

Lorna: Yes, a very long job title isn’t it? It’s a really wide agenda so on the corporate responsibility side it is all about our community engagement. That’s our volunteering, our pro bono, our charitable giving. It is also about overseeing our own environmental performance as a Firm, making sure we are minimizing our impact on the environment and crucially it is about collaboration with others. That is our clients, suppliers and our competitors on the responsible business agenda.

The diversity and inclusion side I could talk about that all day long. What my role is to lead on the delivery of the Firm’s inclusion strategy. That involves engaging with the Board, the wider Firm, really embedding it into the business and just in the day to day work of the Firm. It’s about making sure the Firm is looking through the inclusion lens, if I can put it that way.

For all those important working practices, recruitment, people development, reward, learning and just making sure we are delivering something tangible for our people day to day. A big part of what I do is engaging with other organizations externally so I might be doing some public speaking or collaboration with clients. There is always a good dollop of social media activity thrown in there from my Twitter account. There is a lot going on. I don’t have to do it all by myself. I have got a small team working with me and obviously I am engaging with lots of stakeholders around the business as well on the agenda.

Roberto: Right. There is really a small team of staff but really it is about engaging the whole Firm throughout. We are going to be speaking with Neeta Gupta about the Diversity Inclusion Council at Gowling WLG Canada but tell us a little bit about the diversity forum at Gowling WLG UK and how it is structured and what it does.

Lorna: Yes. The forum is something that we put together, gosh, over 10 years ago now and I chair it. It is has other key people on there from the Firm. Andrew Witts, who is our chairman, he attends to the Firm’s overall diversity and inclusion champion, we have our HR Director there, some of our key HR specialists. We’ve also got diversity and inclusion partners and then crucially we’ve also got the chairs of our various employee affinity networks on there too.

Sarah: What exactly are diversity partners?

Lorna: This a role that we created a couple of years ago so each of our four legal groups have got at least one diversity and inclusion partner and they really are a vital connection, really, between what we’re doing on the diversity forum and what’s happening in the legal groups. They are there to promote what we are doing to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion issues, get out key messages and flags to their people what’s coming down the tracks. Really important they are, they act as a point of contact for anyone in those legal groups that want to raise a concern or ask any questions. They do act as a bit of a bridge between the legal groups and the central forum and speaking from experience they definitely keep us on our toes in their meetings. They are very key people.

Sarah: I can imagine. That is great though to have in such a large Firm with a number of people. It is good to have someone or a number of people spread out among the Firm that individuals know they can go to, to talk to them. Where did that idea come from and how exactly does it work in practice?

Lorna: Really, it was a natural evolution from discussions that we were having a few years ago now, on the gender agenda specifically. There was loads that we wanted to do to engage people around the Firm. We realized that the best way to do that was to absolutely imbed it in each part of the Firm. Once you got a partner in each group that’s been tasked to look at gender issues then it was just a natural extension of that thinking to say “Hang on. Let’s embrace all the aspects of diversity and inclusion in that role” so it very quickly involved from being a gender partner to being a wider diversity and inclusion partner.

Sarah: That’s fantastic and it seems like the forum has accomplished a lot so far and is involved in a lot of different areas. What would you say would be your proudest accomplishment in terms of initiative the Firm has put into place?

Lorna: It has done a lot over the years actually. I guess if I had to pick out one of the highlights it would be the work that the forum has done to help drive the Firm’s decision to adopt targets for getting women into the partnership of the UK Firm. That sent out really a pretty clear signal that we recognize that our Firm, but frankly along with the rest of the profession, has an issue not having enough women at the top of the Firm and that we were prepared to do something about it. Having the weight of the forum really helps implements that fundamental decision for us.

Roberto: One of my privileges as one of the co-chairs of the National Council in Canada is I get to sit in on the forum meetings and in the last meeting I was learning about a new employee network that is forthcoming that really seemed a bit outside the box for me. It wasn’t something that I was familiar with before. Can you tell us a bit about the employee networks including the new network that is just starting.

Lorna: Absolutely. We’ve got three employee networks at the moment and then this new one is due to launch at the beginning of 2017. The longest running network is a network called OpenHouse. That forum works for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender colleagues and straight allies, we set that network up about 4 or 5 years ago and it does lots of things like helping us put policies in place, reviewing existing policies to make sure they’re LGBT friendly. They put on events and they’re obviously there as a point of contact for our LGBT colleagues to talk in confidence, if they want to talk about anything. That is OpenHouse.

We’ve also got a disability and wellbeing network and that’s called Enable. A lot of their work is around raising awareness of issues, encouraging people to reach out if they are struggling in any way and they put on events as well. Earlier this year Enable put together a series of events, mental health awareness week in the UK and we’ve just been working with that network to launch some new initiatives for World Mental Health Day which was on the 10th of October. They’re a very busy network as well.

The last of three existing networks is, and last but not least, is More Women and that network really puts on fantastic events that are there to encourage networking in itself and they’re there to probe the issues around progression of women in the Firm. We have done quite a few events called “View from the Top” and that originally was an idea that came from a trainee. In those events we will put on a panel of senior women and men to share their stories and give people at any level of the Firm a chance to ask some really probing questions about what it’s really like and what their journey has been like.

The network, More Women, is currently working on an exhibition that is going to take place in November this year and that is called “Inspiring Women” and that is going to feature pictures and quotes from lots of female partners and senior non-lawyers. I guess the clue is in the title, it’s called “Inspiring Women” and the great thing is that we are not focusing just on women from the UK part of the Firm but we’ve got Paris and Munich and we have a couple of Canadian partners in there as well. We’ve really tried to be joined up about that.

The new network that we are launching in January is a network called “Family Matters” and they’re going to be putting on events all around issues that so many of us have in common. Whether it is children or caring for elderly relatives or relatives with disabilities or long term medical conditions. What has struck us is how common these issues are. It affects so many of our people and we think there is a huge overlap between Family Matters and the work that is being done by the existing networks so we are really excited about it because we think there is lots of opportunity to have joined up working and joined up events that will appeal to even more people by bringing the networks together.

Roberto: I really thought Family Matters is interesting because, you can correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is somebody came over from another organization and had experience with a similar network and said “Hey, why don’t you have this?”

Lorna: Exactly that. It was someone who, he is not a lawyer, he works in our business development team, but he had co-chaired an equivalent network at one of the big banks. I think it was HSBC and so he came along with stacks of experience. To say that we were excited was an understatement. It was like “What a brilliant idea. We’ve got someone who knows what they are doing and has the appetite to run with it” and as with all the other networks it is really important that they are not led by partners, necessarily, to empower someone, say “Yup, run with it. We’ll give you the budget, we’ll give you the support and let’s get it going pretty quickly” so, yes, it has been an exciting move for us.

Roberto: For those of our listeners who are Gowling WLG staff, lawyers, students, again, we do want to hear your ideas. We do want to have those discussions. We do want to have our diversity champions. Let that be an example of the kind of thing that we certainly want to hear more about and push forward. What contributions do the networks make to the Firm’s diversity and inclusion agenda, Lorna?

Lorna: Oh gosh, I’d say really massively positive contributions. If you are going to have a really inclusive agenda that’s got to be a mixture of top-down ideas and initiatives but also bottom-up and I think that the networks, they really are at the forefront of the bottom-up bit of the combination, if you can put it that way, deliberately we make sure that they are chaired by a mixture of lawyers and non-lawyers, and not by partners, and very much we’re keen to make sure that stops us as a central team second guessing what the issues might be. Let’s hear it from the people who this is their life so we are not second guessing and it just helps us prioritize what needs to be done and how we should be doing it so we couldn’t really manage without them. They are invaluable.

Sarah: It sounds like these networks and the initiatives that the Firm are putting into place touch on a lot of issues that would be faced by a number of different industries but obviously the legal industry is relatively unique, in particularly with respect to diversity and inclusion. It’s been a very traditional industry. It’s very slow progressing or traditionally has been. What unique challenges do you see in your experience with the legal industry just in its uniqueness?

Lorna: I guess if I had to pick out a couple I would say one would be the stigma around mental health and the other one would be definitely the challenge of getting more women up to the top of the profession. The mental health way, you could say that “Well, that’s kind of universal isn’t it?” There is a stigma across the board. People are still reluctant to talk about mental health but I think for the legal profession, you know this is a profession that is known for not being too emotional or open about feelings, and so I think it is a profession where it can be challenging for people to open up.

That’s why we are deliberately trying to make a lot of noise, if I can put it that way, around mental health and we are starting to have people who will tell their stories to help people understand if they are experiencing a mental health problem which is very common. 1 in 4 people will have a mental health problem at some stage. That they are not on their own, that it is okay to talk about it and it is okay to ask for help and they can get help. I think that is a particular challenge to the legal industry. I’d like to say, Sarah, that just traditional nature of the industry, that’s a barrier towards people coming forward and we have to get that barrier down.

Then the gender issue that is unique to the legal profession. I think it is particularly acute because of the partnership structure which you just don’t get in other industries. But having said that I suppose there are plenty of other industries, you know, you can look at construction and engineering and that sort of thing. They definitely have their own challenges about representation of women. I was reading something about the IT industry. I think yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, marking a pioneering woman in the IT sector and you look at an amazing brand name, the very biggest IT companies, most still really struggling to get women into the sector full stop, never mind into lead ship position. We’ve got our own challenges but plenty of other industries do too.

Roberto: We’ve gone through a combination this year with Wragge Lawrence Graham and Gowlings coming together and you are seeing it. What impact has this had on diversity and inclusion?

Lorna: A huge impact. I’d say all for the positive, I really would. From day one the minute the combination had been announced we started having conversations, reaching out, finding out who was doing what and one of the great things was we really realized how very much in tune with each other in recognizing what we need to do and we are learning from each other. I’m a really big fan of borrowing other people’s ideas and that’s been happening already so, thank you Canada for all your great ideas.

Roberto: We steal your ideas as well.

Sarah: That’s what I was going to say. I think the Canadian office and the UK office, it was a natural fit. Even having been in the Birmingham office and having the opportunity to work in the London office, the culture is very similar to the Canadian offices, which is really nice but of course we have offices all over the world. What sort of unique challenges does that present for you. I know your job would include working with those various offices and there are obviously going to be cultural differences. What challenges have you seen?

Lorna: It can present challenges on two levels, I guess. One is just the different sizes of the offices. We have large offices in Canada, the UK and maybe France, Munich, places like that. But actually other offices may not have the critical mass that we do. That is one of the challenges, a practical challenge, how to make sure that you’re resonating with a small team. But I think the wider challenge at heart, really, is recognizing the different cultures and the different legal regimes in different countries. You’ve got to respect those but at the same time we are very clear as an organization, Gowling WLG, our approach to inclusion which is at the heart of it, the fundamental principal, everyone should be free to be themselves, feel safe, feel supported and able to thrive in this work environment. No matter who they are, that’s a global value.

The challenge is finding something that gets that balance right between the local law and cultures and our global values. It’s also got to be something that resonates with people wherever they are and coming back to the size of the office, we’ve got to make that relevant to them as well. I’m not sure if we have cracked it, I’m not sure we are getting perfectly right every time but we’re very much alive to it. I guess a recent example of that would be where we held an inclusion week earlier in 2016 and we looked at a number of different streams of work each day during that week, agenda, disability, LGBT for example. In the UK, Sarah you will have noticed this, a lot of us wear lanyards, you’ve seen those ribbon things that go around your neck. They hold your security pass. Those lanyards in the UK, they feature the Gowling WLG logo and they’ve got the rainbow colours and they’re there to show that when you wear them you say “Well, I’m either LGBT or I’m an ally” so in other words you are heterosexual but are making a visible demonstration that you stand up for LGBT rights and you will respect and support your LGBT colleagues. That is very straight forward and pretty not much an issue in the UK. But we have to respect those different regimes elsewhere in the world.

We wanted to share the concept and the principal of those rainbow lanyards across all of our offices globally. We knew that though in some of the jurisdictions that would be out of kilter with the law or the just the cultural norms so what we did, we had a second design of lanyards in our corporate colours and they stated “Inclusion Ally”. No direct reference to LGBT. It was a safe way but a very clear way for our people to show their support. No rainbows but getting the inclusion message across.

Roberto: Does the international presence, does that provide opportunities as well?

Lorna: Yes, absolutely. Both the UK and Canadian offices have been marking in the key dates in the calendars so International Women’s Day, World Mental Health Day, which we just had, which was also incidentally Canadian Thanksgiving so, belated Happy Thanksgiving to all our Canadian colleagues. I hope that you had a lovely day and ate lots of turkey.

To pick up on another example to do with sexual orientation earlier this year we were in dialogue with you guys in Canada and we learned about the Day of Pink which is a day widely marked in Canada, obviously to wear pink and show solidarity with our LGBT friends and colleagues. We just loved that idea and it is one of those that we borrowed. We ran with it in the UK. We asked our charitable trust to donate a pound (£) for every person that wore something pink. The interesting thing for us is that we promoted that on our UK intranet. That reaches all of the other Gowling WLG offices, apart from Canada, and colleagues in other offices, including those in countries where homosexuality or promotion of it might be unlawful. They were sending us pictures of themselves wearing pink and then what that led to was Stonewall, a really respective LGBT rights organization here in the UK. They were reaching out for companies to share best practice in different countries, so they heard about our Day of Pink and that is going to be used as a case study. It’s going to help other organizations in other countries. There is lots going on but I guess to answer your question, yes, there is definitely more that we can do and we need to do to reach out to every single one of the smaller offices in particular on the inclusion agenda.

Roberto: The Day of Pink is always a really good time. Just wearing pink is such an easy thing to do but you can have a lot of fun with it. I’m sure in a future episode we’ll dig a little bit deeper into what is the International Day of Pink and where did it come from and all of that. I know for our Council, when we formalized our Council, that was our first event, the Day of Pink. It is so visible and fun. Pink cupcakes and pink jelly beans.

Sarah: Who doesn’t love that?

Lorna: I was looking at a picture online today because we are hosting an event with Stonewall tonight and I was looking through some old pictures and there is a picture from colleagues in China. One of them clearly has forgotten to wear pink so he stuck a pink post-it-note onto his forehead.

Sarah: That’s creative.

Lorna: Absolutely in the spirit of it, he looked ridiculous but all for a very good cause.

Sarah: Yes, that’s fantastic.

Roberto: Lorna, I Retweeted my pink selfie picture at the beginning of the day as to be one of the Gowling WLG’s twitters so that is always a big moment for me. You were practicing as a corporate lawyer. Why did you make the transition into this role?

Lorna: Oh gosh, I was a corporate lawyer for 14 years and so that is a big change for me. But I think there is a push and a pull for every big decision and definitely was the biggest decision I have made in my career. I guess for me the push bit was, you know, 14 years of practicing corporate law it was just starting to leave me personally a little bit cold. I’ve done it for so long. The pull was I was really interested in doing something with a wider purpose, more of a social purpose and I started to look at the charitable sector, something that was really motivating me. But I wasn’t absolutely sure that I could personally cope in the charitable sector. I really like being in the business world. But then you throw in luck or fate, just being in the right place at the right time.

While I was having those thought processes in my head our senior partner announced that he was looking for someone senior to take on our responsible business agenda and pull together all our community work, environment and people collaborating with others. It just seemed like a perfect fit for what I wanted to do and happily it seemed to be a perfect for the Firm as I’m still doing it 10 years later. I am really lucky. It’s like I got a second career but within the same organization. I love working here. I definitely used to get a buzz when I was a corporate lawyer and you would see one of your deals on the front page of the Financial Times the next morning and think “Ya, I did that” but there really is no comparison. My job satisfaction is just off the scale. Whether it’s the people, agenda or community work where literally you’re seeing people’s lives being changed, it’s the best job in the Firm I think and it’s a privilege, it’s a real treat to do it. I love my job. Can you tell?

Sarah: Yes, that’s great though. Thank you so much for being here with us today Lorna to share your experiences and the initiatives that Gowling WLG have been involved in and I know that if our listeners are looking for more information you have a Twitter account that they can follow you at.

Lorna: I do, yes. It is @lornagavin1. I do Tweet a lot about what I do as it’s very Tweet worthy and it’s a nice way to get the message out about what I’m doing day to day.

Sarah: Perfect. Fantastic. This has been an episode of Diversonomics. Again, if you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for topics and guests please look us up at gowlingwlg.com and get in touch with us. We are happy to hear from you. Also make sure to check out the show notes for this episode at gowlingwlg.com/diversonomics3. Last but not least make sure to subscribe to us on iTunes so you don’t ever miss an episode. While you are it leave us a review and let us know what you think.

Roberto: You can also follow me on Twitter @robaburto. Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG and produced by Jessica Bowman with special assistance from Sam Bailey and Gowling WLG UK. Until next time, be brave and be inclusive.

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