Diversity metrics: Are we measuring what truly matters?
We talk to Bola Gibson, Head of Responsible Business at Osborne Clarke about initiatives like the 10,000 Black Interns Program and Inclusion Allies, the need for evidence-based approaches and expectations of increased focus on social mobility, disability, and age inclusion in 2024.
How has Osborne Clarke’s strategy for D&I evolved?
Sustaining an inclusive culture and increasing diversity within our firm are central to our 2025 business strategy. We want our company to be a great place to work and a great firm for our clients to work with. We’ve recently updated our D&I vision, targets, and actions, and we’re starting to see progress. Not only are we seeing positive movement on representation, but also being recognised by external indices for our LGBTQ+ and social mobility work and delivering against our Race and Gender Action Plans – we’re starting to translate aspiration into measurable change.
That being said, we are under no illusion that the job is done. In this space, change can be volatile and short-lived, so we can’t ever rest on our laurels and our approach to D&I continually evolves. For example, we’ve rearticulated our vision to move towards ‘equity’ as a means to achieving equality, allowing us to acknowledge the unique challenges of each individual rather than trying to be blind to our differences.
We’ve also moved to focus on key principles which will drive our D&I activity and enable us to identify and prioritise focus areas over the long term in order to deliver that vision. Data is vital in measuring the effectiveness of any given strategy. So, we’ve put in place robust measurement systems such as the Pirical platform, to enable us to track performance and take action to improve it.
Osborne Clarke has had some great initiatives including the 10,000 Black Intern Programme to Inclusion Allies programme launch and a reverse mentoring programme. Can you tell us more about these?
Our Race Action Plan set out key focus areas in response to carefully scrutinising our data. Recruitment was identified as a significant factor for us, hence growing our investments in this area to bring in early-stage ethnic minority talent through programmes like #10000 Black Interns.
For the second year running, we welcomed 12 students for a six-week internship in legal and business services teams, with client placements, mentoring and more. It’s one way we are working to broaden our talent pool and improve access to the legal sector and other professional services businesses for groups traditionally underrepresented in the industry.
Our data and feedback from colleagues also showed us that our colleagues have the motivation and intent to support our D&I activities but are unsure of how to turn this into action – that’s why we established the Inclusion Allies programme. With over 400 colleagues currently signed up for the programme, it runs on a continuous cycle of monthly hour-long sessions hosted by expert facilitators delving into topics covering our six strands of diversity. We’ve covered everyday sexism, intersectionality, LGBTQ+ inclusion and many more.
By equipping participants with the tools and knowledge to become active allies, the programme empowers our people to take meaningful action to support peers, colleagues and team members to proactively drive an inclusive culture.
It’s often said that a culture of inclusivity starts from the top. Our Reverse Mentoring, and other leadership engagement programmes, lean into this notion. Understanding and empathy among our partners and senior leaders of issues affecting under-represented groups is important in breaking down barriers and instigating real cultural change in a business.
First spearheaded by our race and ethnicity network in 2021, we’re now in our third year and have expanded the programme across all six diversity strands to also include gender, social mobility, LGBTQ+, disability and age.
What are the main challenges you have come up against promoting D&I and how did you overcome them?
I’ve identified three challenges that I’m certain many businesses are facing: fear, capacity and evidence.
Being afraid of saying the wrong thing or simply not knowing what to say is often cited as the thing that holds people back from engaging. The consequence generally is that we choose to keep our distance. We must break down this barrier, open up the conversation and work to both educate ourselves and broaden our perspectives.
Our Inclusion Allies programme, leadership education series and reverse mentoring programme are all initiatives we’ve implemented to help combat this fear.
Our fee-earners and business services colleagues have busy schedules with deadlines to meet and targets to hit. Making time to support our programmes is a challenge, as it is in most businesses. Understanding D&I through a business priority lens, and not just a ‘good to do’, is the first step.
It has to mean something to the business (reduced attrition rates, increased creativity, better employee engagement and well-being). If we can show the connection between D&I and the positive outcomes on everyday performance, and ultimately, the business, we can start to value D&I and build the capacity we need to deliver on it.
Often the challenge lies in making a coherent business case for D&I initiatives.
Lawyers like detail. Our data-driven approach to D&I has been critical in gaining partner buy-in. Led by the evidence, we can establish where progress is still to be made and in turn, set ambitious objectives and guide our actions.
What needs to change to increase diversity in business?
There’s no doubt that understanding and accepting that our own privilege and bias exist is fundamental. But we must also acknowledge the systemic disadvantages faced by underrepresented groups in our business.
Many people still think that diversity is driven by the actions of the individual but ultimately it lies in challenging and evolving our existing structures.
Businesses need to scrutinise their systems – how they recruit, how they create policies and set meaningful targets, what actions they take to promote an inclusive workplace and how they invest in developing culturally competent and consciously inclusive management.
Only then can we collectively shift the narrative.
What are the business benefits of having a diverse and inclusive office culture?
Our workplaces should reflect the diversity of today’s labour market. We’re all different and have something unique to bring to the table. It’s a business asset to secure a diversity of skills, experiences and approaches to innovation and problem-solving.
Equally, we all want to be treated fairly and equitably. We want to be our authentic selves at work but feel included and belong. It’s only then we can reach our full potential. And when we succeed, the business succeeds.
How can companies create a more inclusive environment for employees from diverse backgrounds?
Education is vital. We must shed our fear and learn to see and then challenge the things that aren’t delivering inclusion and diversity in our businesses.
If we provide our leaders and employees with the knowledge and tools to become active allies, we can create that inclusive environment, without which we will struggle to reap the benefits.
What do you expect D&I in the workplace to look like in 2024?
Gender and race equality will remain top of the boardroom D&I agenda, but I think we will continue to see increasing scrutiny of social mobility, disability and age inclusion and diversity in businesses.
When looking forward, we can’t ignore the tumultuous external narrative, from gender vs sex-based rights to racial and ethnic minority equality. These current tensions inevitably seep into the workplace and sometimes feel in conflict with what businesses are trying to achieve.
In spite of these challenges, my outlook is optimistic. Businesses remain incredibly progressive, looking to support our people so they can perform at their best when they’re with us. I would expect companies to continue pushing the boundaries in the D&I space as they see the positive outcomes and reap the rewards.