The example of one young trailblazer shows how the benefits of a flexible work policy can reach far beyond individual lawyers.
Luke Furness kick-started his career at Clayton Utz in 2013. Since that time, the 27-year-old lawyer, who is part of the national firm’s tax and corporate team in Brisbane, has taken an active role promoting diversity both within his workplace and further afield.
Last December Mr Furness was appointed the CEO of Out for Australia, an organisation that offers an innovative mentoring model for young professionals in the LGBTIQ community. As one of the younger diversity and inclusion advocates in his firm, Mr Furness has taken the lead promoting Clayton Utz’s workplace culture in recruitment videos aimed at recent graduates. He has also contributed to the development of new training materials for management called ‘Pride in Diversity’.
Maintaining this level of involvement in so many worthy causes, however, comes at a cost. The time Mr Furness dedicates to internal and external firm-driven initiatives, in addition to his Out for Australia commitments, has been made possible with support from Clayton Utz.
“In the last couple of months I’ve been working with my practice partner around how to dovetail how I operate Out for Australia outside work time, and working flexibly so that I can be across the country when I need to, they’ve been very supportive of that,” Mr Furness said.
The firm’s endorsement of Mr Furness’ pursuits, both in the way it accommodates the demands of his legal workload and backs his Out for Australia efforts, is part of remaining accountable to a wider diversity piece.
Mr Furness said that the last two years in particular have seen Clayton Utz implement a comprehensive diversity and inclusion agenda, with noticeable effect.
“If you’ve got no visible signs that someone is supportive of diversity and inclusion, and until you get that visible sign, you really just don’t what the [perception might be],” Mr Furness said.
“But when it does come, it makes a huge difference,” he said.
Kate Jordan’s title at Clayton Utz is deputy chief executive partner – people and development. She spoke of the strategic focus the firm has placed on diversity and inclusion initiatives in recent times.
Echoing Mr Furness’ views about unspoken barriers being the most difficult to address, she said that although some hurdles to diversity can be difficult to identify, change is important nevertheless.
“Quite often, people think there isn't an issue because they haven't personally seen or heard anything. Or if there is an issue, there is a strong belief it will resolve itself over time as different generations progress through the workforce. Providing education and evidence are critical in addressing these challenges,” Ms Jordan said.
Ms Jordan believes that breaking down beliefs over generations is a matter of “workforce progress”, which is fundamental to the business itself. With a view to improving the options available to staff wanting to work flexibly, Clayton Utz has a dedicated national flexibility manager. The responsibility to champion flexible work is among the objectives of certain “diversity KPIs” implemented by the firm.
“One of the biggest challenges in the legal sector is that the way we work is ingrained and it can be difficult to see the benefits in the alternatives. As a profession, we need to continue to examine the current expectations around work patterns, tenure and periods of extended leave,” Ms Jordan said.