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Unlocking Talent

At Eversheds we are all about unlocking talent, developing the talents and potential of everyone in society to the full, and committed to increasing social mobility.

Martin Warren, PartnerLast week we were proud to host a See Potential event in conjunction with the Prince’s Trust at our international headquarters in London.

Employers as diverse as KFC, Marks & Spencer and Standard Life all spoke about their efforts to tap into the talents of young adults leaving the care system.

Across our offices our colleagues support a number of programmes helping to build employability skills and raising aspirations for a career in the legal profession.

Eversheds Unlocked is a programme aimed at students who are first time family members to go to university, are studying at state schools and have a genuine enthusiasm for the legal profession. The programme has been developed to give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the support to successfully apply to university and understand what they need to do to secure a training contract at a law firm like Eversheds.

Over 900 students have attended the unlocked programme, with many of these students going on to study Law at University. A number of these have been care leavers or young people that have faced multiple disadvantages whilst growing up.

Launched in 2012, the Unlocked Academy is the next step on from Eversheds Unlocked. Designed to help talented students to achieve their potential whilst studying at University, it features a tailored four year learning and development programme, including one-to-one mentoring.

We also run apprenticeship schemes for both a professional legal and business services careers.

The unlocked programmes reinforce our commitment to attract, retain and develop new talent from all sections of the communities we work in.

Schemes like Unlocked open the readily available talent pools even further which have a number of business benefits. These include developing a robust recruitment pipeline, where candidates are already fully engaged with the firm, and eager to demonstrate their skills and capabilities. So, it’s not only the right thing to do, but good for business as well.

We know that continued success relies on attracting and developing talented people who share our commitment to make Eversheds both the most client centred international law firm and a great place to work.

We believe passionately in constantly reviewing our recruitment practices, to ensure we get the best talent to work with our clients. For instance, we’ve removed the criminal convictions tick-box on application forms to create a fair opportunity for Britain’s 10m ex-offenders to compete for jobs.

If you haven’t already, why not check out this new employer guide to open recruitment. And why not pledge your support for the See Potential campaign - and get a helping hand to tap into the talents of diverse talent at your company.

Read more in our CR and Diversity Report.

Learning to see again

In June 2012, I attended a routine opticians appointment for a check up after noticing that my sight was starting to deteriorate. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a lot more serious. The optician found a hole in the retina of my right eye and a hole also developing in the left eye and I was rushed off to eye casualty that afternoon. I was diagnosed as having a large macular hole in my right retina and a smaller macular hole in my left retina which was growing. This is something which commonly happens to women over 70 and usually only occurs in one eye. I was just about to turn 50 and it was happening in both of my eyes. I had suddenly became disabled because I was partially sighted.

Wright_ShirleyI’m an employment lawyer and I am used to acting for employers in relation to Occupational Health Referrals – however after my first operation, I recall HR referring me to the Occupational Health Physician. It felt extremely odd being the subject of the referral and discussing the fact thatI would most likely be regarded as a disabled person for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 if the condition persisted for more than 12 months. As it happened it persisted for a period of 2 years because one of the operations was not successful and I had complications thereafter. I required a further five operations, seven in total, before I could say that my eyesight was back to normal and assisted only by wearing glasses.

I had taken my sight for granted, as I suspect a number of people do. All of a sudden I couldn’t read small print like the detail of billing proformas or see emails on my computer screen. I couldn’t see people’s faces to the extent that I could no longer identify people on the street, or even see the faces of my daughters when they were sitting opposite me. I walked away once from my long term partner because I didn’t recognise him walking towards me on the street.

Being partially sighted meant I was no longer able to drive (at my worst I climbed into the wrong car one evening when leaving the office!) and had to use public transport. Using public transport in itself created problems for me. I couldn’t read the board in railway stations to find out what platform I needed nor could I see where a bus was going. On one occasion I jumped on the wrong train. Some of these events were funny in hindsight – particularly getting into the wrong car! However, others were quite scary. Everyday events and activities were a real challenge and took me a lot longer to do. My freedom and independence was seriously curtailed.

Glasses didn’t help at that stage. The only option available to me was surgery on both eyes and the prolonged recovery period meant I had to go on sickness absence. This was a completely alien process to me - I never took sick leave. I was completely committed to work and it felt quite wrong to take time off and stay at home. I was now facing physical challenges as well as working my way through an emotional journey. I was one of two partners in my team when I went through my first two operations and I really felt that I was letting the team and the office down by not being there for them.

During this whole period my colleagues were fantastic. From my Practice Group Head to the Office Manager and the junior colleagues working with me, everyone was incredibly understanding and helped make adjustments, even reading things out to me if necessary. The teams from across HR, IT, Health and Safety all helped to identify and make adjustments to my workplace as well as ensuring that I was able to travel and still access technology. I really felt as though everyone cared about my welfare and were willing to provide support to me whatever that entailed - it assured me that I wasn’t letting them down as I feared I was. I was even successfully promoted to Office Location Head for the Newcastle Employment Team whilst still going through surgical procedures to correct my eye sight difficulties.

Fortunately things are better for me now - my eyesight is now almost 20/20 with only reading glasses required for close up work and top up glasses for driving. There is a risk that my eyesight could deteriorate again but if that happens I am comfortable that I can cope with the support provided to me by the firm and my colleagues.

One of the most challenging things for me was admitting to myself that I needed help and asking for it. Once I got over that hurdle everybody just rallied around to provide the support I needed so I could continue to work effectively in my role and for my clients. I was really impressed by everything the firm did to assist me during this difficult period and I can’t express just how much it means to me. I would encourage people with disabilities to be open about the difficulties they experience and the adjustments they need to be able to perform effectively their job. It is difficult being in this type of situation but plenty of support is available. It will only be an obstacle if you don’t seek the support you need.

A year of working flexibly Five things I have learnt

A couple of years ago I joined the world of flexible working with Eversheds. I have learnt some lessons along the way and I set out below the top five, which I think will resonate with plenty of others juggling significant childcare responsibilities with a stretching career.

Gray_IanIan Gray, Head of litigation and dispute management at global law firm Eversheds

For the first 20 years of my career, I worked in a conventional UK male lawyer way: all usual office weekday hours, an elastic leaving time in the evening and the odd weekend. Now, it is different. Every week I am taking time out from conventional office hours to be with my children, and then putting back those hours at other unconventional times, in order to ensure that I continue to make a full contribution at the firm. In 2013, this resulted in 94 evening work functions and 9 weekends fully at work, mainly overseas.

The Lessons

  • Having principal responsibility for children requires you to “be there”. As the sole person responsible for my children every Wednesday afternoon and every other Friday afternoon to Monday morning, I have to be present. No excuses, no flexibility, nor do I want it to be anything else. That brings stress of itself and I have to make work conform, otherwise I and my children miss out, and we are all unhappy.
  • I have strange feelings of guilt. Every time I walk down Cheapside in the middle of the morning, or leave Wood Street in the middle of the afternoon, I feel guilty. Similarly, every time I leave a management team meeting early (as our CEO allows me to do on a regular basis) I feel uncomfortable. It is not because of a lack of contribution on my part, but it is because I am not conforming and I am leaving behind others who are working in the way that I used to. The unconscious legacy from the early days of my career (where somebody coming in late or leaving early was seen to be taking it easy) does not just disappear, even though it should, as I cover more ground now than I ever have before.
  • You cannot work globally without being flexible. Many have tried – travelling at the weekend, working a conventional UK full week, travelling again at the weekend and so on, but eventually they fall over. Equally, trips to Asia or the Middle East cannot start at 9am on Monday in the UK and finish at 6pm on Friday. If you followed that in relation to Asia, you would arrive on Tuesday evening in Hong Kong or Singapore. In the Middle East, the working week begins on Sunday morning and ends on Thursday evening – conventional UK hours cuts it in half. Also, the most effective time to work with colleagues in Asia often involves sitting at home on the telephone early in the morning, like I did today.
  • Sometimes, the only thing to do is to leave the office on Friday evening in London and go to Heathrow, so that I can be effective at the start of the Middle East working week. I have realised though that I have to get that time back in order to have any prospect of staying fit and healthy.
  • Working flexibly has helped me be clearer about what my job is. As a leader, I succeed through the performance of others. In trying to enhance that, I absorb information, I think, I form opinions, I give advice and encouragement, and I make decisions. I do this face to face as often as I can, wherever in the world that may be, and otherwise I do it by email and telephone. If I try hard enough, I can in fact spend much of my time working anywhere I want to. Work is always there – 24/7. The trick is how to regulate it, and keep on top of it without it getting on top of me.
  • Working at home is incredibly effective and raises my spirits every time. I achieve things that I otherwise fail to do. Productivity and output is always greater. Equally, I cherish the fact that I get back time that is otherwise spent on the road when I am working at home.
  • As we continue to globalise our business, I believe that a number of these issues will be addressed by more and more colleagues. Working flexibly is dependent to a degree on a person’s role and responsibilities, and cannot just be applied across the board. I have learnt that it brings additional challenges and stresses, but it has enhanced my life overall, to a material degree.

Disability at work

Immigration Manager John Craig shares his thoughts on why being open about his disability at work is a good thing.

Craig-JohnIn many cases you can’t see it. You can’t hear it. You can’t smell it and you can’t taste it.

No this isn’t an advert for checking your boiler, I am talking about disability.

I want to share with you my experience of living with a disability and especially a disability that you wouldn’t know I had unless I told you it was there.

Disability disclosure is still a taboo topic especially when you look at areas of disability such as mental health.

You may ask if nobody can tell that I have a disability why would I share it in the first place?

The reason I share my disability with my employer and my colleagues is that from time to time my condition means that I need a little support or adjustment to my day to enable me to perform at my best. If I didn’t share what my condition was and how it has an impact on my life then like many individuals I would suffer in silence.

A couple of simple changes can make a huge difference to the lives of individuals living with disabilities.

I am hoping that by sharing my condition with you that people who have been coping without support or suffering impacts in silence will ask for help and make changes that allow them to achieve and perform.

At twenty I was diagnosed with Tourettes Syndrome. Twenty is quite a late age to be diagnosed and in reality I had visible symptoms from the age of about seven.

Unfortunately due to negative reactions to my tics as a child I had learned to suppress them to the point that my Tourettes was having a detrimental effect on my overall health and wellbeing. I was suffering in silence.

In case you are wondering, I don’t swear, nor do I have massive outbursts of generally unacceptable behaviour. The media is a great tool but in the case of Tourettes hasn’t always helped to show a very balanced view of the condition.

I manage my Tourettes and I am fortunate that I could take part in a clinical research programme which has given me the control over my condition and enabled me to pursue my career choices.

When I was joining Eversheds I declared my disability to my manager during the recruitment process. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and the timing has to be right for you.

When I was diagnosed with Tourettes I experienced a lot of issues with adjusting to the management of my disability. I was conscious in changing jobs that the adjustments I had in place would not be there if I wasn’t up front about how my condition works for me. There was a risk that my health could suffer if I was unable to apply those management techniques I rely on in my new role so disclosure at the recruitment phase gave me control over the situation and how those adjustments could work in my new environment.

If you are suffering in silence I hope that you can look at this as an opportunity to make a change. You may not count yourself as disabled and in day to day life neither do I, but our own perceptions are often what drive our decisions. Sometimes it is important to challenge those perceptions in ourselves and others.

Finally don’t be defined by what others think you can’t do but by the things you know you can.

John is an Immigration Manager in our Human Resources Practice group and joined Eversheds in 2011.

Coming out again

As a lesbian parent, it never fails to surprise me how often my four year old son “outs” me. He is extremely sociable and tells everyone he meets (often to my mutual horror and pride) that he has two mummies. Often, when I go to check on him at the playground, he will be talking to the parents / grandparents / nannies of his new friends and I will be met with a “Hello, you must be one of his two mummies”.

Scharfenorth_Lisa

I must admit that I am now approaching my slow decline to 40 and am very comfortable being “out”. But, it has taken me some time to get here. I still (before bringing up my partner and two children) outside of work make a value judgment as to whether the person I am talking to is likely or not likely to be ok with my sexuality. Luckily, within Eversheds, I don’t have this concern because it is an organisation that is very supportive of gay and lesbian employees and definitely embraces diversity.

My little boy, of course, never has any such concerns. He does not see any issue at all with having two mummies and is not cautious about “outing” us. This is because he is four and has no inhibitions generally! But is also because he has never had a negative reaction.

I hope that this is because the world that we are living in is changing to be more accepting of gays and lesbians and their children and I think this is true to a certain degree. But, I also think that it helps that we have chosen to live and to go to areas where there is unlikely to ever be such a reaction.

However, I still dread the day that he will hear the slurs that can be used toward gays and lesbians. But all we can do for now is to be as proud of our family as he is, in the hope that we can show him that the problem is definitely with the person reacting to him and not with him.

Lisa Scharfenorth - Lisa is a Professional Support Lawyer in our London office with a particular responsibility for the preparation and delivery of training to the Real Estate Group.