ER & Diversity Manager – HR
What do you think sets A&O apart?
Its people. It is a dynamic and diverse place to work. I remember hearing that A&O had a reputation for being the ‘friendly’ global elite law firm, which I’d always taken with a pinch of salt before I joined. Yet the more I came across A&O people the truer it seemed.
Working on many global projects with colleagues from all over the network, there is a common theme that prevails – hard working, pragmatic and down-to-earth people who don’t take themselves too seriously and work together to get the job done to the best standard possible. There’s a real sense of collaboration, and rarely a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ between lawyers and those who support them.
Tell us about your journey – what initially drew you to A&O?
I graduated with a degree in music in 2009. It was an academic course but I had planned to be a professional flutist post graduation. I also had a keen interest in singing and was a choral scholar for my college at university. People are always surprised to hear this given I now work for a law firm! But, by the end of my final year, I feared that devoting my whole career to music would mean I lost my passion for it. HR was not even a consideration then but my first job in the City on a graduate programme for a headhunting company that focussed on the legal sector, meant I quickly gained in-depth insight about private legal practice.
A&O became one of my key clients, which meant I came to understand the real strength of its brand and reputation. It also meant I got to know a lot of people at the firm, both in London and elsewhere globally, and I was always struck by the same attributes I mentioned earlier. It meant that when I was approached about a role working directly for the firm a few years later, it did not need much of a hard sell! Its international remit was also a big attraction, as I love travelling and languages.
How long have you been at A&O? How do you feel it has changed over the years?
Six and a half years – which have flown by! One thing I have really valued during that time is the support I have had to mould and develop my career within HR. My first role was in the recruitment team, managing the London office’s lateral hires for the legal teams. However, as I worked on a variety of projects I became increasingly interested in the HR function as a whole and how it added value to the business. Eighteen months later I moved into a generalist HR role, supporting our trainee population, which helped me to see the firm from a new perspective.
Just over three years ago I moved internally again to focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Employee Relations. Since then I have also completed an eight-month secondment to the Luxembourg office to help roll out global projects locally there, which was a fantastic experience both personally and professionally. So it has been an action packed, fast-paced and very rewarding time, and I can safely say I have never been bored!
The firm has changed a lot in that time. Two key aspects have changed significantly from my perspective; the globalisation of the HR function and our increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Globalising the HR function has ensured we learn and share more knowledge with our global colleagues and our processes are streamlined so we work more efficiently, saving the business time and most importantly providing our people with better support.
You might, given my role, call me biased citing diversity, equity and inclusion as a major change in recent years. However, it is testament to the great support we have had from senior leadership in making D&I one of the firm’s key strategic objectives five years ago. Supporting our work on our renewed gender strategy, establishing a race and ethnicity network, profiling disability programmes and initiatives and supporting working parents have been particularly rewarding parts of my role.
How do you balance your career at A&O and your home life?
We work hard at A&O, but I have always been able to keep a good balance with my personal life, which I think is vitally important. I rarely work at the weekend, and think it’s vital to have time to switch your mind off from a busy day job. Music is still a huge part of my life, and I enjoy doing something that is so completely different to my work at A&O! The music rooms in the office and the gym (when we are not all working from home) have been really useful to enable me to take 30 minutes to switch gears during the day when work permits.
If you could switch roles with anyone else in A&O, whose job would you want and why?
I’d love to see what being the senior partner involves. I definitely wouldn’t qualify for the job or last more than a few hours but it would be a fascinating insight into the firm!
What advice would you give for people considering joining A&O?
It’s fast paced and there’s never a dull moment or room to coast but if you’d like to work with dynamic, intelligent, fun people then I can’t recommend it more highly. Whilst it is a large organisation, there’s a lot of fantastic support. You just have to remember to be pro-active and make the most of it.
What do you think you have gained both personally and professionally from your time at A&O?
It has been a very rich experience for me both personally and professionally. I have had opportunities I would never have expected or thought I’d have access to. I’ve been supported throughout, including to complete an HR qualification alongside work, and I’ve had the chance to work abroad too.
Taking the plunge and moving alone to Luxembourg (a country I had never been to before!) to undertake a secondment was daunting but I am so glad I did it. It pushed me outside my comfort zone, but I think that’s when you learn the most and I made some lifelong friends in the process. I also learnt a great deal about the firm, and it underlined the importance of having a global network and good communication… and it certainly improved my French!
What extracurricular activities have you become involved in since joining A&O (Sports teams / music / pro bono etc)?
Over the years this has ranged from singing with the A&O choir at a variety of different firm events, such as the Christmas Carol service in Christchurch Spitalfields, setting up an acapella group – aptly named the ‘Legal Eyed Cherries’ – to perform in a fundraiser cabaret night for our then charity partner, Amref, to taking on an 100km sponsored walk for another of our charity partners! The work the Pro Bono team does is fantastic and there is always a wealth of events and opportunities with which to get involved.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
In all honesty, it’s my alarm (I am definitely not a morning person!) but once I am up I look forward to working with an awesome team of colleagues on interesting, varied and challenging work.
What was your first ever job?
It was a summer job in between school and university as an HR assistant for a local printing company. I spent most of it in a dark store cupboard filing and shredding and, ironically now, seem to remember telling my parents that HR was dull and definitely not for me!