‘Everyone’s been excluded': Accenture Legal's global diversity head on the power of empathy

Annabel Dumbell reflects on her life and diversity work ahead of judging GLP’s first Women and Diversity in Law Awards

Annabel Dumbell Image courtesy of Accenture Legal

Annabel Dumbell, managing director of litigation and dispute management for EMEA North at Accenture Legal, discusses her role as global I&D lead and how working with schools can improve diversity, in the latest in a series of interviews with the judges of Global Legal Post's inaugural Women and Diversity in Law Awards

“I come from a diverse family—my mother is from Singapore, she’s Chinese Singaporean, and my father is English. They met at university in Scotland and when they told their families that they were getting together, neither family supported the marriage. My Chinese family basically told my mother to leave. And the English family said given where we are, you have to marry her now but we don’t support the marriage. So, I’ve always grown up with that as my background.

Over time the family has reconciled, but those early beginnings had a very strong impact on me. Growing up in London, I was always aware of my difference and it wasn’t until my mid-30s when I started working at Accenture that I started to feel comfortable. It was very cross-cultural and there was no judgment because they recognised everyone has a difference. It takes such a burden off when you can be like that every day.

It wasn’t until my mid-30s when I started working at Accenture that I started to feel comfortable

For the past 10 years I’ve been involved in I&D (inclusion and diversity) activities at Accenture, both across the UK business and legal, and then about three years ago I became the global I&D lead for Accenture Legal. Accenture Legal has 3,000 legal professionals globally. We put in place an I&D programme that covers what we call ‘dimensions’, so gender, ethnicity, disability inclusion and pride, and that’s our internal focus.  And then externally, we have an outside counsel programme, we run internships and we work with legal associations that aim to increase the diversity of the profession. 

We have three principles that we apply to these programmes. The first is leading from the top. The second is holding ourselves accountable – for example, every managing director in legal has an I&D priority for which they are accountable. We also hold ourselves accountable externally, for example through the Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule, which requires that companies consider a diverse slate for all recruitment, promotion and advancement opportunities, as well as requiring diversity from outside counsel firms. Our third principal is to increase the pipeline of diverse talent in the legal profession. 

We put a lot of focus on the inclusion element of I&D. In the last two years, we rolled out an inclusion challenge platform, which is based on neuroscience and is designed to help people build up inclusive habits. The platform asks questions like how does it feel to be excluded? Everyone’s been excluded, whether it was not being picked for the football team at school or not being in a meeting at work. 

As a profession, we need to go into schools and encourage more people to follow this path

So it asks you to think about that moment and then think about how you can help others to feel included. You engage in exercises like that for 60 days and at the end of it you are more thoughtful about what you can do to be more inclusive and less judgmental.

The legal profession needs to do more to encourage diversity. If you measure the diversity of people who are school leavers and then the diversity of people who are college leavers and then the diversity of people who leave law school, you see that diversity decreases over time. So one of the inherent problems is we’re expecting people to be highly qualified and diverse. So as a profession, we need to go into schools and encourage more people to follow this path. We work with organisations like the Sutton Trust and talk to schools about what we do as lawyers and hopefully inspire them to think about a career in the law.”

The Women and Diversity in Law Awards is the Global Legal Post's celebration of those making the UK legal sector more diverse and inclusive. The event will take take place in London on 22 March 2023 and making a nomination could not be simpler - you can find more details here

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