Case Study: Disability Inclusion at Burges Salmon
Burges Salmon is one of the leading firms for responsible business in Lamp House Strategy’s evaluation of the UK Top 50.
As part of Disability Pride Month, we wanted to showcase how the firm has worked to improve the support it provides for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. This is one area which our market analysis shows law firms are taking less action on.
Roxanne Ratcliff, the firm’s Head of Corporate Responsibility, told us more about these initiatives and her advice for other firms looking to do something similar.
How the firm is improving accessibility
The firm has adopted a wide-range of measures to help it understand the experiences of its own people and reengineer the support it provides in line with these needs.
Here are just five examples of practical steps the firm has taken:
- Using independent experts to anonymously capture feedback from the firm’s people and identify practical changes that will make the work environment more accessible
- Auditing each area of office space to develop a roadmap of improvements that can be implemented by the facilities team and the firm’s employee forum for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
- Partnering with an external specialist organisation to bring knowledge of different health conditions into the firm. Working with West of England Centre for Inclusive Living has especially helped in developing recruitment toolkits so those involved in the hiring process feel more comfortable with the language around disability.
These toolkits are also there to help better understand the types of adjustments people may need during the recruitment process. This could be something as simple as sharing a video of an office walk-through to a candidate prior to coming into interview.
- Pioneering a new recruitment approach which advertises job roles differently than usual. Instead of advertising for a specific job, the firm has looked at specific processes that need to happen within departments and is advertising these smaller scope roles that may better appeal to people with disabilities, neurodiverse conditions or long-term health conditions. There will be no assessment centre as part of this recruitment approach, with candidates working alongside external job coaches in preparation for starting.
- Releasing case studies and blogs where individuals honestly discuss how their health condition or disability has interacted with their careers and lives.
Highlights from the programme
- The proportion of employees disclosing that they have a disability has more than doubled in over four years – from 4% in 2018 to 9% in 2022.
This indicates that the cumulative effect of the firm’s initiatives and available support is creating a culture where people feel confident that they can disclose any conditions they may have (including conditions that are self-diagnosed).
- Achieving Disability Confident Status as an employer, with the firm working to be reaccredited in a few years’ time
- Making big practical improvements as a result of the office audits. This includes better signage around the office, stronger colour contrast in the office design (to help those with visual impairments and neurodiverse conditions that my get disoriented) and more walkways and accessible spaces in the car park
- Overall “lightbulb moments” that come from the firm-wide educational sessions. Sessions on long-term health conditions, neurodiversity and deaf awareness focus on giving everyone in the organisation an understanding of what impacts these have on people’s day-to-day lives, how people may feel in the workplace and how colleagues can interact more effectively.
The firm is just about to take on its first 12-month placement under its new recruitment approach. The firm will be actively learning how it can improve this process and continue to refine and roll it out. The hope is that this type of recruitment approach may also be helpful and attractive to those returning from maternity periods or career breaks.
Now the firm has increased disclosure rates, there is also potential to use this data to better understand the experience of disability within the firm – for example, are there pay gaps or gaps in promotion rates? The data can also help the firm look at retention patterns.
One of the biggest challenges the firm has had to overcome is finding ways to not overwhelm or disengage people as it tries to implement changes. When talking to departments about improvements it can be very easy to imply they have been acting incorrectly or should have ‘known better’ around emotive topics such as disability.
Roxanne found that a better way to frame these conversations was as “‘this is what we are working on and why we are working on it, here is the impact it can make, we can’t all be experts so let’s look at things together.’” This helped people to better understand why changes were needed and empowered them to think about what specific changes they could make.
We asked Roxanne what advice she would give to other law firms looking to launch, or improve, initiatives within their firm :
- Inform your approach with people’s feedback and research –
“It’s going out and understanding how people are feeling about how you are performing at the moment, and not being afraid to ask these questions. The whole point of going out consulting – either the people who are working in your organisation or candidates who have come to your door previously – is to actually understand the areas that you need to be working on. You could try 20 different things and maybe some of them will stick and some of them won’t. You are going to be spreading yourself very thin, so understand what the issues are by doing that piece of research.”
- Get support from outside experts –
“We could go to conferences and training sessions every week, but we are never going to have that level of skill and knowledge [of all the different disabilities and health conditions], and it’s a very quick moving environment in terms of evolving understanding of conditions. Finding a partner to work alongside means that we can focus on the structural bits and know that the ‘technical knowledge’ bit is there for us to try and bleed into what we do.”
- Create ownership and engagement -
“With diversity, equity and inclusion, it can be easy to work on big change projects, but you actually need to be able to chunk it off, give people guidance and let them have ownership of what to do next. Then it’s about engaging as many different parts of your organisation as possible in defining the solutions. So, not saying ‘here are five things we need to change, go and change them please’, it’s more doing that co-creation of the solutions with facilities or with recruitment so they can own the changes and the positive feedback that comes from them.”
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