Creating a diversity culture at work needs allies
who aren’t afraid to get a little uncomfortable,
as WIPR’s Tom Phillips discovers.
eth Marshall, a patent attorney at
Murgitroyd in Aberdeen, Scotland, has
no trouble recalling what happened
early in her career: while attending one
of her first conferences, someone made a comment
that was intended to be flattering but it crossed a
line. On this occasion, an ally stepped in.
“I wasn’t in a position of authority, I didn’t have
power in the situation when the comment was made.
Someone standing up for me was huge,” Marshall
remembers. On other such occasions, no-one had
stepped in, she adds gravely.
From a diversity and inclusion (D&I) perspective,
allies can be defined as people, most likely colleagues,
who support a minority community that exists
within a workplace.
An ally may be a member of a different D&I
group, or someone for whom the concept of
D&I itself was previously alien.
What they provide to under-represented
communities, as Marshall discovered, can be
profound. If a law firm or in-house legal team has
any chance of achieving its diversity aims, allies can
be vital, bringing with them the added incentives of
positively affecting not only workplace culture but a
firm’s image—and even revenue.
Leading by example
David Stone, global head of IP at Allen & Overy
(A&O), is a proud advocate of D&I issues. He is very
involved in the firm’s LGBT network, A&Out, which
has more than 100 members and 700 allies worldwide.
WIPR Influential Women in IP 2020
A&O operates a ‘women in IP’ workstream in its
global IP group. It is also looking at how the firm uses
barristers and is working with chambers on practical
improvements to D&I.
The firm has been on what Stone calls a
journey to reach its variety of schemes, helped by
senior management making D&I one of the firm’s
“Allies are not just important—they’re essential.
It boils down to an individual’s or community’s
agency within an organisation,” he says.
“Comparatively, not many people are in these
diverse populations. It should never be up to those
people to ensure that the larger cohort becomes
“It’s not just a management responsibility, it’s the
responsibility of all of us. And allies help with that.”
Whether you do
it because it’s
the right thing,
or because it’s a
to do, everyone
Rachael Rodman, Ulmer & Berne