In February 2018, the London office of Mayer Brown launched its BAME network, Fusion. Network co-chairs Natalie Carter and Joseph Otoo, and committee member Dexter Williams-Ollivierre discuss the aim of the network.
Why was Fusion set up?
Joseph: The London office has a number of affinity networks but we recognised there was a gap, in that we didn’t have one focussed on diversity and the way we approach multiculturalism. The second reason was to help meet our diversity goals. The network also enables us to develop key initiatives under the same vision — such as Black History Month and other diversity activities, like celebrating religious and national events.
What is the idea behind the name, Fusion?
Joseph: We had lots of different ideas for a name but Fusion seemed to capture what we are trying to achieve by drawing in cultural diversity, ethnicity, LGBT+ and gender — I can’t take credit for coming up with it unfortunately.
What are the goals and objectives of Fusion?
Natalie: From my perspective it’s about making people feel that they are included and respected at Mayer Brown. I also want the network to encourage debate and demonstrate the commercial benefits of diversity, whilst tackling challenging issues, such as unconscious bias. Lastly, it’s about celebrating diversity and enabling people to share their culture with the wider firm to promote awareness.
Joseph: We are keen to engage with all networks, both internally and externally. For example, we collaborated with our London women’s network for International Women’s Day.
What was the process for setting up Fusion?
Natalie: It took 12 months — from the first meeting through to the launch. Before launching the network we wanted to be clear of our position on a range of issues, such as: Should it be a multicultural network or BAME network?; How do we want people to think about us?; What kind of work do we want to do?; how should we engage with others to enable them to support, promote and champion our goals?
Joseph: From its inception, we invited as many people as were interested to contribute to discussions about what the network should be. Those views informed our decisions on our vision and goals. We then we set up a steering committee, which meets once a month.
Do you have any tips for those who are setting up a BAME network?
Dexter: Don’t underestimate how emotive the process of agreeing the identity of the network will be. We got there by being very open and honest in our discussions with each other, which in itself was highly therapeutic. My practical tip would be to allow a significant amount of time to hold these initial discussions.
Natalie: Be very focused and set hard deadlines. If you don’t have a plan you get distracted by minor points and differing opinions. You want the network to make a difference, so think of it as a business that is going to generate real results.
Why is diversity important in the legal industry?
Natalie: It’s important to every industry, not just legal. Diversity is part of society, so this should be reflected in the workplace. We are a global business with clients all over the world, we therefore need to understand their cultures and be open to the different ways they like to work; if we can do that for our clients we should be able to do this in our offices too.
Dexter: In short, when there is diversity, you’re ensuring unlimited access to the talents, insight, creative instinct and intelligence of a full pool of human resources. The businesses that take full advantage of this opportunity will increase their potential for growth and relevance in what is truly a global market place.
Joseph: The legal industry is still viewed as an elitist profession. However, things are changing and it is important that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities have access to a career in law. But not just have access, be able to succeed within it, which is key for social mobility. If the sector continually recruits in its own image the end result is a profession that stays the same.
What impact do role models have on aspiring lawyers/professionals in general?
Dexter: Intelligent, emotionally well-adjusted BAME lawyers were hyped and inspired after seeing the new Black Panther movie! So one can never underestimate the direct and indirect impact that role models have, even on those who are already making great strides in their professional career.
Joseph: Role models are massively important and there is a lack of BAME role models and mentors in the legal profession, particularly as many leave if they don’t think there is a possibility of progressing. One of the main objectives of Fusion is to generate more role models and mentors throughout the firm.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that ethnic minority lawyers and professionals face in the legal profession?
Natalie: Unconscious bias. The sector has previously worked in a certain way, with a certain type of person, from a certain background and you have to be able to recognise and understand the manifestation of that bias in order to build and attract more diverse teams . It also does the legal industry a disservice to have leaders that are predominantly white and male.
Dexter: To resist the pressure of feeling like you have to do twice as well as your non-BAME counterparts – that’s a lot of pressure. And to remain comfortable in yourself and not compromise your own natural personality in order to fit in.
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