FOCUS 75: Balancing Intelligent Leadership with Innovation

Andrew Martin, Managing Partner at Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, shares about the firm’s ethos of Diversity and Inclusion.  


What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they want in their workplaces, especially in male-dominated roles or industries?


I believe that building a strong portfolio of clients and a focus on networking in the industry is key to a sustainable business, regardless of gender. Internal relationship building is critical - assisting colleagues with client matters or client training sessions mean that work referrals grow. If you can access a mentor or sponsor at a more senior level and meet with them regularly to brainstorm areas of challenge, this can be very beneficial too. In the legal profession, great strides have been made for women entering the industry at the graduate and junior associate levels.  In our firm, we recognise the need for a supportive network to help female lawyers chart a path to partnership, including targeted mentorship programs and flexible work arrangements to help them balance the demands of their personal and work lives.


How do you see the role of technology in fostering inclusion?


As organisations continue to work remotely during the pandemic, technology has created a more equitable forum with fewer social hierarchies than a formal meeting. We've been very conscious of reminding our people about inclusive meeting behaviours in this new virtual environment and to ensure that people get an opportunity to contribute. Senior leaders do encourage others to speak out, providing opportunities afterwards for team members to provide input after the meetings. That way, we have more diverse and innovative decision-making.


Logistically, colleagues who perhaps previously weren't able to attend meetings due to travel costs or time constraints are now able to do so at the switch of a button; this has been a positive way of ensuring more people can fully participate, learn and develop.


Perhaps though, one of the most important role technology plays in fostering inclusion is to provide accessibility for all via online meetings, i.e. closed captioning to assist people with hearing impairments or language barriers, accessibility functions that allow for people with different learning requirements (e.g., neuro-diverse learners) to have fewer technology interruptions to allow greater productivity etc. As these offerings continue to develop, Baker McKenzie remains committed in ensuring we minimise any barriers to our people being able to fully participate and develop their careers.


Nevertheless, we must balance the progress of technology with continued face-to-face interactions. Whether it is on the job training, culture or a sense of camaraderie, being together in person is the fastest and surest way to build bonds and maintain them. Nowhere is this more true that in a law firm where we invariably work in teams rather than as sole practitioners. I certainly see technology as a vital part of supporting and extending opportunities for inclusion but not a substitute for the personal touch.


What does 2021 look like for you from the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion? What are some milestones and pitfalls that remain critical in the journey ahead?


With locations in and out of lockdown, and some form of hybrid office/remote working likely to be a new normal, inclusive leadership is vital in ensuring that employees feel involved during meetings and client discussions, as well as feel supported to develop skills necessary for their careers.


Gender equity, and increasingly, racial and ethnic diversity, remain a key focus across the region. As an international law firm that works across jurisdictions to serve clients whose own customers increasingly demand that businesses prioritise diversity and inclusivity (D&I), this means that we need to be both aware and informed by providing our people with D&I training and firm-wide sharing of experiences to ingrain a culture of inclusivity where everyone feels not only safe and welcome but also able to effectively contribute and grow.   


Interview with Andrew Martin, Managing Partner at Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, for FOCUS #75. To read more articles from this issue, download your digital copy here


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