Race Equality Awards 2017-Baker Mckenzie: BakerEthnicity Network: The Impact of Engagement

In 2006, when Baker McKenzie’s ethnicity staff network BakerEthnicity was formed, it was the first diversity network within the global firm. The network was established in response to concerns that  Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees were under-represented at all levels of the organisation, with just 3% of London trainees and 1% of London partners identifying as BAME.

Initially, BakerEthnicity spearheaded a range of bold steps to address these concerns, particularly at trainee solicitor level. After a concerted organisation-wide effort to engage management, the recruitment team and associates, the percentage of BAME trainee solicitors reached 34% in 2010. In the following years, the group evolved further and established effective and innovative ways to attract and develop talent. Currently, the percentage of BAME trainee solicitors typically sits between 20% and 30% and has created a BAME talent pipeline which is now impacting BAME representation in senior roles.

BakerEthnicity identified practical, tangible changes to how the organisation attracts and selects talent and specifically sought to remove bias from every stage of the hiring process. These actions included:

  • Establishing relationships with student groups and societies, such as university African and Caribbean societies, which has helped increase Baker McKenzie’s exposure to BAME students
  • Removing names from application forms – the first UK law firm to do so
  • Introducing an Associate Interview Panel to widen the diversity of those involved in the trainee recruitment process
  • Introducing an interactive group exercise to broaden the range of skills tested through the assessment process and ensure that the strongest talent is selected into the trainee population
  • Having open discussions with BAME trainees and junior lawyers to help identify and overcome any challenges or barriers to progression they face
  • Providing all interviewers with comprehensive unconscious bias training

As this approach evolved, with support from BakerEthnicity, Baker McKenzie’s London office became increasingly confident in having open and honest discussions and communications around race. In 2014, the first focus group exploring barriers to progression for BAME employees took place, which helped to broaden understanding of the challenges and perspectives experienced by BAME employees. Baker McKenzie also ran its first Black History Month campaign in 2014, with a series of office-wide blogs and events focusing on race. Finally, in 2014 Baker McKenzie Partner Sarah Gregory was appointed into a dedicated Inclusion & Diversity role, a move which was unique at the time and which remains unusual today.

BakerEthnicity has also played an instrumental role in the firm’s support of the Black British Business Awards, which focuses on celebrating black British talent. Baker McKenzie is the founding sponsor of the awards and BakerEthnicity is actively involved in the firm’s planning and engagement around the awards.

Under its chair, London Partner Sunny Mann, BakerEthnicity has clear objectives and a track record of developing and supporting the firm’s talent attraction strategy and sharing best practice to strengthen relationships with key clients. The network’s objectives are based on four pillars of focus: Recruitment; Creating a Community; Career Development; and Thought leadership and client engagement.

A number of trainees, associates and Business Services staff across the London office have taken on key responsibilities to support the network and BakerEthnicity has sought to utilise employees’ skills and enthusiasm. For instance, one of our trainee solicitors has taken an active role in leading and developing the firm’s relationship with the Black Lawyers Directory Foundation, while the successful Creating a Community events series has been driven by a team from across the organisation. These events are typically attended by around 220 people within the London office.

In the 11 years since it was formed, BakerEthnicity has developed a strategic focus and a strong track record of successfully engaging both staff and clients. It has contributed actively to the London office diversity strategy and to staff engagement around diversity. In the most recent Office Survey, 98% of London office staff agreed that ‘this office values diversity in its workforce’ and 97% felt the office provides an environment which is accepting of ethnic differences. The impact of this work has also been recognised by the Times Best Employers Survey 2017 (particularly the Creating a Community events), the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards and the 2015 Managing Partners Forum Awards for Management Excellence