Black History Month: It’s vital to have BAME role models in the profession

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What’s your background? Did you always want a D&I role?

I started my legal career as a lawyer, practising in the area of corporate securities, both in a law firm and in-house — which I did for over 10 years. The path to becoming a diversity professional was not planned, but evolved over many years.  At the firm where I started my practice, I was one of the founding members of its Diversity Committee (back then the focus was on diversity, as the emphasis on inclusion came later) and my work in this area then progressed over time.

I was, and continue to be, passionate about the work that I do, both as a member of the legal profession and as a parent.  I also hold a strong belief that it is important, particularly working within the legal profession, to be a role model and to be representative and inclusive of all the communities where we live and serve.

Were you put off from initially entering the legal profession because of its predominantly white, male reputation? 

No, although I do remember someone telling me that my decision to study law and become a lawyer was probably going to be more difficult for me as a woman and in particular a woman of colour. However, all this did was motivate me to work harder, determined to prove that I would not let the fact I was a woman of colour dictate what I could achieve. I was also lucky enough to work with other minority lawyers early in my career who helped me tremendously and have become my lifelong friends. It was an early lesson in the power of mentorship and collaboration.

Tell us about your role now

I am currently the Director of Global D&I at Baker McKenzie.  At Baker McKenzie we have diversity and inclusion committees in many offices around the world, from Spain to Tokyo, Hong Kong to Johannesburg, from London to Chicago – our reach is refreshingly global. With such a large global mandate, my remit is extensive, but supported by members of the D&I team and other talented colleagues around the firm. As a firm we enjoy and benefit from strong leadership, starting with our global chair Paul Rawlinson, as well the Chair of our Global D&I Committee Constanze Ulmer-Eilfort, who are also a members of the firm’s executive committee. Our Global D&I committee is composed of passionate senior representatives from each region of the firm and we proudly work as a team to achieve the firm’s objectives and goals.

What do you think the biggest challenge is to effecting genuine, long-lasting change on race equality in the legal profession? 

I don’t believe that it’s one specific thing, but a wave of things that need to happen on multiple levels. Setting goals and accountability is paramount. There is a lot of focus on recruitment, retention and advancement of women and ethnic minority  and LGBT+ lawyers, which of course is critical. A recent initiative by the firm is our participation in the Mansfield 2.0 pilot to promote greater diversity in our senior recruitment and leadership candidate pools. Under Mansfield, candidate pools for senior hiring and promotion seek to be 30 per cent diverse, defined as women, ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT+ community.  In addition to this, we must look carefully at our internal systems for unconscious bias.

Another area of importance is to engage with members of the legal community, such as bar associations and non profit organizations, as well as with our clients and corporations to advance D&I goals within the  broader legal and business communities.

What’s been your career highlight to date? 

I am fortunate to have had many wonderful opportunities as both a lawyer and a diversity professional.  What stands out most to me are the incredible friendships I have made along the way, the support I have received and the amazing people I have been honored to work with. I have seen a great deal of change over the past 27 years of my legal career, but the pace has been much slower than what is needed to achieve full diversity and inclusion in the profession, in particular among ethnic minority lawyers.

Who’s your biggest role model? 

My first role model was my mother, a woman of integrity, intelligence and dignity.  She also had a wonderful sense of humor and extraordinary resilience.  As a diversity professional and woman of color I stand on the shoulders of many people, to whom I am most grateful. Those who have paved the way, large and small, sometimes by just showing up and working hard.

What advice would you give to aspiring BAME lawyers entering the profession now? 

Be fearless. There are no limitations. It is important to work hard and hone your legal skills, but to also be confident in your abilities to achieve your goals. I am inspired each day by my two daughters. They are in high school and college and are fearless with respect to what they can accomplish which is so exciting for our future.

Anna Brown is global director of diversity and inclusion at Baker McKenzie

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