Thought Leader Orly Gerbi outlines the practical steps law firms can take to increase diversity, as well as the importance of mentorship in engendering growth.
The diversity committee at HFN was established as part of our extensive efforts to champion and promote awareness and the advancement of equality and diversity. The committee, which I am honoured to head, now has over 20 members across all departments and groups, and is divided into three sub-committees, dealing with recruitment, volunteer projects and the celebration of diversity, each of which involves many others.
The committee conducts systematic, deliberate discussions on recruiting, retaining and promoting women and minorities, taking action accordingly. In particular, we have organised conferences on diversity issues in coordination with the Israeli Commissioner of Equal Rights in the Workplace, and for the third, consecutive year, HFN took part in the Diversity Delegation hosted by the President of Israel, as the sole participating law firm, with the largest and most influential companies in Israel.
At present, the committee is particularly focused on making efforts to recruit and retain employees from under-represented populations at HFN, especially those from the ultra-orthodox and Arab communities, as well as older individuals and those with disabilities. We are very proud of our achievements in this regard.
A defining experience for me was the growing realization of what it meant to be independent and take responsibility for my advice and decisions, and stand behind and be accountable for them, no matter the outcome. This was not so much a defining moment, but rather a process of understanding what was required to lead responsibly, with authority, for better or worse.
I believe that mentorship by senior lawyers and partners can be an excellent source of guidance, encouragement and development for more junior associates and interns, helping them to grow professionally and achieve their potential. At our firm, such mentorship is not limited to women. We seek to provide this and other learning opportunities across the board for our lawyers in accordance with each person's interests, wishes and ambitions, which of course vary regardless of gender.
I would add that mentorship with clients has been a two-way process in my case. I "grew up" and learned certain legal and managerial skills from clients as a young lawyer, and have subsequently become a source of mentorship and consultation within their organizations, on HR, management, as well as legal issues.
We believe that the key to retaining our employees' talent at this level is to provide individual and group support, and learning and development opportunities, for both men and women. We also appreciate the particular challenges faced by our employees in maintaining an enjoyable, healthy and sustainable work-life balance, in particular for those raising families. In this respect, our firm has initiated a program that allows flexibility by allowing our associates and interns to leave work early once a week – both men and women, with or without children.
As such, work-life balance has been promoted at HFN for all. We believe in treating our employees equally and not "making allowances" based on stereotyped assumptions of what women do and don’t want or need, which can do more harm than good. As an example, when I was appointed partner, my being seven months' pregnant was simply not considered an issue in any way. Rather, we trust our employees and aim to listen and be sensitive to their needs - not assume difficulties, but address those that arise and work together to find solutions.
I would advise my younger self and any person starting out in law who wants to progress, to believe in yourself and your abilities. Not to be afraid of challenges and difficult tasks, but to know that with hard work and perseverance, you can succeed. I would also encourage team work by delegating and relying on others where you reasonably can – being open to others' ideas and contributions. I am mindful that the "whole" has often proved to be greater than the sum of its parts, and our firm's most outstanding achievements have resulted from the concerted efforts of many, over and above the actions of any one.