Six partner promotions, all women. How does Trowers keep equality at the top of its agenda?

Bryan and Robinson: building an equality infrastructure

Last April, Trowers and Hamlins made up six new partners, all women.

That’s unusual enough. But the promotions were made all the more remarkable by the fact one of the women was on maternity leave at the time. ‘This might not have happened in every firm’, Paul Robinson, Trowers’ HR director, remarks wryly.

But for Robinson the current success in terms of equality is not enough. ‘We need to know how, and why, we’re successful,’ he says. ‘Otherwise it mightn’t be sustainable. We need to build an infrastructure to support it.’

Robinson has facilitated a group-wide Equality and Diversity Committee. Its remit is to represent certain groups, but also to explore ways of enhancing equality and diversity at the firm ‘in a fluid, open-ended way’.

He was deeply impressed by the response to his invitation for committee members. ‘The interest was incredible,’ Robinson says. Volunteers were forthcoming from all of the firm’s UK and Middle East offices.

Yvette Bryan, a partner in the firm’s commercial property practice and a prominent member of the committee, believes that the high number of volunteers reflects a general willingness to engage with firm strategy. ‘People want an input into how their organisation is run,’ she says, ‘which in many firms is difficult when you’re below partner level.’

‘The beginning of the real momentum’

As a sign of commitment from Trowers’ higher echelons, senior partner Jonathan Adlington agreed to chair the committee. And in order to keep the membership and ideas fresh, the commitee agreed that no one should serve on it for longer than two years.

One of the committee’s first tasks has been to investigate potential barriers to career progression for women. ‘The aim was to identify whether there were any pinch-points,’ says Bryan.

A small focus group was established, consisting of partners, associates and a representative from HR. It worked on a detailed analysis of gender representation across the firm, invited comments from all staff and conducted interviews with a number of relevant individuals.

‘That was the beginning of the real momentum,’ recalls Robinson. ‘It stopped being an HR-led initiative and became something that engaged the wider firm. People could see us not just talking about equality but actually doing something – that helped remove the suspicion that equality is simply window dressing or something we do just to write about in tenders.’

The focus group compiled a report that was presented to the Trowers management board. ‘The report wasn’t just a list of thoughts or areas of concern,’ says Bryan. ‘There were 24 meaningful recommendations.’ These included improvements to IT and remote working, maternity leave, primary care giving and mentoring support.

Ethical core

The board were receptive. All 24 recommendations were either approved outright or agreed in principle. One immediate action was beefing up the process through which those returning after maternity leave are re-acclimatised into the business.

‘This first project has encouraged us to look at equality issues more closely,’ Robinson says. ‘We’ll be examining maternity policy itself in detail, and improving benchmarking in maternity, flexible working and job-sharing.’

Small sub-committees have been established, dedicated to Race, Age, Religion & Belief, Sexual Orientation, Disability and Maternity & Gender. Trowers has joined Stonewall and is currently liasing with Leonard Cheshire Disability.

Bryan suggests this exercise reflects Trowers’ strong ethical core. ‘We weren’t starting on the back foot,’ she says, ‘but we didn’t want to become complacent. Jonathan Adlington made a great point at one of the meetings: ‘Ticking the boxes on the Law Society Charter is a just a by-product of this initiative,’ he told us. ‘It’s happening because it’s the right thing to do.’’ AB


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