2019 Senior Executive of the Year, Eastern Canada: David Leonard, McCarthy Tétrault LLP

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : November 21, 2019

We asked David Leonard about his career, and his firms’ commitment to diversity and inclusion. As the Awards of Success winner for Senior Executive of the Year (Eastern Canada), he had some great things to say.

Name: David Leonard, CEO and partner, McCarthy Tétrault

Length of time in current position: 3 years (April 2016)

Previous position at current organization: National Practice Group - Litigation 


Why is diversity and inclusion important to you?

First and foremost, creating diverse and inclusive workplaces is just the right thing to do. At McCarthy Tétrault, we are a values-driven organization. Building a culture where difference is not just accepted, but encouraged and celebrated, has always been at the core of who we are. We were one of the first law firms to hire a woman, at a time when 99 per cent of all law school graduates were men, and to invite women into the partnership.

Today, we are expanding our diversity lens beyond gender, to include race, sexual identity, ability and so on. To structure and guide this work, we recently created a program we’re calling “Inclusion Now.” Of course, we have more to do, but we are committed to learning and working to move the dial.

In addition, there is a business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I). All the research shows that diverse and inclusive workplaces are more productive and profitable. We also know that diversity boosts an organization’s capacity for innovation, generates employee loyalty, and reduces attrition. We want all of our people to have the opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential at our firm.

The bottom line for us is that diversity and inclusion are embedded in our history and our values. Whether it’s gender, race sexual identity or ability, reflecting the diversity of Canadian society is important to our leadership, our people, and our clients – and to the success of our business.

Why is it important for businesses to dedicate resources to real change in the workplace in regard to diversity and inclusion?

Investing resources into a D&I strategy is critical, as is locating the D&I program at the right level of the organization. The research supports this, as does common sense: This work is simply too important to expect people to do it off the side of their desks, or not to afford it the status and resources it deserves.

Take our firm for example. We’ve had a Chief Inclusion Officer for many years now, but until recently that role was occupied by a senior partner, who was also carrying an active legal practice. We recently made this position full-time, added community engagement to the portfolio, created and staffed up an office – our “Inclusion Now” office – and hired a respected, high-profile leader from the profession to run it. To ensure the success of Inclusion Now and reflect our commitment to these values, we knew it was imperative that we integrate our diversity lead into the leadership of the firm.

Over the past year, our Chief Inclusion Officer has worked with our leadership to create a comprehensive, long-term strategy for the firm. Not surprisingly, one of the core pillars is active leadership. To give our leaders the tools they need to support and advocate for inclusion, we’ve run “Change Champion” sessions, and all of our leaders have taken a full-day, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership program. In 2020, we’ll roll out mandatory training for all our lawyers and employees.

All of this is about investing in the success of the program, and prioritizing the inclusion of our people.

What challenges does your organization face? How have these challenges impacted your organization and its people? Have you attempted to solve some of these issues in the past? What barriers were present when attempting to solve these issues?

Our organization is facing many of the same challenges as others: we are making progress on the recruitment and retention of diverse people incrementally, and we haven’t yet been able to move the dial as significantly as we would like. When we compare where we are at demographically when it comes to hiring and promoting women, people of colour, LGBTQ2S folks and so on, we find ourselves at or around the benchmarks set by our peers (which we know thanks to the reporting done by the CCDI).

Over the last few years we’ve come to recognize that where we have the most work to do is on the inclusion piece. There was a time when D&I programs were all about representation – bringing as many diverse people as possible into the organization.

Our focus now goes beyond that. We want inclusion to inform every aspect of who we are as a firm. We want to make sure our people feel welcome and included, and that they are set up for success to build successful careers here. This is the only way we’re going to be able to move the dial structurally.

We also want to ensure we have diverse representation in our leadership. For example, 50 per cent of our leadership team and 40 per cent of our board members are currently women – we know this kind of representation matters.

In terms of addressing these issues – I don’t think they will ever truly be solved – we are currently working to identify and eliminate any barriers underrepresented groups may experience within our organization. This involves revising existing policies, creating new ones, and developing programs that foster inclusion.

We’ve also created a governance structure to bring our Inclusion Now plan to life. I’m now chairing an Inclusion Now Council, which includes senior leaders from across the organization. In this way, the accountability for the success of our plan will fall on my shoulders, and that’s the way it should be.

We’re also creating targets for our program, and will be tracking and measuring our progress over the next four years.

Finally, we’re launching a series of what we’re calling “Action Groups” – working committees focused on implementing the strategy nationally and locally. To start, we’ve struck groups on gender, race, pride and abilities. Because it’s important that the work of creating a more inclusive workplace culture does not just fall on the shoulders of our people who experience these barriers, we are encouraging all our people to get involved in one of our action groups. Changing the culture is everyone’s responsibility.

If asked what three things people should do, professionally, to advance D&I, what would you say?

Engage your leadership; train your people to be conscious of their own biases; and create goals for the organization.

Anything else you would like to add about D&I?

I’d like to make the point that diversity and inclusion is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s a must have. It is simply not possible to be a leader in your industry in the absence of a robust diversity and inclusion strategy. It’s my goal that our Inclusion Now program not only moves the dial at McCarthy Tétrault, but that it contributes to real change within the legal profession.

Learn more about Inclusion Now.

Tags Awards of Success Awards of Success 2019 CDNdiversity Senior Executive McCarthy Tetrault David Leonard

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