In conversation with a diversity and inclusion specialist

Posted by Nick Henderson, director of course development at Legal Futures Associate VinciWorks

Henderson: Pinsent Masons is an example to firms across the UK

In a recent webinar on diversity, I had the pleasure to interview Pinsent Masons’ diversity and inclusion specialist Kate Dodd.

She advises Pinsent Masons, its diversity and inclusion consulting company Brook Graham and their clients on a range of diversity topics and has a particular interest in working collaboratively with business leaders to develop the business case for cultural change.

Kate works with companies to develop strategies to attract and retain the best talent, and to cultivate the skills needed to serve their clients and communities.

Pinsent Masons continues to be an example to firms across the UK on how to create a accepting and diverse workplace culture. It was named as the most inclusive employer in the UK by LGBT equality charity Stonewall in its top 100 employers list for 2019. Here are some of the highlights from our interview.

Note: the text has been edited for readability.

Could you tell us a little bit of the history of diversity at Pinsent Masons and how things have changed in recent years?

Dodd: Legally, there is no such thing as the defence of ‘it was only banter’

Pinsent Masons has always placed our culture at the centre of how we do business, and we’ve been very lucky in terms of the fact that we’ve had leaders within the firm who have recognised the importance of inclusivity and of embracing diversity for many years.

For example, our work around LGBT is over a decade old now. We were the first ever law firm to enter the Stonewall Index, and we also have the benefit of very senior leadership in relation to issues such as gender inclusivity, LGBT inclusivity, etc.

For us, the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’. The firm has never been shy about calling out poor behaviour and of making it clear that whilst we, of course, want to have great results in the business and do fantastic work for our clients, it’s important for us that all staff conduct themselves in a way that is also in line with our behaviours, our purpose and our values as a business.

Did you find it difficult to get board buy-in for some of these new initiatives?

We’re very lucky with the board-level support we have received within Pinsent Masons and it’s absolutely true to say that they are fully committed to D&I.

I think the most important factor has, and continues to be, establishing the business case for diversity and inclusion across the firm. What we have done here at Pinsent Masons, and what I do with lots of clients via my work at Brook Graham, is to help the senior leaders understand what the business benefits are of getting diversity and inclusion right.

We need them to see that it’s not just a ‘nice to have’, but an essential part of their business plan. Establishing an inclusive culture within a business helps with the attraction, retention, and advancement of talent; it helps with innovation and decision making; it helps with building reputation; attracting and understanding customers; winning work and establishing links with the communities in which the business operates. All of this, of course, has a direct effect on the bottom line.

Of course, once you start to establish what the business case is for any organisation, making sure that it’s tailored to them and it works for their industry is essential. That way, you start to get buy-in without needing people to feel that they’re being persuaded.

What does talent have to do with diversity and inclusion?

It’s always hard to get data on these things, but we know that our reputation helps us to access the best diverse talent. We have people who want to come and work at Pinsent Masons because of our reputation around diversity, inclusion and responsible business.

We know this because, when people come to work for us, they talk to us about the difference in our culture from where they’ve worked previously.

We know it helps us to retain people within our business. We know it helps us to create a fair process for promotion and advancement within our business, and we take it very seriously. Of course, you’re going to get the best of somebody if they can bring their whole self to work. If you’re having to hide who you are in the workplace, you never truly feel that you belong.

In a general sense, what do you think are the most important equality and diversity issues that are facing today’s workplace?

I think it’s difficult to lump different challenges together in a meaningful way, but I would say that most businesses have got challenges around their gender pay gaps.

Some businesses are still viewing the process as simply being a yearly reporting requirement, and are not really looking at the effect upon their staff or the message that having a pay gap sends. My sense, though, is that those businesses are becoming fewer, because the second year of reporting has now thrown into light whether they are actually doing anything to close those gaps.

The gender pay gap isn’t about equal pay – this isn’t about a man being paid more to do the same job as a woman. It is about where women sit in company structures, what stereotypes might be in play around the roles people do, and what invisible barriers to progression might exist for women.

I think that most businesses who have a gender pay gap are starting to really wrangle with those challenges.

Another issue I think it would be wrong not to mention is around mental health. This is becoming hugely important in UK workplaces and I am delighted to see that the stigma around mental health is starting to subside.

There’s a long way to go, but I do think that businesses being brave around mental health is making a huge difference to people.

It’s also about allowing people to call out the triggers, the types of things that might make their working life more difficult, maybe if they are coping with family members with mental health issues.

We can’t solve everything, but what we can do is create an environment where our people are free to talk about these things, and know where and how to access support.

The number of younger people entering UK businesses with lived experience of mental ill-health is increasing daily. There is no doubt that the ‘youth mental health crisis’ that has been spoken about for years is starting to show up in UK workplaces, and it is essential that businesses are equipped to understand and support.

How did you deal with the defence of ‘it’s only banter’?

We recognise that everyone needs light-hearted chat and banter to survive at work to some extent; if we’re all terribly serious all of the time, then life isn’t much fun.

But I would always talk to clients and say there’s banter that’s appropriate at home or in the pub, or when you’re with your friends, and then there is banter that’s appropriate at work. The two are very different.

I also remind people that there is no such thing as the defence of ‘it was only banter’. Legally, it just doesn’t work.

What does effective diversity training look like?

Effective diversity training needs to be bespoke, it needs to be planned, and it needs to be done as part of a strategic program.

Within Pinsent Masons, we’ve worked with VinciWorks to put together some bespoke training around all aspects of harassment. When I started working on the programme with VinciWorks, I found that some of the suggested scenarios weren’t relevant to our workplace. I knew that if I’m asking our senior managers to take time out of their day to go through that, if they’re looking at scenarios that don’t resonate with them, then they’re not going to feel engaged by it.

So that ability to work with VinciWorks to come up with a very bespoke and targeted programme of online training has been absolutely invaluable for us.

If you want to get in touch with Kate, you can do so by emailing

VinciWorks has recently released a new story-based diversity course, Diversity and Inclusion at Work: MyStory, which sheds light on stories of discrimination and harassment all too frequently experienced by people in the workplace. To learn more about the course and to experience these stories for yourself, click here.


    Readers Comments

  • Qemploy says:

    Such a great article! It gave a lot of useful information on the importance of diversity and inclusivity. Overall considering these aspects have a positive impact on the sense of community a business holds, as acceptance creates comfort and a better sense of purpose for the employees. It is especially essential for companies to provide equal opportunities for all employees regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. At Qemploy, we posted an article on this exact topic, how LGBT Inclusive firms implement methods to achieve improvement. We also made a list of the top scoring companies. Feel free to check out the post and give us your opinion on it 🙂

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