In order to be truly effective, diversity and inclusion must be fully integrated into an organisation’s vision and culture
In its simplest form, diversity is about recognising differences, which can include a multitude of visible and non-visible factors
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a seismic shift in how we work, where we work and when we work, while its associated lockdowns shone a light on the differences between those who could work from home and those who could not. Since the pandemic, many companies have embraced the opportunity to reset work using a hybrid model.
Another more subtle and nuanced workplace revolution also underway in Ireland - and making its mark – is workplace diversity. Whether transitioning to a hybrid working or fully remote model, or maintaining in-office arrangements, employers need to have a focused strategy when designing workplaces to ensure that diversity and inclusion is a value firmly embedded within their culture.
Having an effective D&I strategy adds value to an organisation, contributing to employee wellbeing and engagement by fostering an inclusive environment in which diversity is valued and people feel they belong and can achieve their full potential. In its simplest form, diversity is about recognising differences, which can include a multitude of visible and non-visible factors. It is therefore important to recognise that a “one-size-fits all” approach to managing people does not achieve fairness and equality of opportunity for everyone.
For example, one in 10 working people in Ireland live with a disability. While they are not defined by their disability, it may form an important part of their identity and may also shape the type of employment opportunities they pursue. In May 2019, the National Disability Authority reported that the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 26.6 per cent, compared with 11.5 per cent for people who do not have a disability.
In 2011, 25 per cent of births in Ireland were to mothers from outside Ireland. Many of these children, Generation Z, will be part of the workforce by 2032, closely followed by Generation Alpha. Cultural identity will grow in prominence as we see an increase in the number of cultural identities, or combinations of cultural identities, in the workplace. At the same time, we are living for longer and many people will choose to extend their working lives beyond retirement age, some out of choice and others out of need – we will see multigenerational identities working side by side.
So what does this mean for employers? They need to recognise that building an inclusive workforce and workplace is not something which can be delayed; the process needs to start now. Meaningful cultural change - that is, building a truly inclusive workforce - takes time to embed. Employers who lead the way in understanding their workforces’ sometimes overlapping identities - their values and drivers; who build cultural intelligence through education programmes; and who foster a sense of “belonging” - will be the first to benefit.
Matheson’s pathway to improving understanding of our colleagues’ values and drivers was reappraised in early 2017, when our colleagues were invited to consider those values important to them, to share these values, and to highlight the positive and negative behaviours that could enhance or impede the application of these values at Matheson. This consultative process led to us defining five values, Matheson’s values - Partnership, Respect, Innovation, Diversity and Entrepreneurship (PRIDE) – and also provided a roadmap to guide us on our D&I journey.
Since then, Matheson has continued to invest heavily in its D&I strategy, with its D&I philosophy built on six core areas of focus: Intergenerational; Gender Inclusion; Family and Working Parents; Accessibility; LGBTQ+ (Matheson Together); and Multiculturalism and Social Mobility.
Matheson established a range of initiatives to drive progress in each of these areas, including the formation of a D&I Ambassador Committee; Open Doors Month and Matheson Week – a celebration of people, values, and culture; the Matheson Agile Working Programme; the Matheson Maternity and Paternity Programmes; Matheson’s Cara Scholarship – a D&I scholarship in partnership with Trinity College Dublin; the Matheson Life Stages Series; and Matheson’s annual D&I Conference, delivered in partnership with Trinity College Dublin.
Matheson was also one of Ireland’s founding members of the OUTLaw Network, aimed at promoting the inclusion of LGBT+ employees across the legal sector in Ireland. Additionally, Matheson was one of the founding allies of the disAbility Legal Network, which promotes equal opportunities for people with disabilities within the legal sector, and the firm recently hosted the Network’s event focusing on neurodiversity.
To further expand the impact of our D&I strategy – and other key responsible business initiatives – in 2021 the firm’s existing D&I, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental Sustainability and Arts activities were brought together into one dedicated programme, the Impactful Business Programme (IBP), with a single vision to deliver and support meaningful, sustainable and measurable change across our community of colleagues, clients and society.
While some organisations may operate these as independent or siloed workstreams, Matheson identified an opportunity to bring even more focus and direction to our commitments and in turn make an even bigger difference. Our IBP recognises and takes advantage of the interrelationships which exist between our four IBP pillars and the various committees which sit under them. The IBP empowers collaboration and contribution from members of the firm right across the business, and the activities of each pillar are driven by dedicated committees comprised of colleagues from across the firm who volunteer their time.
As a responsible business, we value the health and wellbeing of our people. In 2020, Matheson became the first Irish-headquartered law firm to sign up to the Mindful Business Charter, a collaboration between financial services businesses and law firms in Ireland and the UK promoting healthy and effective ways of working. In November 2021, Matheson was a founding signatory to Ireland’s Pro Bono Pledge, an initiative which calls on legal professionals to commit to promote access to justice by providing free legal assistance to those in need. In 2021, Matheson also became a signatory to the Law Society of Ireland’s Professional Wellbeing Charter, which champions behaviours, skills and practices to promote and enable professional wellbeing in the workplace.
Our values, including diversity, are central to everything we do
Our values, including diversity, remain central to everything we do; today, one in eight of our colleagues volunteer in delivering the many projects, events and activities that sit under the IBP, which has been recognised in many of our most recent accolades.
For example, in June 2022, Matheson’s female/male partner gender ratio was ranked the third most gender-diverse in Europe, and first in Ireland, by The Lawyer in its European 100 report 2022. Matheson was named the Diversity and Inclusion Law Firm of the Year at the Irish Law Awards in October 2021; the Employer of the Year (250+ employees) at the Women in Finance Awards in December 2021; and, most recently, both Ireland Firm of the Year and Career Development: National Firm of the Year at the 2022 European Women in Business Law Awards.
In 2020, Matheson became the first organisation across all sectors in Ireland – and the only law firm in Ireland – to be accredited with the Irish Centre for Diversity’s “Investors in Diversity” Gold Standard. Early in 2022 Matheson became the first organisation in Ireland to be re-accredited with the Gold Standard and we remain one of only six organisations in Ireland across all sectors, and the only law firm, to hold this Gold Standard accreditation.
As a firm, we are committed to continuing our D&I journey and embracing diversity in everything we do; building an environment that values differences and allows employees bring their authentic selves to work. We remain dedicated to delivering meaningful, sustainable and measurable change across our community of colleagues, clients and society.
The above article was originally published on The Irish Times website on Monday, 22 August 2022.