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Author of the Equality Act of 2006—Daniel Greenberg shares his ally journey

Natalie Runyon

30 Mar 2020

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Daniel Greenberg sits on the Thomson Reuters Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) advisory board for Europe. Greenberg is a barrister by training; worked as parliamentary counsel within the UK government for 20 years; and, for over 10 years has been a lawyer in the UK Parliament—as well as General Editor of Westlaw UK Annotations and Topics for Thomson Reuters. Greenberg is also an international legislative drafter and trainer.

Authoring the Equality Act of 2006 brought Greenberg’s intrinsic, life-long belief in equality of opportunity into sharp focus. Since then, he is acutely aware that there is more work to do. Greenberg describes making discrimination against the law as straightforward and simple relative to the underlying behaviours and long-standing societal beliefs about under-represented groups that continue to perpetuate inequality today. Greenberg elaborates about how it plays out for gender, “It [gender discrimination] has been legislated for in the UK for a number of decades now, and that sometimes gives people the feeling that we’ve sort of cracked that problem.… But the law is never going to be able on its own to tackle the problems of attitude, approach, and indeed aspiration…It’s one of the areas of discrimination which there is the most complacency and therefore where we need to be constantly vigilant.”

Greenberg’s experience working part-time in a law firm sharpened how unequal access to opportunity based on unconscious beliefs and norms play out. Greenberg was shocked by what he saw in parts of the private sector in what he describes as ‘Neanderthal’—which for him, outlines the prehistoric attitudes around gender and systemic male entitlement within society and legal employers. “Comparing the percentages of women at the trainee level and then comparing that as you go through the layers of the hierarchy in law firms, you don’t need the statistics to tell you that something is going very badly wrong”, Greenberg explains.

Indeed, the numbers don’t lie. Of the trainees in the UK—61 percent are women, and yet at the equity partnership level, women’s representation declines by 63 percent to 22 percent according to research by Acritas and TWLL. This is the biggest decline when compared to similar research completed in Asia-Pacific and North America, with the decline from junior associate level to equity partner level sitting at 51 percent for both regions.

Key gender ‘champion’ actions outlined

For Greenberg, he proves his commitment as an advocate for gender equality in several ways:

Seeing the value in everyone. Greenberg demonstrates his advocacy on gender, and more broadly inclusion, through every-day actions aiming to treat people well as both a direct and indirect manager and a colleague in his roles at the House of Commons and Thomson Reuters. His approach involves “everybody feeling that they are valued for their own skills, experience and their own ability to contribute to the team”.

Participating in leadership of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Another way that he proves his commitment to elevating women is through participation in the TWLL advisory board. Greenberg’s approach here is focused on ‘fixing the organisation’ versus ‘fixing the women’. The aim is to make sure that women are not forced to shoehorn themselves into a male environment. Greenberg states, “part of the problem is men thinking that they are helping women achieve in a man’s world”. Instead, it is about overhauling the environment, so it is one that takes advantage of everybody’s skills whether they be men, women or whether they prefer not to identify in a gender binary sex.

Expanding the notion of what workplace flexibility means. To help create a more welcoming and accepting environment where a broad array of leadership behaviours and communication styles are viewed as successful, Greenberg challenges the notion of flexible working in that it is more than just a place where one works. His definition states, “[M]aking it clear that people should not come into a working environment and think how to fit in with its pre-existing assumptions about how people work”. Conversely, Greenberg believes everyone should approach flexible work in defining what it is for each individual and what works for him/her/them. He elaborates, “each person should define, ‘this what I have to offer and this is how it works for me to give my best to your organization’”.

To demonstrate how pervasive the mindset of women having to adapt to an environment that was made for men, Greenberg shares a friendly exchange he had with a woman at a recent TWLL gathering. In response to a woman discussing what it takes for women to make partner at a firm and using the common analogy of being invited to a party is like diversity and being invited to dance is like inclusion. Greenberg challenged, “…[H]old on. If the party is playing a ridiculous piece of music, we don’t want to be given opportunities to dance in the particularly daft way that men are dancing in the partnership at the party. We want to get people to change the music so that we can contribute without being made to dance as male-orientated sort of figures”.

Greenberg describes the ideal state of the workplace that puts into practice his definition of workplace flexibility as one with complete acceptance and without judgement as “a professional workplace where people are conscious that you are valued, and it is demonstrated by expressions of thanks and appreciation focused on what they’re achieving and not on externals”.

Greenberg focuses on judgment because many of the issues around maximising women’s opportunities are presently impeded by judgments in making false choices by putting one’s career first over children or vice versa. In his words, “these are judgments that people shouldn’t even be articulating within the workplace. They’re not relevant.”

Politely addressing inappropriate or biased comments. Greenberg also demonstrates his leadership by addressing inappropriate comments in group settings. In the situations where he has encountered inappropriate comments, he takes a straight-forward, dispassionate approach. To demonstrate, Greenberg responds to them by saying, “I think we need to be clear that expressions such as whatever it is are judgmental, and not appropriate in the workplace today”. He has found that using the dispassionate style works and stops a potential problem before it develops.

Attending events where he is a minority to learn. Finally, as a champion of diversity, Greenberg also seeks out gatherings, such as the TWLL Annual Conference where he is in the minority to learn about the experiences of others. Yet, when Greenberg comes away from these gatherings, he also learns how he, himself, is adversely impacted by inequality because the workplace is failing to take full advantage of a large sector of the workforce.

Through this gender champion actions, men can learn how they, themselves, may be unconsciously adhering to outdated masculine norms and expectations of men in the workplace that they are not 100 percent comfortable with. For Greenberg, he is grateful for these insights and encourages other men to step up their learning. “When men realise that those [antiquated gender-limiting workplace, leadership styles, and gender norms] are harming us as much as they’re harming anybody else, that’s when we get real action”, says Greenberg.

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