Deliberate Equitability & Inclusion for Better Business Outcomes

Richard Given thrives on re-thinking the way to provide legal services. As General Counsel and Company Secretary of 10X Future Technologies, a FinTech established to transform banking; he is responsible for corporate governance, partnership compliance, and best practices at 10x.

In this Expert Series episode, Richard Given joins Elevate’s President, John Croft, to discuss deliberate equitability and inclusion. We’re pleased to share this conversation between two white, non-diverse men talking directly about deliberate equitability and inclusion.  Why it is essential, and what they’re doing to support equitability and inclusion within the legal sector.

Richard shares his experience, the importance of being an ally, and the shift needed to build a business based on outcomes.  Setting an example and encouraging General Counsel to demand a behavior change ensures their legal providers include diverse perspectives. He explains the importance of recognizing the differences and challenges that people face to help them succeed.

We cover a lot, including:

  • [02:24] – The necessity of white men (of all) to engage in Deliberate Equitability and Inclusion.
  • [04:27] – Why diverse perspectives create the best business outcomes?
  • [06:20] – Can law departments, law firms, and law companies drive an Equitability and Inclusion culture?
  • [11:46] – How law departments’ buying behaviors impact the way law firms and law companies deliver their work?
  • [14:16] – How Law firms are responding.
  • [17:11] – Navigating what remains of ‘the boys’ club’ mentality in the corporate culture?
  • [18:34] – 10X efforts towards Deliberate Equitablity and Inclusion.
  • [20:24] – A diverse group of people delivers a better business result.

Enjoy!

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Podcast Transcript

Note: This transcript has been adjusted to improve readability. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. The context and more than 95% of the actual transcript have been preserved. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio file.

 

Nicole: Welcome to the Elevate.Together.Podcast. Voices of Change in the Business of Law. Hello. This is Nicole Giantonio, the Head of Global Marketing at Elevate. The podcast episode you’re about to hear is part of our Expert Series featuring Elevate’s President, John Croft, hosting the first of several conversations on his expert topic – deliberate equitability and inclusion. John’s guest for this episode is Richard Given, General Counsel and Company Secretary of 10X Future Technologies, a FinTech established to transform banking.

We’re pleased to share this conversation between two white, non-diverse men talking directly about deliberate equitability and inclusion, why it’s important, and what they’re doing to support equitability and inclusion within the legal sector. Listen closely to hear the broad definition of diversity being applied.

John: Richard, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re here to talk about deliberate equitability and inclusion. Lots of people talk about diversity and inclusion. We decided that diversity is the desired outcome; the plan should be around equitability and inclusion.  It’s great to have a chance to chat with you about this.

I was going to kick off with what I think, for me, would be the elephant in the room. I once spoke to somebody about what could I do as a bloke to help with diversity and improve it? They said, “If anyone asks you to speak on a panel, check that the panel is a diverse panel, and if it isn’t, ask them to change it or don’t speak on it.” I found that to be very effective.  I guess it is ironic that in the first of these discussions about deliberate equitability and inclusion, we have two middle-aged, middle class, straight, white blokes who are not economically disadvantaged. I want to front that up and ask why you think you and I have the authority to have this discussion?

Richard: Delighted to be part of this; to deal with that elephant head-on. Change really only comes about when those who benefit from the status quo actually change it. It’s so easy – as a white, middle class, middle-aged, whatever the rest of the list of things that I am – just sit and live in ignorance and quietly get on with my life and say, “I’m not doing anything wrong.” It actually perpetuates the problem by doing nothing.

I, too, have spoken to a number of people about what I can do, and I’ve heard the same idea of not speaking at events where they’re not prepared to make sure that a diverse panel is present. I think it’s more about educating yourself and understanding what you can do to be an ally to disadvantaged people.  Taking the positive steps to improve the situation, as opposed to sitting still and saying, “Well, yes, absolutely it’s a good idea,” and support it, but without doing anything.

John: In the legal sector where you and I both work – you work in a law department, I work in a law company – and there are many law firms where,  generally speaking, the diversity of people one meets is not the mix that we think it should be. One of the reasons we’re talking about this and one of the reasons it’s important to us is that it’s the right thing to do, and I hope that goes without saying.

One of the other reasons is that we are trying to build a business based on outcomes. Unconstrained by traditional boundaries of age and race, gender and orientation, etc., things that have been difficult for people to deal with until now. What I mean in plain English, if you were to call up a lawyer in the past, a corporate lawyer – you’d generally be calling up a building. You would give the work to somebody who’d put on a suit and a tie sitting in that building. They were often male and white, and they would do the work the way they wanted to do the work, and they’d finish it and send you a bill. 

Our feeling is – as a buyer of these services – you’re after the outcome, the work they give back to you. And therefore, it shouldn’t matter if they’re in London EC2; they’re black, white, or male or female or gay or straight or old or young or whatever it is. Is that something you agree with in principle, and why do you think it is important to you as a buyer of these services?

Richard: It does matter to have a diversity of perspectives. One of the legal profession’s challenges has been it’s very precedent-driven, and organizationally it has been built in the shape of how it was before. Every generation looks at the previous generations, and for many generations, the law was a white man’s job. Consequently, the law is built around what is convenient and suitable to a certain set of society.

Part of the challenge, I think, is traditional law firms are built around a model of decision making by those least incentivized to make changes. I was on a panel – a non-diverse panel, actually – over ten years ago, and we were talking to managing partners about change. I was asked, “What bit of advice would you give the managing partners?” I said, “Well, in all honesty, don’t change a thing because you’ve got no incentive as individuals to change because you’re maximizing your earnings right now. Why would you make an investment decision now that could detrimentally impact your income but will benefit the firm in the longer term?” Sadly, a lot of firms have followed that model. The change has to come from without. It won’t come from within firms.

For me, as a General Counsel, supporting change is important. If the change is going to happen, we have to be the ones, as general counsel, who drive that change. And we drive it by demanding that change or demanding the behaviors of our legal providers. You’re looking for how to best spend your money to drive better outcomes.

“I think the one thing I’d take the challenge with is “do the same thing” as you’d do for the traditional applicant. I think recognizing that people are different and, therefore, they need different support is a key component of this.​”

– Richard Given

John: Whilst I agree with you that the change will probably come from the law departments because you’re spending the money, do you think that’s the only way? Do you not think there’s a driver from within law firms to change?

Richard: Yes. I think change is trying to come from within. I think many people are recognizing that there is – due to Gladwellism – a tipping point coming for firms. The fact that there is such a large drop-off in diversity as you look up the traditional qualification ladder of an organization and into partnership.  Firms are beginning to realize that’s not sustainable and are trying to work out why certain people don’t want to have a career as a partner and whether or not there are different career paths. This is all happening, and it’s great, and I don’t want to dismiss it by saying it’s not effective, but all of the above has to happen.

I recognize that it’s quite tough for general counsels at times to take the harder decision for the longer term themselves. We’re all facing yearly or quarterly performance targets and cost pressures now more than ever. Doing the right thing is hard. We can sometimes feel like it’s tomorrow’s necessity, and if we don’t change it today, it’ll still be there tomorrow so let’s deal with it tomorrow. This is always the problem with big, slow-burn problems; there’s never a crisis to make it happen. There’s another priority to look at today, and we’ll look at this tomorrow.

John: How do we actually go about it? There’s this old – it’s probably a cliché – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. I think an important first step in any change like this is to assess the current situation. We did that a few years ago. We were only an eight-year-old company.  As the team and I sat down to talk about this – because we thought we should measure and report ourselves, even though we weren’t obliged to – I thought, “Well, gosh, we’re only eight years old.” One of the core values that we talked about when we started the business was that it would be diverse, and the group of people who started the business was diverse. I thought we’d do okay, and yet, I too was surprised to see that there were pockets within our organization that were not as diverse as I had assumed they would be. From your discussions and views around the market, what do you think a good equitability and inclusion program looks like?

Richard: The first thing that has to be understood is that it’s a journey. This is a generational change, and it will take us as long as a generation, if not more, to get to a point where we stop talking about this. We stop talking about it as something that needs doing; it just automatically happens all the time. Therefore, you have to recognize the change is incremental. It focuses on the areas where you can make a difference—not trying to do everything at once, not trying to pretend that you’re perfect.

10X is on a journey like every other company for Equitiability, Diversity & Inclusion, as we call it, to address the improvements we can make. It’s a long-term journey, and every company needs to do the same. I think that’s probably the most important thing. Secondly, we have to listen to why people don’t want to join the law or why people leave the law – leave the legal services industry – and look in on ourselves as to what we can do differently. How can we make it work so that organizationally it’s attractive?

It’s very easy to say these things as General Counsel. It’s much harder to have hardnosed conversations about making a difference. I was talking to a partner of a law firm earlier this week about resourcing future deals. They talked about one of their senior executives who works three days a week, and they quickly went on to say, “But of course it’s quite difficult to put them on a deal because they’re only here half the week.”

Well, we need to make that work. If that’s going to be a career path that’s of interest to a more diverse cross-section of society, we need to find a way to make that work; within an organizational framework, transactions can still go ahead, and we can use their resources. You’re missing out on a whole raft of people who are very good at their job, very committed, very keen to make a difference. But aren’t able or aren’t prepared – it doesn’t matter which – to put in five days a week or six days a week or whatever it is that law firms traditionally expect.

It’s incumbent upon everybody to listen and then focus on this. I was in a situation once where I hired someone, and their law firm rang me up and asked me why I’d stolen them. And I replied, “I offered a career path that they chose over the career path you were offering,” and maybe they need to think about why it is that person left. I think it’s listening to and working with people who are coming up and not assuming that just because someone has 30 years in the job, they know the answer. Change is happening, and therefore, you need to listen to those living it, listen to all generations, and work out where we can make a difference.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that the next generation of future lawyers is collaborating amongst themselves far more than any other generation ever has done before. You only have to go onto Instagram or Twitter or on the web generally to see these groups growing as they help each other understand, “How do I get a paralegal job or what opportunities are out there?” There was someone who didn’t even realize – until they found out on Instagram – that you can train as a lawyer in a legal department. They assumed you had to go to a law firm.

And you realize that it’s exciting, these opportunities are there. That groundswell of, “We will not put up with the way it is today. We will demand that change.” I think it’s a really exciting opportunity. The more general counsels, like myself, get behind that sort of momentum, we can bring pressure from above and below, as it were, which will drive the change.

John: One of the things that you did in the last six months – because we provide services to your organization – you wrote to us, and it happened to come to me, it was an email, and it called out in public the buying behaviors of the general counsel and how those behaviors impact the way law firms then deliver the work back to you.

Richard: I was at an event where I watched a very, very senior person in the legal profession – what looked to me to be having a very difficult time, not knowing which way to turn because the pressures of their clients were unrealistic. And it hit home to me that if I don’t do something, I’m part of the problem.

It comes back to my first point right at the beginning that we need to make a difference. Otherwise, we’re part of the problem, and I realize I risk being part of the problem.  So, I wrote to every single person who supports 10X legal – whether they are lawyers, law companies, whatever – and said basically, “You must understand from me that your individual, number one priority has to be your own wellbeing and that it is not in my interest to drive you into the ground.”  And this is a commercial point; it’s not an altruistic point. I can deal with the fact that someone says, “I know I promised you something on Tuesday next week, but it’s now Thursday, and I’m going to be a bit late. It’ll be Wednesday.”

And while that might be frustrating and all the rest of it, I can plan accordingly. What I can’t deal with is being told, “Oh, so and so’s been taken to hospital because they’ve worked themselves into the ground.” And then they’re off three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and we have no handover, no control, and that is notwithstanding the personal impact on the individual, which is awful, and I would not want that on anybody.

The hard-nosed economics and commercial need –  that’s not a good idea. It’s not me being altruistic. It is me being pragmatic for the longer term. It’s about making sure your time horizon is sufficiently long to think about what is right for the company, for the individuals.

What is interesting is the responses I got from my email, which were – I’m pleased to say – overwhelming and positive, but also sadly a number of people saying, “Could you persuade XYZ client of mine of the efficacy of what you’re telling me?” or “Can I forward it onto my other clients?” Clearly, all is not well in law land, and people need to recognize that you need to be part of the solution. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem.

John: It was very impactful to receive and being on the team that works with you. I was able to share it with our wider leadership as an example of, “Yes, stand up, be counted.” We talk about the workplace of the future. Are there examples you’ve seen working well?  Are there any that you’ve seen working badly, or have there been any that have surprised you?

Richard: I think that how firms have responded has opened their eyes to the opportunities to be more open to different ways of working, and I think that a number of firms have done a good job of providing technology, providing support, helping people do their jobs effectively. There are opportunities and challenges. The opportunity is that suddenly your marketplace for recruiting is much wider. If you do not need people to be in EC2, then they don’t need to live within commuting distance of EC2 and, therefore, my database can be much larger while I’m looking to hire good talent.

The challenge is how you make sure you develop people and how you make sure that the next generation of professionals – whether it’s the law, accountancy, technology, whatever – are getting the right support and the opportunity to ask questions the right training. Law has historically been a profession taught at the feet of the expert. You sat in the partner’s office – certainly, I did as an article clerk. Even if it’s an open-plan office now, you sat near the partners, and you had the opportunity to spot when a partner was finishing something.

You’d wander over and ask them a quick question. How do you know when you can go and do that to someone remote from you? You can’t see whether they’re free. You may be quietening people who are already nervous to ask questions. What worries me is that we exclude a set of society from wanting to be in the profession because the technology or how we work is putting them off.  I don’t have the answers to that, but I think the firms thinking about these things are making sure that they are finding solutions.  They are providing a way in and a way to develop all types of people.

It is a challenge that we all have to face. I don’t think it’s going to be one that’s solved overnight. I think you have to recognize that people make mistakes and will make mistakes and get it wrong— people accused of being tone-deaf because they’ve misspoken or misdone it. The important thing is the intention and the purpose with which you respond to challenge and move forward.

John: I’m going to touch on a couple of things you mentioned there. One was the next generation of lawyers coming through, and the other is what can we – as white men – do to help? I was approached the other day through LinkedIn and – like everyone else that approaches me – they were a young lawyer, and they said, “I’m looking for a job. Can you help me?” I did what I always do, which is to pass them onto the right people here. In doing so, I looked through their CV, which they’d attached, I saw that they were male and had been to a private school, and they’d been to Oxbridge and yadda, yadda ya.

I was very happy to do what I could for them, but it made me think that I’ve never been approached by a young, black female wannabe lawyer from a low socio-economic background. And if I were, I would behave in the same way. What do you think we could do to crack this sort of boys’ club mentality, which I think has been part of the problem in the past?

Richard: I think the one thing I’d take the challenge with is “do the same thing” as you’d do for the traditional applicant. I think recognizing that people are different and, therefore, they need different support is a key component of this. It’s something I’ve only recently come to recognize that I need to do myself. Trying to pretend you’re blind to their differences and that you’ll treat everyone equally is, as I understand, probably the wrong answer.

To treat people with equity is to recognize their position and respond to their own individual situation accordingly. Therefore that you should not say, “Okay, that’s fine. We’d like to have you. As long as you got three As at A level and you’ve got a 2.1 or better at university, we don’t care where you’re from.” That is part of the problem. We all know that there are differences across education, and I think that recognizing that your life experience is different is critical.

I met someone recently who has almost an identical CV to myself. They went to Harvard; I went to Cambridge. They were privately educated; I was as well. He’s black, and I’m white. His life experience is incredibly different because of that. Recognizing these differences and responding to them is a critical part of allowing people to succeed in the way we want them to in the law.

John: I think it’s fair to say for anyone that’s been listening, from everything you’ve said, that you personally are leaning in and doing a great job here at your organization. How do you find colleagues behave when these topics come up? Is there anything that you, as someone who is clearly successfully pushing this topic forward, – is there anything you’ve been able to do to help bring others along who might not have done so naturally?

Richard: I think the key thing I do is try and be an ally to those who have a diverse background and recognize that my voice as a member of the executive is powerful and use it carefully and appropriately to support them. I think that – as with any society – there are always fast followers, there are early adopters, and so forth. And it is having conversations with people and moving them along the journey at a pace that they can keep up with and making the change, and that’s what we are doing at 10X.

We have an employee-led equality team. The executive is very much sponsoring this and working hard to listen to what’s asked. I’m delighted that I’m an ally of the LGBTQ+ network at 10X.   I was pleased to record a short video internally to support them so that people recognize that I’m here, I can listen to their concerns, and they can bring their concerns to me.  I think that’s what, as lawyers, you can do with any organization is to be recognized as someone that can be trusted to listen and recognize the challenges that some people face and help them navigate and help the organization respond appropriately.

John: Right. We’re coming to the end of our time. I was going to pick back on one of the things we mentioned earlier, which is – beyond this being the right thing to do –  that one gets a better result with a diverse team of people. As business people, we’re looking for actual business impact. Is there an example you could give were a diverse group of people had delivered a better business result than a non-diverse group?

Richard: Well, for the non-diverse group example, I would take you back to the room that I sat in; I know exactly which room it was in which building, in which company’s offices I was sitting in at 1:00 in the morning. Eleven male lawyers were sitting around a table and one representative from each side of the client debating an issue. I was the article clerk – this shows how far back this goes –  more money was spent debating the issue than the issue was worth from either side. When they could have just said, “Add it to the list, move on, we’re not interested in paying for it.”

When you have a diverse group of people across multiple axes, one of the things is that different perspectives are brought to bear—different experiences. The “What if?” or “What about?” questions are asked and you realize your experiences dictate your thinking. That you don’t necessarily see the issue fully, it also helps drive outcome-based thinking. What do we want to achieve as opposed to how do we win?

I’m not interested in winning. I’m interested in being successful as a business and, therefore, the negotiations need to be successful for 10X and the counterparty. There is no value in driving someone into the ground to the point at which they can’t make any money in a deal (ever), and then the behaviors will be your undoing in the medium term, if not the long term. I think that a diverse group will more likely deliver better outcomes. My experiences are to that effect.

I can’t necessarily give a specific example of the impact of a diverse group because we’d get into a whole lot of detail that, frankly, will be dull for the listener. But over my career, I have seen a number of occasions where we got a better outcome. I’ve worked across multiple jurisdictions and multiple cultures. You recognize that you need to understand what good looks like for everybody and then work out how to deliver on good rather than, “I want to win.”

John: Richard, thank you for joining us today. It’s been fascinating chatting with you. I’ve been taken with a number of specific things that you’ve been able to do. I’ve certainly made a note, and I hope others that listened will be able to so also. Thank you for joining us.

Richard: You’re very welcome. Thank you very much for having me.

About the Author(s)

Richard Given is General Counsel and Company Secretary of 10X Future Technologies, a FinTech established to transform banking. This interview was conducted by John Croft, President, and Co-Founder of Elevate.

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