A focus on... our Code of Conduct
Global Partner for Talent Chinwe Odimba-Chapman and Warsaw Head of HR Agnieszka Kupiec discuss how our Code of Conduct underpins the way we act as a responsible business.
Why is it important the firm has a Code of Conduct?
Chinwe: It’s crucial everyone who works for Clifford Chance understands the standards of behaviour expected of them when they’re dealing with colleagues, clients and third-party stakeholders. When you’re a large, successful organisation, it’s easy to take it for granted everyone is on the same page, has the same values and abides by the same standards, but two years ago we felt we needed something more concrete about the type of culture we want in the firm today and moving forward. We didn’t want anyone to be making assumptions on what was or was not acceptable behaviour.
Agnieszka: I strongly believe a Code of Conduct is one of the most important statements in our organisation because it presents our values and principles in a clear and direct way. It’s vital everyone in our firm, no matter their beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or race, feels comfortable as they are and that their rights are respected. The Code of Conduct sets out the ethical guidelines, policies and best practices that make that aspiration a reality.
How did you develop the Code of Conduct?
Agnieszka: We carried out a global culture survey with the consulting firm Principia in 2019 which proved there are many great things about our culture but also some areas that could be improved. The Code of Conduct is a key part of our response to these issues.
Chinwe: We had been considering developing our Code of Conduct for some time, partly because we could see that discussions around inclusion, and the #MeToo movement were really putting a very helpful spotlight on behaviour and expectations. Then, when we commissioned the culture review from Principia, which was all about being proactive and asking what more we could do to strengthen and nurture our culture. Through that, we gathered a series of recommendations, one of which was to have a more formal and up-to-date Code of Conduct. Under the leadership of Jeroen Ouwehand, our Senior Partner, we therefore assembled a group of partners and business professionals from different regions and practice areas to develop the Code. It was important we had input from different offices and also from lawyers and business professionals to ensure we captured a range of perspectives, made sure we got the language right and reflected the global nature of the firm.
How have you gone about embedding the Code of Conduct within the firm?
Chinwe: It’s been quite impressive to see how it’s been done, particularly during a pandemic. We viewed the embedding process as a real opportunity to connect teams and remind them of our common sense of purpose and behavioural expectations. To do this, we have been running a series of workshops that focus on key elements of the Code of Conduct, examples and a series of case studies, all designed to give attendees the opportunity to reflect on what it means for them, how they can apply the principles of the Code of Conduct in everyday life in the firm today, and how this will affect how we behave in future. The feedback has been incredibly positive and the workshops have really brought the Code of Conduct to life, so we will continue running them.
How would you say the Code of Conduct contributes to making the firm more sustainable?
Chinwe: It’s critical in helping the firm continue to thrive while having a positive impact on the markets in which it operates. This was a ‘stop and think’ moment for the firm and our people, which was not just an inward-looking exercise, it was about how we interact with people outside the firm too. One of the principles of the Code of Conduct s ‘Act Responsibly’– in relation to our own people and to third parties. This also relates to how we do business and what types of mandate we take on and whether they are sustainable. Another of the principles is ‘Be Inclusive’, which covers our own people as well as clients, suppliers and other third parties. Our Code of Conduct principles are not just aimed at internal stakeholders, they also govern how we engage with the outside world.
How far does the Code underpin how we act as a responsible business?
Agnieszka: I think our Code of Conduct not only defines internal expectations, it’s also an external statement of our firm’s values and commitments towards clients and other third parties. It sets out our obligation to operate in the most ethical way and I think our clients expect us to demonstrate these principles and values in the work we do for them. It’s created a level of transparency and that’s great for fostering long-term business relationships.
Chinwe: I’m seeing a lot of requests for proposals from clients specifically asking the question “Do you have a Code of Conduct?” so it’s certainly something clients expect of us. We’ve also seen a huge shift in the world during the pandemic in terms of being a responsible business and we’re increasingly being asked to demonstrate what we’re doing. Our Code of Conduct means we are in a great position to be able to say to our clients we take being a responsible business seriously.
How have our people reacted to the Code of Conduct?
Chinwe: The feedback has been extremely positive and people have been really engaged. On the workshops in particular, extremely busy people took part for two hours, all contributing, all providing their own personal examples of how the Code of Conduct can be lived and breathed. I think people welcome the clarity and consistency the Code of Conduct brings and I’d say it’s been an overwhelming success.
What does the Code of Conduct mean for you, both personally and professionally?
Agnieszka: For me, it’s one of the most important things in our firm, a framework telling us how we should and shouldn’t behave. The code reminds us that we should be demonstrating the right behaviours daily and not just when someone is watching. From an HR point of view, it’s also something that’s extremely attractive to new joiners and shows them we are more attuned to our social responsibility.
Chinwe: As our Global Partner for Talent, it’s really important for me professionally because it can be the differentiating factor for the firm in terms of how we recruit and retain the best talent. I’ve stayed at the firm because of its positive culture, which is partly driven by the way people behave, and I think that will be the same for those we are attracting and those who are trying to progress through the organisation. One of my favourite Code of Conduct principles is ‘Embrace Challenge’ because, for me, a truly inclusive and positive culture is one where people are prepared to challenge and welcome challenge. I believe that’s key to maintaining a sustainable, positive culture, helps us break down silos and is a crucial key element of how we continue to thrive and be a successful business.