Accelerate>>> the Need for Speed
Our gender parity group Accelerate>>> marks its second birthday this week, growing from the beginnings of an idea to a truly global network with buy-in from all offices, 11 active country chapters, and seeing co-founder Alice Jefferis take the #33 spot on the global HERoes Women Role Model List 2020 (100 Future Women Leaders). Here, Alice reflects on an instrumental two years.
Alice, Happy Birthday to Accelerate>>>. How does it feel to be marking two years in the driving seat?
It really makes me smile. Accelerate>>> is a huge part of my life and it's fantastic to celebrate and look back at where we started and how far we've come.
How did Accelerate>>> begin?
I was on the committee for what was then our London Women's Network and had the chance to become co-chair with my colleague Stephanie Huts when our partner chair stepped down. At the time, we felt a burning need to involve more people in the conversation – business professionals as well as lawyers, juniors as well as seniors and all genders, which I'd seen work in discussions I'd started in my practice area. I was saddened by feedback that some groups including men didn't feel welcome at events and am firmly of the view we will not see fast-paced change until there is engagement and backing from all. This drove us to form Accelerate>>> and write an inclusive global strategy to 'accelerate' the pace of change towards gender parity.
What makes Accelerate>>> different to a Women's Network?
Action by all. Creating a more inclusive working environment is not only a women's issue, it's something we can all benefit from. From my perspective, everyone at the firm should be interested and take positive action to achieve it. Our targeted strategy sets out that clear expectation and was designed to be testable and focus our efforts on tangible actions.
What has been Accelerate>>>'s biggest achievement?
That is really hard to answer as we have been involved in so many things. My favourites are:
The level of global engagement and excitement around International Women's Day last year. We've gone from local events that were worthwhile but relatively small in number to a united and hugely visible, celebratory campaign that inspired many people to feel proud to be in our firm and proud of our efforts, and importantly to get involved themselves.
Working with charity Spark 21 on the First 100 Years project last year to raise visibility of women in law and mark the centenary of the change in law that allowed women to become lawyers in the UK. It was a great opportunity to engage many of our people – and our clients – in what women in and outside of our firm have achieved and how they've impacted, and could further impact, the wider business community.
Our increased pro bono activity in the gender space has been amazing to be a part of too, which I think signals a step-change in people's awareness of gender issues and willingness to drive change where it's needed the most. In particular, I was very proud of how quickly we were able to fundraise and ramp up our support to the London Black Women's Project during the COVID-19 crisis. We were able to, very quickly, fund a new refuge due to the increase in domestic violence, which was furnished and up and running by June this year. For me, this really says a lot about our firm and the people who work here.
Other very positive steps have been signing The Law Society's Women in Law Pledge, and launching and personally running our reverse mentoring programme. We now have more than 50 people on the scheme and it has served as a blueprint for similar schemes run by other affinity groups and offices which are now equally thriving.
What do you think other businesses could learn from our approach to Accelerate>>>?
It's important to be visible, to provide a framework for global engagement without being dictatorial, and to have a plan. You wouldn't run a firm without a strategy; why would you run an affinity group without a strategy? I'd also advocate treating D&I in the same way as you would any other 'business critical' work as it is fundamental to an organisation's success. It hasn't always been viewed this way, but that's changing.
You will be stepping down as co-chair of the UK chapter at the end of this year. What has been your personal highlight?
The thing that makes me think it was worth all the time and effort, is the personal experiences that would not have happened, or not have happened as quickly, without Accelerate>>>. I've seen the profound, positive impact our reverse mentoring can have on someone's experience in the firm. I've seen our enhanced shared parental leave go from a conversation, to making it happen, to seeing someone join the firm because of it. I've seen focus and shift in how and when inclusion is discussed. I'm excited to see and hear from new voices who I am sure will push forward with just as much passion.
Finally, congratulations on being ranked #33 on the global HERoes Women Role Model List 2020 (100 Future Women Leaders) this year. What does this mean to you?
It means a huge amount. Reading the inspiring profiles on the global list and being placed among them makes me very proud. I've always been driven by my values; fairness and persistence being the core. It is easy in a large corporate organisation to lose track of how they fit in or think it's someone else's job to rectify issues, but we can all make a difference. It's not always easy and there is always more to be done – this is a journey – but HERoes was a very welcome reminder of the distance travelled in a short space of time and, personally and professionally, I'm enormously proud of that.