Dentons: The Big Inclusion Project
At Dentons, the world’s largest law firm with 181 offices in more than 73 countries and no single headquarters or dominant culture, the globe-spanning employee population is diverse by design. This polycentric approach promotes Dentons’ rich and diverse culture, positively impacting its local communities and better serving its clients.
By attracting, supporting and promoting and retaining individuals from all backgrounds, inclusive of race, ethnicity, faith, religion or spiritual beliefs, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, abilities, social perspectives and other characteristics, Dentons has created a dynamic and inclusive work environment which is better positioned to serve its clients. At Dentons, diversity and inclusion are part of the business strategy; they are not ancillary values.
To Dentons Global Chief Executive Officer Elliott Portnoy, inclusion and diversity are non-negotiable:
Talent is a centerpiece of our strategy. And a more inclusive workforce attracts the highest quality talent. We strive to create diverse and inclusive teams because they are key to accelerating our innovation agenda and differentiating Dentons.
“An inclusive firm is a better place for all of us to work and produces better outcomes for clients,” said Dentons Global Chair Joe Andrew.
And as Louise Massey, Dentons Global Board Member, explains in this video, The Big Inclusion Project is important because it brings “together diverse opinions and ideas from different people in different regions who all come from different backgrounds.”
In the 2018 phase of the Big Inclusion Conversation, every member of the firm was invited to discuss and brainstorm solutions to inclusion challenges as part of a 72-hour online collaboration event.
In the 2019 phase, the Big Inclusion Project asked teams of 10 people—diverse in role, title, and region—to work together to build an action plan and produce a video based on a theme, such as engagement, being heard, or talent. The response was overwhelming, with 22 teams taking part, more than twice the number of participants than expected.
The entire firm was then asked to view and vote on the video for the project they felt was the most innovative, impactful, and actionable, which would also be implemented first. And the team whose project was chosen was invited to present its action plan at Dentons’ Global Board meeting in Madrid in November.
The Big Inclusion Project was a huge success over a period of several months in 2019 because of the commitment of the project teams and the incredible level of engagement from across the firm. The plans and videos produced by the Big Inclusion Project teams displayed a range of effective and innovative ideas across a number of themes.
The summary video page received more than 15,000 views, and some videos were viewed more than 1,000 times. Following the votes on the videos and the Global Board’s review of the implementation plans, the team that received the most support was Team Agilis, with its focus on flexible working conditions.
The plans from all of the teams were impressive and creative, and they have helped continue to advance the firm’s inclusion goal and priorities. In addition to flexible working, many other strong themes emerged, including building greater connection across the firm, encouraging more inclusive behaviors, and collaborating with clients to advance the agenda together.
The summary graphic below shows the themes that resonated with the firm.
The firmwide viewing and voting on videos was highlighted during Dentons’ Annual Inclusion Event on October 16, which focused on the great initiatives proposed by the Big Inclusion Project teams. There were also two firmwide discussions open to all on that day, and numerous discussions in each of Dentons’ 10 regions worldwide.
The first firmwide discussion was “Insights from The Big Inclusion Project,” a discussion with Dr. Gillian Shapiro and Jay Connolly, Dentons Global Chief Talent Officer. They talked about what they have learned from The Big Inclusion Project that the firm can apply immediately, and how the project has driven inclusion so far.
The other firmwide discussion was titled “Inclusion—It’s about the actions we all take,” which involved a discussion with the firm’s Global Management Committee on inclusion and the actions the firm needs to take to make Dentons a more inclusive firm.
In addition to its firmwide inclusion activities, Dentons has a long history of advancing women and people from under-represented groups through established programs and networks. For instance, Dentons’ Women LEAD (Leadership, Entrepreneurism, Advancement, Development) aims to develop and inspire women leaders through mentoring, networking, and client events.
Also, The New Parent outreach program pairs new parents with others who have successfully returned to work from parental leave, and the Mindful Return program helps ease the transition. And the Preparing for Rain program nurtures the critical rainmaking or business development skills of women over the course of five years, on their path to partnership, and just after.
Dentons has also appointed two partners to positions heavily focused on inclusion and diversity. Kate Broer added Women’s Business Development responsibilities to her existing Global Client Development role and Amanda Jones is Dentons’ Global Women’s Advancement Director. A significant portion of Broer’s role includes championing and promoting women’s participation in client relationships and enhancing, supporting, and supplementing their business development and marketing skills. Jones’ role is centered on increasing the number of women partners and appointed to senior leadership positions at Dentons.
According to Broer:
Clients are regularly challenging us around our representation and our efforts toward greater inclusion and diversity within Dentons. We welcome the opportunity to engage. The Big Inclusion Project not only gives us the means to demonstrate what we are doing as a firm with our own people but also to talk about the theme of client collaboration to help make an impact together.
Like any big change exercise, it’s slow, but we’re steadily gaining momentum. This is a journey. There isn’t one solution or answer. There are going to be different issues in different regions and cultures.
In addition, Dentons has a number of other policies that illustrate the firm’s ongoing commitment to elevating diverse populations within its ranks, including:
- Dentons’ Global & Regional Leadership Diversity Policy, which mandates that female and diverse candidates are among the pool considered for all Global & Regional Board positions
- Dentons Canada’s participation in the Catalyst Accord since its inception and Dentons’ gender-neutral parental-leave in the US, which gives lawyers up to 26 weeks off, with up to 18 weeks at full pay
- Adherence to the Mansfield Rule in the US, which requires that at least 30% of the candidates for promotions, senior-level positions, and leadership roles be women, minority, and LGBTQ lawyers.
Sparking real change for professionals from under-represented groups at all levels across Dentons and creating a truly inclusive environment within the legal field is a significant challenge. But, with engaged leadership, firmwide participation and openness to new ideas, Dentons is changing the status quo.