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If you remain willing to be challenged, you can change your perceptions and open your mind – Ray Berg, Managing Partner of Osborne Clarke

10 April 2018

Story by
Sarah Rice, The HR World

Ray Berg, Managing Partner of Osborne Clarke

Osborne Clarke managing partner Ray Berg is the son of a London cabbie and was the first in his family to go to university.

He’s put diversity at the heart of Osborne Clarke’s business strategy. Ray believes diversity is key to providing equality of opportunity across the whole firm.

We spoke with him as part of The HR World 2018 Leadership Series.

How diverse is your own background?

I was the first of my family to go to university and went to an inner city school in North London. It was multicultural, with all walks of life and backgrounds, and I have looked to be exposed to that level of diversity throughout my life.

I am Jewish, my parents are first generation British and my brother is gay. My Dad was a cab driver and my Mum worked in a factory. They supported me all the way through my education. My background informs my attitude towards diversity – it is something I am incredibly passionate about.

I worked hard and ended up at Oxford University. From there I became a lawyer, and I am now working in what I like to think is the unstuffiest law firm in the UK.

Has this led you to always understand why acceptance of others is pivotal to progress?

Not completely. I remember when I went to Oxford, I had what you might call a “reverse stereotype” view of people from more privileged backgrounds, and I was proved wrong.

I learned that everyone has unconscious bias, everyone is looking through the lens of their own experiences and what they are comfortable with and that as long as you remain open to challenge, you can change your perceptions and open your mind.

What makes diversity such a pressing issue for us now?

We’re at an important point as a society in terms of addressing female equality and this wider conversation is heavily influencing the workplace. With gender pay gap reporting in particular, we also have firm evidence inequality is real.

I’m for targets but against quotas, and I think this reporting model has been a tipping point. It’s given us a solid base to work from and our employees will expect us to act positively to reduce the gender pay gap from now on.

I think this is a key “Future of Work” issue that we are looking at not just for ourselves, but also with our clients who understand the importance of diversity and the wider wellbeing that it brings to business.

I also have two daughters and, like many men in similar positions, I can’t bear the thought of them having to go through what many of our female relatives and friends have experienced. To highlight this, I recently took part in the Dads4Daughters campaign, which brings together fathers and their daughters to discuss key issues faced by contemporary working women.

At a fundamental level, 50% of the population should not be overlooked for promotion or face institutionalised inflexibility because they bear children or have caring responsibilities.

And at a business level, the amount of pure talent and ability we are missing out on because people cannot progress through the system negatively hits the bottom line and the wider economy.  Diversity is more than just the gender issue and I passionately believe that addressing issues of social mobility will go a long way to accelerating change.

Why do you think it’s hard from a leadership position to effect change around diversity and inclusion?

You have to accept to be able to accept changes in our society and to make a conscious decision to move with it, otherwise you end up not engaging with the people your business needs to come and join it.

As with any meaningful change, taking the first step to awareness means looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing how open minded you really are – not an easy task on any count.

The only way to create a truly diverse working world is to place these issues right at the heart of your business strategy. Leaders cannot simply be concerned with the here-and-now of profit and loss if they want to build a long-term sustainable offer that will attract the best talent.

It’s so important to our business that I maintain a strong drum beat on diversity, which is being picked up by others in our business. We have nearly 1,000 employees in the UK and I have learned that it is possible to set a tone from the top and to make sure the importance of diversity is understood across the whole business.

What was/is your own biggest challenge and why?

Let there be no doubt we are still experiencing many challenges, of which addressing the gender pay gap and improving racial diversity are two.

However, the key issue getting through to everyone is that this is a serious long-term play that makes a big difference to the health and wellbeing of our people and we will be a better organisation to work at, the more diverse we are.

To help us do this we created a strategy focusing on work life balance, female career progression, increasing our numbers from under-represented groups and social mobility all surrounded with a wellbeing wrapper.

Getting our message throughout the firm so that it is in every decision we make is our daily challenge.

In fact, we created a Diversity and Wellbeing Manager role in 2016 to help engrain our approach and drive it further, something that has worked well. So we are getting there.

What is the current state of play in Osborne Clarke around diversity and inclusion?

We’ve taken the decision to report on the other areas of our business alongside the statutory gender pay gap figures to focus on getting better across the whole piece.

We have a long way to go, but we wanted to be transparent and show a complete picture of gender pay at Osborne Clarke. At least we now know where we have to get to.

The stats show we have a mean (the average of all salaries added together) 24% Gender Pay Gap for all staff and 29% for Partners. The Law Society estimates that the gender pay gap for the sector is around 30%.

Identifying the barriers and looking for ways to overcome this is very important to us – we need to focus on how we address the issues GPG shows. We’ve made strong progress by setting up a number of initiatives aimed at reducing our gender pay gap and ensuring more women and people from BAME backgrounds are promoted to senior leadership.

As an organisation we are actively involved with the Social Mobility Business Partnership where I sit on the board of trustees and we are a founding supporter of the Social Mobility Pledge launched recently by Justine Greening MP.

We are also supporting the Stepping Up campaign supported by Bristol City Council.

If you had three top tips to give HRDs on raising this issue at C-Suite level what would they be?

Lead from the top; educate; and engage.

Just because it’s in the workplace, doesn’t mean it should not be real. People need tangible, real life scenarios they can relate to, so don’t make it a tick box exercise. Either get properly involved or miss out.

PIC CAP: The launch of Stepping Up, a positive action programme in Bristol that aims to improve the representation of BAME employees in senior leadership roles within the city and wider region. Pictured LtoR: Professor Christine Bamford  Baroness McGregor-Smith CBE; Christina Quinn, Southwest NHS Leadership Academy; Cllr Asher Craig Deputy Mayor, Bristol City Council; Su Akgun Diversity and Wellbeing Manager, Osborne Clarke; and Marvin Rees Mayor, Bristol City Council.

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