WIPR Influential Women in IP 2020
ethnic), who he meets regularly to learn more about an
experience he has not personally lived. “No-one expects
you to be an expert,” Stone adds.
The second thing the firm asks of its allies is to be
open to talking about D&I issues and sharing their own
experiences with others, perhaps through mentoring
or a more hands-on sponsorship of a colleague.
“Third is ‘be visible’, be that on an email signature,
a marker on an office security pass or a flag on a desk
that says: ‘I am someone you can talk to without fear
of judgement’,” Stone continues.
Last, and sometimes the “most challenging” Stone
says, is to speak out.
“It’s the person who is aware and has the selfconfidence,
the language and the knowledge to stand
up for D&I in all its forms, when it matters,” he adds.
To perform this aspect of ally support requires skill.
“It does not mean challenging the general counsel of
a major client in front of her or his staff,” Stone explains,
“but it may mean having a quiet word afterwards.”
James Skelton, senior associate at Swaab in Sydney,
believes being a good ally can simply mean creating
a safe and supportive environment for D&I issues to
Skelton, who leads the wellbeing and diversity
working group at NSW Young Lawyers, part of the Law
Society of New South Wales in Australia, stresses the
importance of engaging with policies created during
the course of a D&I strategy, so they remain relevant.
“Too often firms adopt an internal policy or sign
up to a programme, only for it to be listed on a
website and never engaged with again. It’s important
to keep the momentum going on these initiatives,”
The loss to a firm that doesn’t deliver can mean
missing out on the best talent. The law students
Skelton speaks to tell him these initiatives can be
the difference between a student’s accepting or
rejecting a firm.
“To be a good ally, even the simple act of using
your influence in the workplace to provide a voice for
those knowledgeable on a D&I issue is so important,”
It can mean something as straightforward as
listening. Marshall believes that too often, people
find it hard to believe that things can be as bad as a
“Listen and believe that what you’re being told is
the truth,” she adds.
She encourages everyone to seek out training
or learn about unconscious bias. “We all have blind
spots, we naturally gravitate towards people who are
“But if we become aware of it, we can start to
challenge our own assumptions and work against our
prejudices,” she explains.
Benefits all around
Whether they are driven by personal fulfilment, a
moral desire to do what’s right, or non-altruistic
business reasons, allies can also benefit from the
experience. In fact, the cold economics of operating
a business with a more diverse workforce are not
something to be shy about, says Rodman.
“If you’re promoting diversity as an ally, you’re
going to benefit the bottom line in your organisation.
You’re going to have better teams, better results, and
“Whether you do it because it’s the right thing, or
because it’s a profitable thing to do, everyone benefits
from increased diversity,” she says.
“There’s a lot to be said for creating a business case
for a particular issue,” Skelton agrees.
Meanwhile, Marshall admits, she embarked on
her involvement in D&I groups thinking she had a
good understanding of the issues. What she found
was the opposite.
“I have learned so much. It has very been
eye-opening learning about the experiences people
have had both in and out of work,” she says.
Overcoming ally nerves
Despite the benefits to allies, minority groups and
businesses, many lawyers may be reticent about
offering their support. The merits of ally programmes
are clear, but many people have painful memories of
saying the wrong thing to a person and for some,
not being part of a diverse group can be a barrier to
Rodman identifies the need to bring men, especially
white men, to the table. “You can’t change the status
quo without buy-in from everyone,” she says.
Lawyers tend not to enjoy being outside their
comfort zone. What’s the message for those who
are worried about making a misstep, getting the
terms wrong, or simply offending someone through
Marshall highlights a barrier that she calls the
“feeling of gatecrashing”.
“Because they are not a member of a community,
people can feel they cannot be a mouthpiece for
that community. But that’s not what being an ally
is about—these groups can do that themselves,”
“It’s okay to be uncomfortable,” Rodman says,
admitting that she has found herself in conversations
reaching to find the right word. “No-one is going to
fault you for trying and getting it wrong.”
“You know more than you think,” says Skelton,
who points out that his own experience of legal
training and early roles will be different from those
in the generation before him. This, he says, gives him
a pass to contribute meaningfully to the discussion
and support others.
Rodman puts it plainly: “The worst that’s going to
happen is somebody’s going to tell you you’ve done
something wrong—and that’s good, because you’ve
It seems the trick to being an ally is the same as with
D&I in general: leave your assumptions at the door. l
face, the more
Beth Marshall, Murgitroyd
to keep the
going on these
James Skelton, Swaab