To make an impact, our diversity and inclusion efforts must be embedded across the firm. We are proud of the progress we are making but recognise that there is much more to do.
Three key priorities keep us focused on achieving our D&I goals:
- Belong – creating a culture where everyone contributes. That means paying close attention to our everyday behaviours and taking accountability for our actions.
- Engage – encouraging action for inclusion across multiple diversity dimensions. Promoting a positive, confident, authentic dialogue around diversity and inclusion.
- Excel – enhancing career experiences of diverse professionals so we can all excel and achieve our potential.
The everyday decisions each of us make have an impact on how we and our colleagues experience our firm. We must all be accountable for the influence we have and be thoughtful about creating an inclusive and equitable work place for all. Initiatives to promote self-awareness, such as our inclusive leadership workshops, help our leaders explore ways to mitigate bias in talent decisions. Other initiatives, like our reverse mentoring scheme, enable us to learn from one another’s lived experiences.
Driven by our key priorities, we have activities aligned to six different diversity streams. We plan our activities with respect and recognition for the intersectional nature of diversity and are always seeking opportunities to bring together different groups, both within the firm and in partnership with external organisations.
We’re passionate about social mobility and widening access to the legal sector. We believe that background, gender, race or ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other dimensions of diversity should never be a barrier to success.
Race and ethnicity
We want to continue to broaden our representation among different races and ethnicities, and bring in talent from under-represented groups.
In 2015 we launched our first global Black Affinity Network (BAN), which brings together lawyers of black African and black African Caribbean heritage from across the firm. In 2020, we launched BANbassadors – a group of our lawyers who have identified themselves as allies.
Our award-winning Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme addresses the disproportionate under-representation in commercial law and the City of black men from low-income households. (Some scholars, such as Folarin Odunubi, have gone on to join Freshfields.)
Freshfields Partner Annette Byron, a founder of the scheme and sponsor for social mobility activities at Freshfields, says the scheme addresses intersectional issues of both race and social mobility. “We take an innovative approach in testing for talent and potential, and in tailoring development programme activities to the students,” Annette explains.
Ensuring we have a gender balance across our partnership is a priority. A number of initiatives are helping us create a pipeline of female talent and helping them reach their potential.
Our 12-month global sponsorship programme is a tailored learning and development opportunity for female lawyers. A sponsoring partner and coaching sessions help women on the programme build the skills needed to reach their full potential.
The EDGE Commitment, developed by our London Women’s Network in collaboration with colleagues across the firm, promotes gender equality through empowering everyone to take very practical, everyday actions in to bring incremental, tangible changes to help foster equality.
Claire Wills, Managing Partner of Freshfields’ London office, says: “Promoting diversity and inclusion across our business and across the wider legal profession is an absolute priority for us. While we still have more to do, I am proud of the initiatives, programmes and efforts we have underway and of the commitment across our teams to building a culture of inclusion.”
The firm has been at the forefront of the Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA) Pledge, by which a cross-section of the international arbitration community (including arbitral institutions, law firms and corporates) has committed to improve the profile and representation of women in international arbitration, increase the number of female arbitrators on an equal opportunity basis and achieve a fair representation of women. Founded by Freshfields Partner Sylvia Noury, the Pledge has over 4,000 signatories from more than 110 countries.
Sexual orientation and gender identity - LGBT+
We strive to build a welcoming and positive environment so that everyone – including our LGBT+ employees – is comfortable to bring their whole self to work.
We sponsor the LGBT Bar’s annual Lavender Law Conference & Career Fair and the LGBT Leaders graduate recruitment event. We also have an active global LGBT+ network, Halo. (Halo Champions is a global network of staff not identifying as LGBT+ but who support and promote LGBT+ equality.)
As Andrew Austin, Freshfields Partner and Senior Halo Co-sponsor, says: “Halo and other diversity groups within the firm are really important in creating a welcoming, supportive environment.”
We have a close relationship with Stonewall (including being pro bono partner for its Global Workplace Briefings, which help illuminate the situation for LGBT+ people in a number of countries). Freshfields was a founding member of Stonewall’s Global Diversity Champions programme, and featured as a Top Global Employer in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019. Freshfields was the first Magic Circle firm to enter the top 100 of the UK Workplace Equality Index in 2014 and Freshfields Asia Managing Partner Georgia Dawson received the 2019 Global Senior Champion Award.
We have also contributed to the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights and hosted the launch of the report in our London office. A number of our LGBT+ lawyers are involved with these matters.
Disability and inclusion
Committed to being a disability-inclusive employer, Freshfields has various ways to attract, progress and support colleagues affected by disability.
We partner with Business Disability Forum, which helps organisations become disability smart, as well as Myplus Consulting, which helps us to be employers of choice for talented students with disabilities.
We bring together disabled colleagues and champions to be part of our Freshfields Enabled network, with the aim of working together to become a more inclusive workplace.
We also have various adjustments that we can make to tailor to each new employee’s specific needs. If you require any adjustments to support your application, please let the graduate recruitment team know – we are always happy to help
Mental health and wellbeing
Our ongoing commitment to creating the right environment to foster open and frank communication underlines the importance placed on mental wellbeing at Freshfields, which forms part of our broader approach to wellbeing at the firm.
We are driving this conversation at all levels in a number of ways, including (in partnership with Mental Health First Aid England) a fully trained Global Mental Health Support team, equipped with the skills to recognise, support and provide guidance to those who may be experiencing mental health issues. The team currently consists of over 260 people from across the firm.
Freshfields Partner Victoria Hills, our London partner sponsor for mental health and wellbeing, says: “Our initiatives have enabled me to identify aspects of my work and home life that are key to my wellbeing and given me practical ways to maintain a sense of balance and perspective. I now have the confidence to be open and supportive to others at all levels who may be struggling or seeking to find their own balance.”