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“Respect is not an indulgence”—inclusive and effective change leadership in legal teams

Desmond Brady

02 Jul 2019

Effective change leadership requires authenticity, an emotional connection, and an inclusive vision across the organisation. These were among the conclusions from a recent roundtable dinner on inclusion, gender and leadership convened by Suki Binjal, Director of Belvedere Legal, Interim Director of Legal at Hackney Borough Council, and immediate Past President of Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), as part of the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law programme (TWLL)—of which Suki is an Advisory Board member. The event brought together local government legal directors from across the UK and several members of the LLG executive, as well as junior lawyers from Hackney and a number of law firm partners.

The diverse group drew on a variety of backgrounds and experiences to explore power dynamics, the challenges of dealing with others’ perceptions, and what it means to lead and drive cultural change in professional and legal organisations today.

Justine Lutterodt, Director at the Centre for Synchronous Leadership, explored in a keynote the personal and organisational barriers to cultural change, along with practical and helpful advice on how to work as an effective change leader: “Too often, those who are passionate about change struggle to gain buy-in from those who are content with the status quo. The skill of connecting emotionally with different stakeholders—including those who disagree—is a key differentiator of changemakers who achieve lasting, systemic impact”.

From a leadership point of view, discussions focused on the need to find common goals that unite the legal workforce, both majority and minority groups, while fostering difference and creating a supportive environment for under-represented groups. Powerful personal stories from delegates underlined the need to create not just a rational but an emotional connection with the need for change. Other testimony highlighted the success of LGBT+ groups in fostering ’ally’ connections, and the need for leaders to act on creating opportunities and respect for a range of minority groups.

The crucial role of personal authenticity in leadership was emphasised. Acting as a positive role model and embodying the change that is needed were called out, as was the importance of the principle Lutterodt refers to as “starting slow to go fast” and assessing the level of change the people in one’s organisation can handle. Lutterodt believes that systemic change should not be seen in terms of winning battles but instead as a transformative process for all groups in the organisation. “An effective change maker brings the whole system on a journey. And that’s similar to the job of an entrepreneur”, said Lutterodt.

On a personal level, discussions focussed on the wide variety of external and internal factors that push individuals to succeed, or conversely lead to self-censorship and stagnation. In revealing discussions, it became clear that there is no one size fits all when it comes to career motivations. Many leaders in the room shared their feelings that previous adversity had given the spur to their progression and development, while others acknowledged the clear privileges enjoyed by individuals from majority groups.

Binjal commented, “I was delighted that we were able to create an open and relaxed environment for all of us to share our personal journeys and experiences. It really was an inspiring evening, capturing a shared, genuine desire to break down the cultural organisational barriers needed for women to succeed on an equal footing in whatever their profession”.

“It’s great to see how TWLL is taking leadership in the legal sector, and planting the seeds for meaningful change”, added Lutterodt.

 

 

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