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Clifford Chance

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Working towards a sustainable future

Choosing to Challenge with Clifford Chance

This International Women's Day, Senior Associate Amy Bird reflects on our #ChooseToChallenge campaign and the importance of its core message in light of the past year. She also highlights a few positive ambitions for change in her role as co-chair of the UK chapter of our global gender parity group, Accelerate>>>.

I want this to be a year of positive challenge – working together to challenge ourselves to be our best for a sustainable future. This last year has challenged us all - last International Women's Day, society was starting to go into lockdown around the globe. Cue a year of home-schooling, continuous remote working, severe isolation and – sadly – for some, illness and loss. This coming year, I want us to take those challenges and turn them to positive good. The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge. Let's embrace it.

As incoming UK co-chair of Clifford Chance's gender parity network Accelerate >>>, next International Women's Day, I want to be able to look back and see what we have achieved together for gender parity. Our outgoing co-chair Alice Jefferis has achieved a huge amount during her tenure, and it is in part thanks to her (and my fellow co-chair Angela Chaggar) that we have such a strong position to start from at Clifford Chance. The firm continues to campaign for an inclusive future, as can be seen from the most recent Inclusion Report and our IWD campaign. I am looking forward to being part of that work.

This time next year, I want to be celebrating the below achievements:

 1. Building back better.

There is a collective hope and enthusiasm to learn from Covid-19, and to harness learnings for a better future.

As part of Clifford Chance's global employment law group and our ESG Board, I have had the privilege of working with clients across sectors to help them build back better, whether that is supporting them in developing working models post-Covid that will better support diversity, or devising positive action in recruitment campaigns to improve diversity performance (whether in respect of gender or other underrepresented groups), or tracking global diversity figures to measure their progress, or putting in place that all important 'tone from the top' to support diversity governance.

Internally at Clifford Chance, Accelerate >>> are pushing against an open door. This last year has seen the firm continue to campaign for diversity and inclusion. We have strong diversity targets that we are driving to achieve. We have signed the Law Society’s Women in Law pledge, supporting the progression of women into senior roles in the profession by focusing on retention and promotion opportunities. We have partnered with Peppy, a digital healthcare and wellbeing platform that allows organisations to support their people during major life transitions – menopause, fertility and parenthood. Our people are championing equal rights in many different ways through the incredible pro bono and community outreach work they do across the world.  We also have a reverse mentoring programme so that senior leaders receive positive challenge in open and far-reaching discussion with more junior staff.

There is real momentum here. But there is more to do.

The challenge, as a society (of which Clifford Chance and its clients are an important part), is to make concrete the cultural learnings we have gained in the last year, and to carry this momentum forward into sustained change. It seems clear to me that so many of us want this, so let's afford ourselves that luxury – or some might say, that necessity.

This is, of course, not just a gender issue. It is a people issue. Let's help each other to live our best lives. Let's keep challenging and, come next year, look back and feel proud that we made that extra leap to maintain the drive created. There will be more to do, there always is, but let's make progress on the journey.

 2. More ambassadors for parity.

We can all be our own ambassadors for change and for parity, and to make allied across sectors, industries and – importantly – genders.

For example, Accelerate>>> is not Clifford Chance's women's network. It is our gender parity network. There are a lot of issues that women specifically face in their working lives, and as a network we work with the firm to call these out, and reduce any remaining challenges to recruitment, retention and best support of female talent.

However, many issues faced are ones faced by all genders and at all levels in all organisations, for example balancing a caring duty, whether that is for a child or an elderly relative, and many will seek to factor that in to the working culture of the future. Everyone is in this together. We can all be ambassadors for parity and positive futures.

Accelerate >>> work with our partner organisations (such as the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society) and affinity groups of our client networks to connect together as ambassadors. At such a time as we all convene in a room again, I look forward to the meetings in person with the networks we have developed. For now, let's challenge ourselves to keep pushing the boundaries together, welcoming those who may not have been part of the conversation previously. I want to make sure that we are all included in making sure that there is a level playing field for success.

3. Having worn purple every day.

Not literally. That would be odd. What I mean is that, every day, to have made some positive challenge for parity or wider sustainable futures. That might be through working through the social or governance elements of ESG opportunities with a reach across workforces or investments. It might be questioning an assumption about the approach to gendered language in a document. Or it might be challenging myself to carve-out time to do the school drop off every so often (now that they are open again in the UK!).

Wearing purple for a day to celebrate women and focus on what has been achieved is a great symbol, but let's keep that as a mental reminder throughout the year that positive challenge of self and others needs to be ongoing to achieve sustainable futures.

But I also say this in the spirit of fun. There have been serious issues in the last year, and serious ones to come. I would also like us all, though, once the world gradually re-opens again, to enjoy the changes that we make together – they are driven at achieving a happier, more convivial world for all. Fun has been in limited supply in the last year, so let's challenge ourselves to embrace and enjoy making the above commitments. I want to look back next year and think of all the fun we have had together.

We can enjoy creating our networks and enjoying celebrating our cultures before then – and please do join the Clifford Chance IWD campaign for that reason – is geared to entertain as much as to educate. But let's really make those connections 'in real life' again when we can.

So join me as we #ChooseToChallenge. Make your own pledges, challenge yourselves and others. And let's see, this time next year, how we can celebrate together our sustainable futures.