We caught up with Rachel Pears, the I&D Lead at RPC, to find out a bit about her role and the work the firm does in the Inclusion and Diversity space.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m originally from the US and have been in the UK for 17 years now. I started off in a different career, studying Art History at university and working in an Auction House for several years before going back to do my GDL. I did a training contract at a Magic Circle firm and qualified there as an employment lawyer which I’ve been practising for the last 10 years. When I was about 3 years qualified, I moved to RPC and it was a great fit for me, especially the culture. I value work-life balance so that was a nice change for me! I joined the employment team and was able to vary the type of work I do a lot.
I had a couple of years where life intersected with work – I found myself being pulled in a number of different directions and my mental health was suffering – it was so much to grapple with at once. My team were very supportive – RPC were really flexible and sensitive to what I needed and allowed me to work in a way that fit around everything going on in my life. That engendered in me such a sense of loyalty to RPC – the culture enabled me to continue on in my career without having to sacrifice anything else in my life.
It was sort of a natural progression into I&D for me. My home life and my employment law work fed into it. My predecessor did such a wonderful job laying the groundwork and getting people excited about I&D in a new way and that engagement and passion for it has really snowballed at the firm since.
What are RPC’s main goals as a firm committed to Inclusion & diversity?
We have a number of internal I&D networks which we call work streams. These represent gender, ethnicity, mental health, disability, LGBTQ+, faith, caring responsibilities and social mobility. The workstreams are active all year round and members of the firm set their own agendas and push their own initiatives throughout the year. However, we have a spotlight on a different work stream every six-months where we run additional events and programmes in relation to that work stream, with the aim of educating, awareness raising, social networking or otherwise.
In addition, the firm has three current strategic priorities: gender balance, mental health and ethnic diversity. Here’s what we’re working on at the moment for each:
We’ve recently signed The Law Society's ‘Women in Law Pledge’ and as part of that signing, we have created our own RPC-specific gender balance plan. This identifies where barriers to gender balance might exist and suggests actions that can be taken to address them. It’s about giving everyone an equal starting point and making actual changes.
We signed the Mindful Business Charter last October and we’ve been working through an action plan for how to implement the principles. We decided to implement it group by group as we felt that you can’t really have a one size fits all approach with mental health – all of our teams work in such different ways and with different pressures. We understand that legal careers can be high pressure and the hours can be long at times (not to mention life outside of work can also be pretty challenging), but we think there’s always more that we can do to support our people's mental health.
We have a wonderfully active and engaged ethnicity workstream and we’re really committed to improving recruitment, retention and progression of ethnic minorities at RPC. We published our ethnicity pay gap report for the first time this year and although we weren’t required to do so, we felt that it was really important to start analysing that data as early as we could so that we could continue to make positive change. Our Ethnicity work stream (which has a number of trainee members) has also been Instrumental in supporting the firm's response and action plan to the Black Lives Matter movement.
How can a trainee who joins RPC get involved with I&D?
Trainees are free to get involved in any aspect of our I&D programme and we actively encourage them to. I find they have such wonderful enthusiasm for I&D work so it’s great when they share their ideas. They can sign up to our allies network – our peer support network – or join any workstream and attend any events.
An example of a trainee being actively involved in I&D work is that for a recent launch event to spotlight our Ethnicity workstream, a trainee on the team felt really passionate that the event should start with a video introducing the people behind the workstream and what it meant to them to be a part of it. He liaised with our design team, put the video together and presented it at this event for the whole firm and our clients. He really made it his own!
How has your partnership with Aspiring Solicitors (AS) helped to enhance your commitment to Inclusion & Diversity?
We’ve been working with AS for a number of years now, they’re an absolutely brilliant addition to our I&D programme. They give us access to such amazing candidates and do fantastic work encouraging people from all backgrounds to consider law as a career. To give you some statistics on the impact of working with AS, 53% of our Summer Scheme students and 57% of our 2019 Training Contract offers were AS candidates. In fact, last year we became one of the founding members of the AS Foundation which is their charitable arm. We really believe in the work they’re doing to even the playing fields.
Anything else you’d like to mention about RPC to any future trainees?
RPC has a reputation for being very friendly, collegiate and approachable. We want people to feel like they can be themselves at work and really feel that sense of belonging.
This culture of supporting our people has really come through during the lockdown – specifically in terms of mental health. We’ve just engaged a clinical psychology practice on site and all of our people can access our clinical psychologist for free as and when they need – sessions have been going on virtually during this time. This project was super important in terms of making real change – we already had a number of wellbeing initiatives, like meditation sessions, yoga classes and mental health first aiders, but we wanted to do something even more tangible to give people access to professional support as early as possible if they are struggling (or just want to talk!). Most firms provide access to private GP services so why not have mental health services too. I think as an added benefit, it helps socialise people to mental health issues and reduce the stigma. Law is a high-performance industry, so why wouldn’t you need that support from time to time? We want people to be the best that they can be at work.
Keen to find out more about RPC and browse their roles? Go to their profile here.