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Veröffentlicht am 30.06.2023

Diversity & Inclusion Management - an integral part of Simmons & Simmons

Sophia, you work in the international diversity and inclusion (D&I) management at Simmons & Simmons. How significant is diversity for companies?

In recent years, D&I Management has become an essential part of organizations. Companies have acknowledged the fact that Diversity Management is not a nice to have, but a must-have, especially if you want to attract and retain the best talent. Several international studies have shown that a diverse workforce is more innovative and better in the decision-making process. This has positive effects on the culture, profitability, and growth. And it just makes it more fun to work with people with diverse backgrounds! Simmons realized this already years ago: we have Diversity and Non-Discrimination Policies in place and have a dedicated D&I team based in London, which has now grown with my newly created position in Düsseldorf, Germany.


You have a dedicated department for this topic. How did that come about?

Our commitment to improving diversity and fostering a greater sense of inclusion is a strategic and critical issue for the firm. We specifically focus our inclusion efforts on several areas; including LGBT+ inclusion and gender, where we aim to improve gender diversity across the firm and the representation of women in partnership and senior management roles. Having a dedicated department working on how to implement strategic decisions, benchmarking, and applying for external awards are just some of our tasks as a D&I team. With my position in Germany, the team is growing and aiming to broaden the context outside of the UK. It is important to mention that we have nine diversity networks that play a key role in shaping our workplace culture. They provide a platform and create an opportunity for us to learn about our unique perspectives and celebrate our differences. Diversity networks facilitate internal networking across teams, functions, and locations within the firm.


What are your key D&I issues, and how do you address them?

In Germany, one of our key issues is gender diversity in management and partner roles. In comparison to other European countries and the UK, the number of women in management levels is significantly lower (as in many other law firms in Germany). We have identified the gap and are addressing it together with our leadership team and our female colleagues in a very open discussion. We as a firm want to offer the best circumstances and support for future female leaders to develop themselves through mentoring programs or networking with other female leaders from other countries. Our role modeling format from UK partners is very successful.


At Simmons & Simmons, you have an Annual Diversity Audit. What is that about?

We measure the effectiveness of our diversity & inclusion initiatives in several different ways. The Diversity Audit is one of them, and for Germany, we can say with pride that we are frontrunners in running the audit. We gather anonymous data which tells us how the composition of our workforce is changing year-on-year. Currently, we’re in the process of running the latest audit across the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Asia, and the Middle East. This Audit is voluntary, but we see an increasing demand for D&I topics from our workforce, and answering the Audit questions helps us to better understand the needs of our colleagues. This year, we included a question about neurodiversity. Based on the results, we have recently implemented special IT support for our colleagues with dyslexia. As a firm, we are committed to supporting our colleagues to be the authentic version of themselves at work.


You have also launched your own "LGBTIQ+ history month" in March 2023. What can we imagine by that? Please describe the event for us.

First observed in 1994 in the US, LGBT+ History Month is now also celebrated in Hungary, the UK, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Greenland, and the city of Berlin. As an international firm, we take this opportunity to celebrate our global commitment to LGBT+ equality. Ensuring our colleagues feel represented also reflects our business strategy to become a next-generation law firm. Established over 15 years ago, our international LGBT+ network provides our colleagues with visible role models and access to others with shared experiences. The network is an advisory board for developing our policies and processes and supports collaboration with our clients on shared priorities.


You were able to get Stuart Cameron as a guest speaker. With his UHLALA Group, he advises companies on creating an open and appreciative environment for LGBTIQ+ people. What do you think are his most important statements?

Simmons has been the first international law firm present at (what is today) Europe´s biggest LGBT+ fair, the Sticks and Stones. Stuart Cameron and Sascha Kuhn, our partner in Düsseldorf and Co-Chair of the International LGBT+ Network, have known each other for more than 10 years. Sascha has been engaged in the work on equal rights for the queer community at the firm, and Stuart has been a great sparring partner for us to evolve our LGBT+ strategy at the firm. He recently hosted a global session for Simmons international offices with a focus on "Why is LGBT+ important in the workplace", a session for queer and straight colleagues. The most important statements are: 1. You need a bottom-up approach in order to have successful diversity management. This is the reason why networks are so important. 2. LGBT+ inclusion is a topic for everyone, not only LGBT+ colleagues: it is important to create a safe environment so that colleagues can share their private life openly. If a straight colleague is sharing their weekend plans with their family, a queer person should feel the same confidence to share that they spent the weekend with their same-sex partner. 3. Allyship is crucial: to achieve diversity goals- and this applies to all diversity dimensions, not only LGBT+ - we need strong allies who educate themselves and speak up when they see/hear microaggressions.

What do you take away directly from your company from such events?

We are very pleased to see the increasing interest and acceptance of the importancy of these events. Colleagues from all management levels and roles educate themselves on topics they might not be affected directly but indirectly in a society where we live. We create safe spaces where we can engage across our networks and firmwide via our internal training academy "stars". We connect with colleagues and ideally bring up fresh ideas on future initiatives. The most important message of these events is that everyone can be involved. The educational piece is very important and so is the fun piece. Ideally, we run sessions with serious topics but make digestible events out of them with a good sense of humor that appeals to everyone.


The legal profession is still considered to be rather conservative. Is that a prejudice, or is there something to it? If so, what should change?

Compared to other industries, the legal industry can be still considered as very conservative. But we already see changes. At Simmons, we want to become a next- generation law firm where Diversity and Inclusion plays a crucial role. Also, topics such as mental health and health for women and men are important to talk about. We want to create a safe space where our colleagues bring their best selves to work and feel that they belong to our culture. Hierarchies are kept low, and we encourage everyone to bring up their ideas and collaborate actively to create a better future. What should change is society’s acceptance of female management roles, especially female partners. We are working actively on challenging the status quo. We know that there is still a long way to go, but we are actively working on changing the mindset.     


How will Simmons & Simmons continue on the topic of D&I? What are your next plans and aims?

We have ambitious plans for the near future in regard to D&I at Simmons. By creating the role of D&I Manager in Germany, we ensure a closer connection to the global team and with this apply a global approach, taking into consideration local needs. Some events are "Social Mobility in the Law Sector" for the German Diversity Day, a global LGBT+ Recruiting workshop, and the Stonewall submission as an LGBT+ friendly employer in the UK. We have plenty of events and workshops planned internally and externally with our clients. The Diversity Audit results will be presented to the leadership team soon, and we will discuss what actions we need to take from the results. The support for neurodiverse colleagues with IT equipment is already a good step in the right direction. But also connecting with our competitors is important for us. Together with ProutAtWork, we are hosting a workshop for law firms in our Düsseldorf office. We collaborate together to share best practices and exchange challenges typically at law firms. This first took place in January as a kick-off and now comes the follow-up. The event was a very open exchange and it is good to see that we are facing similar challenges. 


Sophia, thank you for the interview!