Ability inclusion: a Q&A with Hogan Lovells' Owen Chan
Executive sponsor of the firm’s Global Ability and Inclusion Network and managing partner in Hong Kong SAR discusses challenges and best practices for the legal profession
In this interview, IFLR Asia editor Karry Lai speaks to Owen Chan, the executive sponsor of Hogan Lovell's Global Ability and Inclusion Network and managing partner in Hong Kong SAR, about the challenges and best practices of ability inclusion for the legal profession
Thanks for speaking to me Owen. Can you start by telling us a little about the firm’s Global Ability and Inclusion Network (GAIN)?
As a firm, we emphasised our commitment to ability inclusion by elevating it as a global priority diversity identity in 2021, accelerating our progress from our regional initiatives, and committing to several actions, in accordance with our pledge to The Valuable 500. In joining, we became part of the largest network of global businesses dedicated to diversity and have demonstrated our commitment to drive change and embed disability inclusion throughout the business.
In December 2021, the firm marked the International Day of People with Disabilities by launching our new Global Ability and Inclusion Network (GAIN). This network provides a forum for colleagues with disabilities, as well as those who are allies and caregivers of individuals with disabilities, and enables them to build communities with each other. GAIN reinforces our commitment to fostering an inclusive workplace for our colleagues with disabilities, both apparent and non-apparent, so that everyone at the firm can thrive by being their authentic selves.
The culture and advancement of an organisation in the modern world is partly defined and reflected by its ability to include people with different abilities and help them thrive. I want to be part of an organisation that drives such inclusiveness and it makes me proud to share with our people the successes that it brings.
What motivated you to be an executive sponsor of GAIN?
I have always been very passionate about our people and their development within our organisation, and have consciously championed many of our global and regional diversity efforts. Disability is an area that we don’t tend to talk about much in our industry and yet many may need engagement and support in their jobs and career development with us. I am keen to increase the awareness of such needs within our industry and organisation, and to help to create an inclusive environment for people of all abilities.
Why has the firm chosen to focus on ability inclusion?
Choosing to focus on ability inclusion allows us to be more aware as a firm of the different types of apparent and non-apparent disabilities, helping us to be a more responsible business. We are prepared to act and react in different situations when engaging with individuals with disabilities, avoiding unnecessary discomfort and offense. With increased awareness, we are more inclusive in our environment and more prepared to engage with talent, our colleagues and clients. Most people acquire disabilities over their lifetime, so this inclusive leadership competency supports professional and personal growth.
What does GAIN aim to achieve?
We recognise that disabilities may be experienced in many different forms. GAIN aims to support all individual personnel with apparent and non-apparent disabilities and individuals that identify as caregivers or allies of individuals with disabilities.
Hogan Lovells has more than 40 internal networks and affinity groups across the globe, which empower our people to support each other on the basis of numerous identities, intersectionalities and issues, address issues impacting them, engage in business and client development activity, and better navigate the firm. A key driver of our diversity and inclusion strategy, these networks deliver substantive programming, raise awareness, and engage in client partnerships. We see GAIN as playing a critical role as part of this global network.
What are some of the challenges that those in the legal profession have encountered in ability inclusion?
Disclosure is one of the most commonly cited challenges with respect to the employment of differently abled individuals in the legal industry. Across the industry, some individuals feel reluctant to disclose a disability for fear of potential discrimination or negative impacts to their careers. This may be particularly common in the private practice environment in the legal industry due to the competitive nature of working in an environment which places a heavy emphasis on high performance and may have a narrow conception of the profile of a successful legal professional.
In those environments, organisations may have misconceptions about what is required to make reasonable adjustments or support for disabled colleagues. With lower disclosure rates, law firms are often unaware as to the composition of their business with respect to disability. Having less role models only reinforces the issue of disclosure among entry level and lateral recruits, resulting in lower hire rates of individuals with disabilities.
Another disclosure issue is that there are jurisdictional differences related to asking and recording sensitive personal information. Like other multinational companies, law firms need to navigate these challenges sensitively depending on the different jurisdictions in which they operate. It is critical to develop cultural fluency and a willingness to understand the different needs of individuals with disabilities and be flexible to support those different needs.
How can the legal profession help improve disability inclusion?
Law firms and their clients can help to raise awareness levels and advocate for the importance of disability inclusion. Doing so will help overcome or reduce attitudinal barriers or stigma associated with disclosure of a disability, and any perceived barriers to enter the legal profession.
For law firms, this change may be achieved internally by fostering an inclusive and transparent culture where people feel they can disclose their disability safely, and where allies and caregivers feel comfortable to speak up about their own lived experiences and perspectives, and to advocate publicly for others. Cultivating a network of high-profile role models and allies can increase comfort levels and reduce isolation for individuals in the workplace. Building leadership competence is also important to ensure a positive employee experience.
Change may also be spurred externally, by collaborating with clients who value working with a diverse legal team of differing abilities. We know that having a diverse set of perspectives, skills and experience leads to better legal solutions, so ultimately this will help drive better business outcomes and serve to impact the community positively by ensuring that our workforce demographics better reflect the demographics of society at large.
What are best practices that can help promote disability inclusion in the workplace?
Law firms can help to cultivate more acceptance towards all abilities by applying a diversity and inclusion perspective to all company policies, practices, programs and procedures, including but not limited to those that impact hiring, development, retention and advancement. Law firms can also help to reduce stigma and to promote awareness of differing abilities by setting up networks, such as GAIN, which gives individuals a community to share their lived experiences, and to support and learn from one another. Critical to creating a culture of tolerance and inclusion is educating our colleagues on the importance of disability inclusion and the ways to be an effective ally.
Some of our education initiatives are implementing global implicit bias training, including follow-up regional conversations on implicit bias; developing inclusive communications education sessions to support our colleagues in communicating with diversity and inclusion fluency around the globe; and implementing bias interrupter training for leaders in the context of managing talent and promotional discussions, and mitigating the impact of unconscious bias on underrepresented individuals and their career advancement.
Across APAC, we have implemented a regional programme known as Inclusion Allies which aims to encourage individuals to reflect on their own biases and behaviours, and to help advocate for a more inclusive culture at a local office level. We also continue to work with disability advocates via our Responsible Business practice to ensure that we’re better serving the community and using our professional expertise to advocate for justice and equity on behalf of those experiencing a disability. We also revisit our internal HR database regularly to ensure that we’re capturing personal identification information accurately and as widely as possible, and we’re planning a global campaign to encourage more self-identification, where legally permissible, to better enable us to understand the composition of our business and best support our colleagues with disabilities.