This week I was prompted to attend a virtual internal training module provided to and expected to be completed by all Pinsent Masons staff. This is nothing new, and during my tenure here, I’ve completed many of these virtual courses covering a number of different aspects of business which help to inform and address some of the challenges of working in the modern professional world (anti-bribery, fraud, info security etc). I imagine many employees of similarly sized businesses are expected to complete such courses and in many cases, they are indeed useful to know. However, while reading, scrolling and clicking through this most recent course which covered diversity, inclusion and preventing harassment, one particular line which described the harassment of staff based on protected traits stood out to me :
“We believe that the benefit of maintaining a culture of equality and diversity will always exceed the value of any lost business.”
It shouldn’t have been so surprising to me, given that Pinsent Masons as a global firm has consistently and very publicly stated its intentions to maintain and promote ethics and be ‘force for good’. Initiatives such as the Mindful Business Charter, bridging the gender pay gap and indeed our purpose statement, which is to “champion change, promote progress and enable everyone, to make business work better for people”, reinforces the desire to challenge the status quo and actively improve the lives of the people it engages with.
And yet, knowing all this, I was still slightly shocked by seeing this line within this course; perhaps it’s because it was written down in very certain terms rather than implicitly implied, or perhaps the way it is phrased: a commercial business stating to all its employees it is willing to choose its morals over commercial gain.
Of course, many businesses have proclaimed similar standards in the press and professed to hold certain issues close to their hearts, but there have been a number of infamous examples where they have been caught out embellishing their claims. Occasionally, this may be professing to be a proponent for changing the world for the better and committing to noble causes, but ultimately some of these initiatives being nothing more than superficial statements or political point-scoring. In worse cases, it might involve covering up more nefarious operations.
Some people are therefore justifiably cynical at such initiatives and organisations need to go much deeper than superficial PR announcements to show just how serious these issues are to their business, their culture, their staff and ultimately their bottom lines.
Public cynicism of CSR
In recent years, the trend of ‘greenwashing’ (the act of claiming to care for the environment but actually causing it harm) has been a notable example of big companies being caught out. So how do we – employees, contractors, customers, wider society – really identify which companies and firms have a genuine stake in the interests of these causes?
Well, it certainly helps to have insider knowledge on the company in question. An outsider visiting the ‘Our Commitment’ section on a company website will always yield a mixture of truths and exaggerations. Conversely, reading press clippings will usually just bring up the failings of CSR initiatives or historical scandals where companies have misled the public, rather than more positive examples. This is where knowing someone with intimate knowledge of a company really helps; an employee will know whether a business really cares about diversity and inclusion because they experience the culture of the business each and every day. They know whether a new company-wide commitment to reducing their carbon footprint is serious or not because they will know the company policy on printing documents or company travel etc.
Obviously we as consumers, employees or individuals can’t possibly know the true cultures or agendas of all companies and firms we interact with but it’s amazing what a little research on the internet, such as on forums or on social media, can reveal about some of these large scale initiatives. As all good legal professionals know, due diligence and discovery are vital before taking any actions.
On a Journey
So looping back to Pinsent Masons’ statement, just how seriously do Pinsent Masons take their commitment to their values? Mike Harvey, Head of Responsible Business at Pinsent Masons had the following comment on the matter: “At Pinsent Masons we look beyond profit when measuring our success. We know that businesses with an inclusive culture outperform on profitability however, for us, success means being responsible to all our stakeholders, and that cannot be measured by financial success alone. Success for us is to fulfill our purpose, ‘to make business work better for people’. Financial success is a direct consequence of being a purposeful business. We look to our purpose to help us prioritise and guide how we act. It gives us a clear sense of who we are, what we stand for and why we exist. It drives us to be inclusive, diverse, curious, innovative and responsible. But we’re not complacent, there is much more to be done and there will always be room for improvement.”
From Mike’s statement, my own experiences within the firm, the feedback from fellow colleagues and comms from official channels, it’s clear to me that Pinsent Masons have given a lot of thought to developing their purpose, their culture and their values including the commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive culture. As a reader who might be external to our firm, you may dismiss my opinion with ‘Well of course, you’d say that!’ or similar exclamations, but I have worked in businesses previously where similar ambitious statements have been declared but were completely disparate to the internal working culture of the business. It certainly feels more organic here in Pinsent Masons; I recall quite vividly that when I started here four years ago, I was invited to a meeting within my first month for my thoughts, opinions and experiences in regards to race; I can’t recall ever having official meetings to hear my thoughts in previous roles (they were more typically ‘off-the-record’, water-cooler chats which happened to mention race). It was both surprising and uplifting to know that they were interested in hearing my thoughts even as a new employee.
My experience was four years ago, how have things progressed since then? I spoke to my colleague Abigail Crane who joined the firm much more recently for her experiences of Pinsent Masons’ culture so far: “Since joining Pinsent Masons Vario six months ago, I have consistently observed the firm ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to maintaining and improving inclusivity at Pinsent Masons. Just a few of these actions include intentionally planning for, promoting and celebrating events across the diversity calendar, regularly offering relevant and meaningful educational opportunities, and incepting and adhering to policies that allow and encourage us to bring our whole-selves to work. Everyone I have met within the firm advocates that, here at Pinsent Masons, they feel fully supported by their managers, team and the wider firm in a truly holistic way.”
And it’s not just an internal culture in isolation either. Taken from Pinsent Masons’ website we state: ‘This isn’t a journey we want to do alone. We encourage you, and everyone with links to our firm, to be inspired to do what’s right by people and the planet.’ Consultants and stakeholders within our Vario group are very much part of our network and we hope that those currently engaged with us and perhaps those looking to join us are equally committed to help change for ‘good’.
This article was contributed by Kwan Cheung.