29 Jul 2017

Interview with Sunny Mann and Tania Arora of Baker McKenzie

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Q 1): Talk me through your career journey including challenges you have overcome?

A 1): Sunny Mann, Partner. EU, Competition & Trade (SM): I’m Sunny, I’ve been with Baker McKenzie for over 17 years now and a partner for 7.  In terms of challenges, I wouldn’t say that I faced any that are particular to the BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) community but one of the biggest I’ve encountered is having the confidence to go out there and pursue opportunities. This is a challenge faced by all talent but one that can be more acute for BAME individuals and something we need to support them with.

Tania Arora, Senior Associate. Corporate (TA): I’m Tania, a senior associate in the corporate team. I’ve been with the firm now for 8 years and I echo Sunny’s thoughts in that there were no BAME specific obstacles in my career. However, I agree that the ability to enhance your profile confidently in a firm or environment where you may be one of an ethnic minority can be challenging for a number of reasons, even though we’ve been lucky to work at firm where diversity is always encouraged. It’s an issue I have gradually learnt to overcome, partly because of the positive steps Baker McKenzie has taken to really drive home that diversity is key to the success of our organisation, but I’ve realised it is a challenge faced by the wider BAME community.

Q 2): The legal profession has taken a number of strides in recent years to become more diverse – what changes have you seen since you began your career at BM? Have you noticed a shift in attitude?

A 2): SM: There is undoubtedly a bigger societal focus on diversity in all its senses and that has come to the fore within Baker McKenzie as well. We’ve introduced a number of very targeted measures to enhance BAME diversity throughout our ranks. We were one of the first law firms to support blind CV’s, which removed photos and references to names and we’ve also supported the introduction of contextual recruitment. And then we also have a very active and proud BAME network – BakerEthnicity – which has championed a number of initiatives.

TA: When I joined the firm I was one of a very few individuals that came from an ethnic minority background, but that has changed significantly over the last few years. As a firm we’ve always recognised the need for diversity but the shift really has been in taking positive action and our diversity groups have done really well in gaining support from the firm’s management to implement a number of positive steps, as Sunny has just mentioned. I’ve also been impressed by our support for organisations, such as NOTICED, that aim to increase the profile of the legal profession for students from backgrounds where a legal career may not be viewed as something within their reach.

SM: Exactly, it’s not just about diversity statistics; we want to improve inclusiveness within the legal profession and the firm so that BAME talent can feel like they belong.

Q 3): Why do you think diversity is important?

A 3): SM: For me there are two key issues here. Firstly, in terms of our organisation and our firm it is an inherent part of who we are. As the first truly global law firm that has operated across borders for many decades, we had to embrace all cultures to succeed, something I’m happy to say we have done. But secondly there is a real business driver behind this all. We need to be able to engage successfully with our stakeholders; that includes potential talent within the recruitment market but also clients that we work with and want to attract. To engage successfully with these stakeholders you need to represent the communities in which they operate and that means having a diverse workforce.

TA: Definitely, I don’t think an organisation in today’s society can be truly successful if everyone thinks the same way. I mean for a firm like ours – with a wide and diverse portfolio of clients operating in different jurisdictions – the ability to bring innovative solutions to clients really depends on having an appropriately diverse work force. So there’s a strong business case for diversity. Then also on an individual level, not only will employees themselves experience more personal growth if they are exposed to different cultures and opinions, but they will also perform better if they’re in an environment where their diversity is accepted and encouraged.

Q 4): What impact do role models have on aspiring lawyers? Who have been role models for you?

A 4): TA: All people in the work place will face struggles throughout their career. However it is crucial to appreciate that, for the most part, those struggles are not unique to you and they need not be career limiting. I’ve been lucky to have a number of role models within Baker McKenzie who were invaluable in advising me on not only my career progression but also personal challenges I was facing in the workplace. Role models or mentoring need not be a formal arrangement. I think firms should promote the benefit of informal mentoring arrangements within their organisation, so that people find it easier to reach out to others when there are particular challenges or difficulties. It could be as simple as a casual chat over coffee. It can do wonders!

SM: I think the other thing to add is that role models aren’t necessarily only the senior members within an organisation. I’ve been very impressed with and inspired by younger talent who have really supported diversity initiatives, and that includes a number of our trainees who have joined us through some of the diversity networks we have supported such as the Black Lawyers Directory.

Q 5): What do you think are the biggest challenge ethnic minority lawyers still face in the legal profession?

A 5): TA: I think the crucial challenge now is to focus on retention. The ability to attract a diverse workforce is important but it’s a greater challenge entirely to be able to retain that wide pool of people, and it requires a different set of objectives and strategies. Whether that’s confronting difficult issues such as unconscious bias, or by simply celebrating different cultures and backgrounds within the firm by having a Diwali night. I think Baker McKenzie has done well on this front but there is always scope to do more in our firm and across the legal profession.

Q 6): What more could we do to continue to improve?

A 6): SM: There is no doubt that as part of tracking your progress on diversity you have to quantify your performance with figures and statistics. But at the same time these statistics can’t be the only metric. You need to engage with your employees, in particular your BAME talent, to understand what challenges they are facing day to day. Only through engagement will you understand whether the diversity is backed up with inclusiveness. Whether your BAME talent is getting the support it needs to learn, develop and progress.

Key Quotes:

“it’s not just about improving diversity statistics; we want to improve inclusiveness within the legal profession and the firm”

“the ability to bring innovative solutions to clients really depends on having an appropriately diverse work force”

“the crucial challenge now is to focus on retention”

“role models aren’t necessarily only the senior members within an organisation”

Sunny Mann Partner. EU,Competition & Trade
Tania Arora Senior Associate. Corporate

 

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