In 2018, Gowling WLG Canada embarked on its three-year Clients First: Strategic Plan. One of the goals of the comprehensive plan is to have a partnership that is one-third female by January 1, 2021.
To help make this happen, Gowling WLG engaged Deloitte as a third-party consultant to conduct a thorough examination of the firm's existing approach to partnership admission – and make recommendations on how to reduce the impact unconscious gender bias may have on it.
Tune in to season 4, episode 3 of Diversonomics as hosts Roberto Aburto and Cindy Kou speak with Gowling WLG Canada CEO Peter Lukasiewicz about the steps the firm is taking to improve – and ultimately eliminate unconscious bias from – the partnership admission process.
"If we're going to continue to advance as a firm, we need to be certain that our processes are giving everybody equal opportunity to prove their merit, to fulfill their career ambitions and ultimately to be appropriately considered for admission to the partnership."
— Peter Lukasiewicz, Chief Executive Officer, Gowling WLG Canada
You are listening to "Diversonomics", a Gowling WLG podcast. Season 4, Episode 3.
Roberto: Welcome to Diversonomics. The podcast about diversity and inclusion from Gowling WLG. I'm your co-host Roberto Aburto, practicing in the Ottawa office.
Cindy: And I'm your co-host, Cindy Kou, practicing in the Toronto Office. We've received encouragement from our listeners for this episode which will pull back the curtain and look at some of the inner workings at Gowling WLG. And what better guest to speak to this than our CEO, Peter Lukasiewicz. In addition to being the Chief Executive Officer of Gowling WLG Canada, Peter also serves as a member of Gowling WLG's international board. In these roles Peter is responsible for guiding the firms Canadian and international strategies and championing Gowling WLG's core beliefs that the best way to serve clients is to be in tune with our world, aligned with our opportunities and ambitious for their success. Prior to becoming CEO Peter practiced as a senior commercial litigator, counselling and representing domestic and global clients in a wide range of complex commercial disputes. He has been repeatedly recognized as one of Canada's leading commercial litigators by the Canadian Legal Expert Directory and The Best Lawyers in Canada. Peter is actively involved in his community. He's a member of the board of directors of Indspire, an Indigenous like charity that invests in the education of First Nation, Inuit and Métis students across Canada. Welcome to the show, Peter. Gowling has been making changes to its partnership admissions process. In 2018 Gowling retained Deloitte. What were they retained to do?
Peter: First of all, thank you very much, Cindy and Roberto, for inviting me on to the show. It's the first time I've ever done anything like this so I'm excited to participate and very grateful for the opportunity to talk about what steps we've taken in the firm with respect to improving our partnership admission process. The first thing you've asked me to speak about is why did we retain Deloitte and what were they retained to do. Just stepping back for a moment, in 2018 the firm, after extensive consultation amongst all professionals, partners and associates, embarked on a 3 year strategic plan called "Clients First". That strategic plan operates in three pillars; clients, people in talent and innovation and then the people in talent pillar, one of the goals we set for ourselves was to have a partnership that was 33% female by January 1, 2021. A very ambitious goal given the short period of time between the initiation of the plan and the target. One of the first things in achieving that goal we identified that we had not had a hard look at our partnership admission process from the perspective of unconscious gender bias and the question that we put to Deloitte was, we would like you to examine our partnership admission process and assess whether, in your opinion, there is a risk of unconscious gender bias in the process and if you find that there is a risk of unconscious gender bias, we would like your recommendations as to what we could do to mitigate that bias. That was the reason we engaged Deloitte and that's what we asked them to do and that's what they did over the course of the summer of 2018.
Cindy: Thanks, Peter. Why did the firm executive leadership team think that it was important to retain an outside consultant?
Peter: First of all why retain an outside consultant, put simply, we haven't got the expertise to do that kind of work in house and, as well, I wanted to ensure that we had an absolutely unbiased perspective on our partnership admission process. Our partnership admission process engages a very broad cross section of the firm. I think it would be difficult for the firm to look at itself and assess one of the most important processes we engage in as a business. That's why we engaged Deloitte as opposed to doing it ourselves. Why did we think it was important to do this? People are fundamental to our success as a business and within that, if you like, it's absolutely fundamental in my view that we ensure that everyone in the firm has the equal opportunity to succeed and that means, in the context of a law firm like Gowling, success for professionals means becoming a partner, generally speaking. For me it was absolutely critical that if we're going to continue to advance as a firm we need to be certain that our processes are given everybody equal opportunity to prove their merit, to fulfill their career ambitions and ultimately to be appropriately considered for admission to the partnership and, if qualified, become partners. To me it is just mission critical for the business that we make sure that we've got this right.
Roberto: As Cindy mentioned in the open, we've got some inquiries about this process and I think there's people from other firms who are very interested. What did Deloitte's process look like?
Peter: Deloitte did a number of things. First of all, it won't surprise you that they did a lot of data review. What we did is we gave them all of the information with respect to partnership admission candidates from 2015 through to 2018. So that they could take a look at all of the information, meaning financial and non-financial information that was available for those who were making decisions, so that they could review that information and make assessments based on that information, which was as I say, quantitative in terms of all the statistics we keep about individuals practices and also qualitative, if you like, in the sense that we use qualitative information by way of candidate assessment forms as part of the process. Secondly, they did a survey of all of our professionals who became income partners in each of those years. In other words they surveyed all of the professionals who had become income partners in each of 2015, 16, 17 and 18. That provided them with a rich body of data in terms of the experience of those individuals as they went through the partnership admission process. Finally, they interviewed individually all of the members of our internal management committee. At Gowling our management structure, for the purposes of the partnership admission process, has three pieces to it, if you like. Recommendations for partnership candidates come from each of the offices through the office managing partner speaking on behalf of the office management committee. Those recommendations go to the internal management committee. That committee is comprised of all of the office managing partners and it is shared by Tina Woodside who is a member of the executive leadership team. That's the group that I lead. The group of five. Myself, two firm managing partners, our chief financial officer and our chief operating officer. The recommendations go from the office management committee to the internal management committee, or IMC, and from there the recommendations go either to our board of trustees, for income partners, or to our equity partners, at large, for equity partners. It was important for Deloitte to interview the office managing partners to understood two things. Number one, how they manage the process in their own office in terms of reviewing potential candidates, and then ultimately bringing names forward to IMC. Secondly, to interview them with respect to their role at the IMC table. That was the process. That was all the information that Deloitte gathered, information from all of those sources, and out of that came their report and their recommendations.
Roberto: What were Deloitte's findings?
Peter: What Deloitte determined is that there were points in time in our process where there was a risk of unconscious bias creeping in. There were certainly indicators that unconscious bias could be present because in comparing the male and female population of candidates, and successful candidates if I can put it that way, there would appear on the data indications that in some cases discretion was exercised more frequently in the case of male candidates than in the case of female candidates. In other words, individuals whose financial performance might look similar the outcomes might be different. Having identified points in the process where the firm could take steps to mitigate the risk of unconscious gender bias they made the recommendations and in short these were the recommendations. First of all, for me one of the most important ones is, as I mentioned earlier, our process for partnership admission is a ground up process. The way it starts is that all professionals who have been called to the Bar for a certain period of time, at Gowling it's typically 8 years, they are all eligible for consideration so it's a very large number of folks. In each office the office management committee considers all of the people who are eligible by way of the year of call and begins to really assess who realistically is a candidate. The first recommendation that we followed, well, we followed all of Deloitte's recommendations but I would say one of, I think, most important, most impactful was that we agreed, ELT said to IMC and IMC agreed, that for the purposes of partnership admission process if there wasn't a gender balance, meaning gender equality on the management committee, that had to be achieved. In other words if a management committee did not have a 50/50 balance of men and women, our management committees are comprised of the managing partner and department heads, some have gender balance just naturally, if you like, through that process. Others don't. In those committees were there wasn't gender balance we added female equity partners to the committee for the purposes of partnership admission. Every office management committee who was considering candidates had 50/50 men and women. I know from speaking with managing partners, department heads after the process in 2018, uniformly they said it was a materially different process and discussion at the management committee table as a result of simply that one, frankly, relatively easily achieved change which was to ensure gender balance at the table. That was number one. Number two was that Deloitte found is that there were differences office to office in terms of the standards and approach being applied by an office to deciding which candidates would go forward. You start with this very large number of candidates that is everybody in the office who has practiced for 8 or more years, what we call the long list, IMC gets that down to a short list of candidates. Part of that is done at the office management committee. What Deloitte said is through their interview process, you in fact across the country are using slightly different standards. It is not necessarily the same in the office to the next. You need to have a common standard so that every office management committee is making the decision of who goes onto the short list using the same criteria. That we did as well. That was actually quite a lot of work led by Bryce Kraeker. Bryce is the managing partner in our Waterloo region office but he also chairs our partnership admission process and he led that work of coming up with uniform criteria. That was implemented in 2018. Thirdly, what Deloitte said is that what you are communicating to candidates differs a little bit because the communication is office by office. You don't have a regular national firm wide communication to associates of this is how the process works. These are the criteria. This is the criteria for admission to partnership. This is what all the data means. You need to have a single communication where this information is put out to all the associates at the same time so they are all hearing the same thing. We had traditionally done it office by office. We made that change as well and I held the first of these national associates meetings in 2018 to explain the process to all associates this year. Bryce Kraeker and Tina Woodside chaired that meeting. Another change we made is that as part of our process when you get down to a short list of candidates, a candidate assessment form is prepared by the office for each candidate, and it's typically driven by the department head working with the managing partner. Again, what Deloitte found is that there are differences in those forms, particularly between the differences in language between the form that was completed for a male candidate versus a female candidate. They were able to identify through a word map of these language differences which were candidly quite stark when you saw them next to each other. That was a problem in the sense that those forms convey information and they give the decision makers an impression of the candidate. Because ultimately the final recommendations are made by IMC acting as a body so the managing partner will know very well the candidates from their office. They might know less well the candidates from another office, therefore the submission forms are important and it is important that the language be gender neutral. We agreed. What we directed is that all of the candidate submission forms would be reviewed by our D & I manager. The role of the manager is to ensure that those submission forms are gender neutral. It is not her role to advocate for a particular candidate or to adjust the substance of it. It's to ensure that across the board the language is gender neutral as between men and women. Those were the key changes that we made in the process. We have a longer term goal that we need to begin working on, and it's not so much the decision making process, but it's what is often called the candidate pipeline. In other words, going back and ensuring in the years leading up to partnership men and women associates have the same opportunities to excel. That's a longer term process of change. It's one that I anticipate we will begin working on later this year and into 2020. I've given you an all too long answer. All of the key recommendations that Deloitte made to us, all of which we implemented, and uniformly at the end of it, everyone who was involved said it was a much better process then previously had been the case.
Roberto: Well, thank you so much for being here with us today, Peter, and I've always said on this show that the buy in and leadership from the top of law firms is critical and I think this has been a real example where our leadership is pushing us in the right direction. We've got a long way to go but this is really a good sign of process. Thanks for being here today and talking with us about this.
Peter: Thank you for having me. This is the first time I've done one of these, as I said at the outset, and I hope it's not the last. That you'll invite me back someday.
Roberto: For our listeners, if you have any questions, comments or ideas for topics and guests please look us up at gowlingwlg.com and get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you. Also make sure to check out the show notes for this episode at diversonomics.com. Last but not least make sure you subscribe on Apple podcast. Don't ever miss an episode and leave us a review and you'll recall that you do get CPD credits for this so our popular time of year in December is coming up. We look forward to getting lots of downloads then. You can also follow me on Twitter, in the law Twitter universe, at @robaburto. Peter, do you have anything you'd like to promote? Any Twitter or social media?
Peter: I will simply promote the firm as a great place to work and the two of you for doing the great work that you are doing in the firm in your practice and helping us in our diversity and inclusion initiative. Thank you very much.
Cindy: Thank you, Peter. And you can follow me on Twitter at @ckoutweets. Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG and produced by Rachael Reid. Thanks for listening.
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