Targeting Diversity

Leana Coopoosamy-Pearson is a diversity and inclusion practitioner at the global law firm Clifford Chance. In this conversation we discussed how the firm uses data to set specific but nuanced targets and how they never rest on their laurels when the goal is reached.

I met Leana Coopoosamy-Pearson many years ago when I was working at Deloitte. Leana was working for another diversity and inclusion advisory company, and Deloitte was one of her clients. Since then, she’s moved to become a diversity and inclusion practitioner within the global law firm Clifford Chance.

I was looking forward to picking Leana’s brains about her work at Clifford Chance, particularly on the importance of setting diversity and inclusion targets and how to go about that. We started with Leana talking about her role at Clifford Chance.

‘My role at Clifford Chance is inclusion and well-being manager with a UK remit. I worked in recruitment for about five years in a resource management role. In this role, I got involved in lots of the affinity networks and started to see a lot of the work that was being done around inclusion and diversity. I realised I was interested in this area. I then moved into a consultancy, which is where I met you, Toby, as one of my clients. The work was with different clients on D&I. I liked the variety, but I couldn’t see the end of a project through if they were to come up with a new initiative or see any of the strategy side. With that in mind, I thought if I wanted to be working in this field, I needed to be getting in an in-house role to see how I could be involved in some of that direct change. That’s what led me to Clifford Chance.’

I know that at Clifford Chance Leana has done a lot around setting targets. I asked her why it’s important for businesses to set diversity and inclusion targets and why Clifford Chance decided to set targets for itself?

‘With all the discussion around targets and quotas in the inclusion and diversity area, I think it’s important to understand that targets work when they’re considered as a strategic intervention, there for a specific reason at a specific time.

A constant bugbear of mine is when there is a lack of timeframe for achieving a target. Without that, it feels difficult to hold yourself accountable for the measurements that you’re taking. It’s part of the bigger intervention around what we want to do and the change we are driving. It allows you to create that focus on delivering an objective but within a given timeframe. Once you reach that target, it shouldn’t be, “Oh, we’ve completely dropped that target.” It should be, “Okay, where do we redefine this? What does the data look like and what can we do next? So I’d say it’s strategic to have targets. It allows you to drive your strategy, but also be accountable for the changes that you’re looking to make.’

I was curious to find out more about how Clifford Chance sets targets for different levels of the organisation. With lots of people joining the firm as graduates or new legal professionals and well-established partners in the business, I asked Leana how the targets work across the different grades?

Everything needs to be tailored when you have these approaches. One size doesn’t fit all when we talk about the UK, or globally, so data has been critical in identifying the gaps. We have targets because we have areas that lack representation when we think about the diversity characteristics. These are specific, enabling us to increase our representation in those areas that where we have issues. The targets cover different grades because that’s what the data has shown us.

We have a great analytics team internally that have been doing this for years meaning we look at the different needs and challenges that we have at different grades. With regards to promotion levels and specifically gender or ethnicity, we’ve been able to understand where we need to improve on that representation. It also feeds into thinking about the pipeline for more senior roles.’

My next question was how Leana brings it alive for people at different grades. Setting targets for the senior-level must be very different to setting targets at that more junior-level?

‘Absolutely. When we talk about inclusion, for many of us who are in this field of work, it would be lovely if everybody knew that they need to play a part in driving change. The reality is unless I understand what it means for me, why do I need to be involved in inclusion and diversity? The way we’re trying to make it real throughout the firm is to create inclusion action plans for each practice area, for each department. My work has been with many of the directors and some of the partners at the firm to show them what their data looks like as a snapshot. From the outset, you’re able to see where there may be gaps or a lack of representation. We can then figure out what their focus area is going to be for the next year and then look at an inclusion action plan that is focused on our global inclusion strategy. That strategy is to change the rules, change the culture and change lived experience. By having that consistent approach across the firm we keep it simple.

Sometimes we just need to bring it back to basics and think about what are the key things that we want to achieve within the next year, and how do we go about doing so. One of the steps that we made was to create inclusion objectives across the firm, and again, this is tailored to different levels. Like you said, you can’t expect a senior leader to have the same objectives as an assistant or coordinator within the firm. So those are some of the ways that we’re trying to make it real at those different levels.’

I asked Leana how Clifford Chance set targets globally since there are different data collection rules around the world with varied legislation.

‘It’s a hot topic for our industry around the global piece. It’s so tricky at the regional level I think it can put people off even starting to attempt the work. If we take an example around ethnicity. In the UK, it is very different from Singapore. We place the global focus at the top end, and then as it filters down, we look at what are the regional drivers and changes that we want to make. It will always come down to data and looking at representation across different areas, but specifically understanding the problems and the challenges in different regions and the nuances for each of the diversity characteristics. All the regional approaches need to add up to the global approach that you have.’

Talking to a lot of my clients, one of their biggest frustrations is lacking data about the diversity of their workforce, which then prevents them from being able to set meaningful targets and objectives. I know that Leana ran a self-identifying or self-ID campaign. I was curious to find out more about that campaign and what has been learned from that process?

‘In the UK, we focused on a campaign called six reasons why. The campaign was six videos that we produced, answering questions that people had that came up, so kind of myth-busting. For example, if you said, “I don’t know what you do with my data” we’d have a video explaining what we do. These videos went out but unfortunately because of the timing, just before we went into lockdown, it was harder to keep the momentum going. We want to think about how we can revamp this campaign, but the successes that we’ve had is that it is critical to understanding and achieving buy-in from your people and understanding the reasons that people don’t feel comfortable sharing their data. I think we need to do more work explaining that and how that’s linked to the wider strategy.

It’s easy for us to say from an inclusion team perspective, we need your data because it helps us with your strategy, but as an employee, I want to know, could you give me an example of where that has actually happened. It needs to be based on why you’re asking for it and getting the questions right, otherwise, it can set back that entire campaign.

It’s really important to understand what people’s motivations are for maybe not sharing and trying to unpack that. We did that with our affinity groups and came to the understanding that maybe there are specific differences within minority groups themselves as to how they answer questions and how they feel about sharing their data.

You’re tapping on the door of success when you get the people that aren’t typically involved in those activities and reaching people who maybe had reservations about sharing their data before. I’ve had some honest conversations at the firm, just changing people’s mindsets around why we do this, and what our longer-term goal is. From another success perspective, we’ve hit our LGBT target already in the UK. That’s one year in. And that’s mainly down to the self ID campaign. But like I said before, that doesn’t mean that okay, we’re done.

Now we think, “Okay, what should be more ambitious about that target?” So those are some early successes from targets. The successes we don’t celebrate are the ones where it’s just those simple conversations that you have with people or when a mindset has been changed. I feel in the longer term, those are things that we do need to think about, because and I hate to say that cheesy phrase of bringing people along on that journey, but that is the important piece for the vision that you have.’

We moved on to discuss what Leana has in store at the firm on the D&I agenda, given that it is a never-ending piece of work.

‘I think we want to be doing more when we think about intersectionality and I think fundamentally, it’s about leadership owning the responsibility across the board. Inclusion, as a team, we’re here to support on delivering the targets, but in reality, the firm and the leadership team will be delivering on the target. The ownership piece that filters down to everybody is important. I still think we have a lot of work to do around the middle population. I think there’s a lot more work we can do specifically with line managers and how we make it real for them.

We’ve been great at looking at the data. But there’s more of that strategy piece now and asking how we hold ourselves accountable. And how do we measure lots of brilliant things that we’re doing like reverse mentoring. At the moment, it’s focused around senior leaders, but that’s something that we can get more people involved in the firm because there’s such rich learning that we’ve seen across the board.’

We rounded up with the question I ask all my guests, ‘What does inclusive growth mean to you?’

Leana told me she had given it some thought from a legal industry perspective. ‘When it comes to inclusion, many people say, oh, we’re far behind. And to some respect we are, but in other areas, I think we’re innovative in some of the things that we’re doing. For me, inclusive growth is moving to a mindset where everything we do has inclusion at the heart. That’s how we make decisions, how we pick our client teams, how we run appraisal processes, even informally, so who do we offer to take to drinks? For me, that would be growth because it will be embedded in people’s minds around inclusion. When you start to get people that actively think about the decisions they make on an everyday basis, that, to me, is inclusive growth.’

Whilst we were talking Leana, also wanted to flag an initiative she’s working on to address the lack of representation within the baby industry for new mums. This came about when Leana was doing a maternity present for a colleague at Clifford Chance. She realised that the expectant mum didn’t see themselves in many of the products or books so she set up a business called Nigella Boutique. It produces ‘Mama to be hampers, but specifically supports Black and ethnically diverse businesses’. As Leana was keen to point out, ‘From an inclusion perspective there’s still more to do because right now it’s focused on new mums, but we know, there are parents of all genders. That’s something that I want to look at in the future, but let’s just say my day job has kept me very busy!’ For more details check out Nigella Boutique’s Instagram profile or website.

To get in touch with Leana Coopoosamy-Pearson about her D&I work, reach out on LinkedIn.

Targeting Diversity - Mildon