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Recap: The importance of culture and leadership – in conversation with I. Stephanie Boyce, President of the Law Society

An organisation’s culture – the behaviours, values and practices that shape the everyday experiences of its staff – is key to a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. Simply employing people from a variety of backgrounds does not guarantee an inclusive culture, but what steps can you take to ensure that everyone feels valued and supported in your organisation?

In our latest masterclass we explored the importance of culture and leadership in building socio-economic inclusion within an organisation, including how organisations can develop a culture that fosters inclusion, and the role that colleagues at all levels play in driving action and change across their organisation.

We were joined by I. Stephanie Boyce, President of the Law Society, who shared her insights into what works well, as well as what she sees as the challenges that employers face in building an inclusive culture.

1. Be a visible advocate for inclusion

We often hear organisations saying that they want employees to ‘bring their whole selves to work’, but this requires a high level of trust in senior leaders. In many cases, while an organisation may say all the right things about their commitment to diversity and inclusion, employees don’t see tangible evidence of this.

As well as making sure that social mobility is prioritised in your business strategy, are you committing time and resources to diversity and inclusion (D&I) work?

Work led by volunteers can be unsustainable and often leads to burnout for the staff from marginalised groups who take on these additional responsibilities. A clear indication that your organisation is committed to creating an inclusive culture is to allocate budget to D&I work, whether by hiring staff for a dedicated D&I team, or ensuring that those doing this work alongside other roles are compensated for it.

It’s also essential to have an open discussion about diversity. It can be awkward to talk about class, whatever your background, but by normalising the conversation you create a culture of trust which encourages people to thrive. The Social Mobility Commission’s ‘Let’s Talk About Class’ resource can help you get started.

2. Involve your staff

When people understand what role they play in increasing social mobility in their organisation, and how they are part of the journey, everyone benefits.

“Start by asking yourself some key questions,” says Stephanie. “Do your staff know what your organisational social mobility goals are? Are your staff part of the discussion around social mobility? Can they see themselves contributing to change?” 

One key thing that that you can do to ensure staff feel involved is to put in place robust staff survey and feedback mechanisms, to ensure that staff at all levels have a variety of channels to share their insights and feedback with senior leaders. This could be through meetings, online surveys, or even an anonymous suggestions box.

Whatever systems you put in place though, make sure that they aren’t the end of your communications about diversity and inclusion! Ensure that you let people know what you’re going to do with their feedback – will you act on it or not? Why? By keeping people informed and involved in the conversation, you will create a more inclusive culture across your organisation.

3. Assess routes to progression

While your organisation may have an increasingly diverse workforce, it’s not just about getting more people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in, but about creating an environment where they can progress.

Stephanie points out that there often seems to be a lack of transparency about progression routes – while many organisations have a policy around progression, there can be a gap between what should happen, and what it seems actually does happen.

Are there certain topics which dominate conversation in some of your teams? Often these revolve around activities such as people’s hobbies and holidays which can be isolating for more junior staff members from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who might not feel they have much to contribute, or have not had the same shared experiences. This makes it harder for junior employees to speak up, causing them to miss out on making connections with other employees.

Similarly, consider how you do business with clients. Stephanie highlights a recent Law Gazette article about the drinking culture at legal events and its negative effects on the ability of those who don’t drink to network and advance their careers. Does your organisation have a tendency to focus on certain types of socialising, which may exclude those who don’t want to, or can’t afford to participate? Try varying the environments in which you socialise and network, both within your organisation and with clients, to ensure everyone has the chance to build connections.

4. Utilise staff networks

Staff networks can be a crucial way of bridging the gap between senior leaders and the rest of the organisation, enabling clear communication and getting the voices of more junior staff heard. They can act as champions for D&I across all teams.

Groups for those who share a particular identity can help you to reach all corners of your organisation, and encourage staff to share their thoughts. These staff networks provide a safe space for employees to share ideas which matter to them, and can then act as a conduit to convey these messages to senior leaders.

Stephanie emphasises that it’s crucial that these staff networks be open to employees across all areas of your organisation. When speaking to organisations as President of the Law Society she encourages them to invite anyone who wants to listen – “aspiring solicitors can be found in your cleaning staff, in the post room, in the canteen!”

For more information on how to build a staff network, CIPD has created some useful guidance.

5. Be smart about flexible working

The way we work has changed fundamentally since the pandemic, and we’re now seeing a variety of approaches with some employers fully embracing hybrid working, and others calling for a complete return to the office. Remote working can provide a range of benefits for inclusion, allowing you to access a wider pool of talent. However, it also poses some challenges, especially around building work relationships, which plays a big part in forming an organisation’s culture.

Stephanie suggests a few things that you can do to help get a good balance.

  • Try out occasional ‘team days’ whether in the office or another location, where everyone gets together in person to build relationships.
  • Make sure you’re making the best possible use of technology – consider how you can be more collaborative online, and substitute what may previously have been ‘over the shoulder’ training.
  • Assign a ‘secondary supervisor’ to junior staff – a named person they can go to if their main manager isn’t in the office so they always have someone to learn from.
  • Make sure that you are asking for and putting in place accessibility requirements for online meetings.
  • Consider how you’re remaining engaged in online meetings. While sometimes it’s not possible to switch your camera on due to internet issues, it can be helpful to see people face to face to build connections.

She also points out that it’s important to remember that remote does not necessarily mean flexible – supporting flexibility in working hours and styles is also key to an inclusive culture.


Final thoughts

Responding to a question from the audience about the benefits of increasing social mobility, Stephanie says “We know it’s not just a moral imperative, it makes business sense to have diversity of thought, of character… When you have diversity in your businesses, those businesses are more productive, they’re more profitable.”

Creating a truly inclusive culture in your organisation ensures that where merit exists it is recognised. It enables all your staff to demonstrate their skills and talents, and ensures they aren’t held back by invisible barriers, all of which is good for them, and good for your business!

Want to start the conversation about culture in your workplace? Visit our resource guide ‘Let’s talk about Class’ on our resources page.