By Abigail Harris-Writing for Global Leaders in Law (GLL)
Ludo Tema, Group Legal Counsel for Debswana Diamond Company. Ludo Tema is Group Legal Counsel for Debswana Diamond Company, a post she has held since January 2010. Previously she has worked as Legal Counsel & Company Secretary for Barclays Bank of Botswana Limited and as a practising attorney with Armstrongs, Attorneys, Notaries & Conveyancers.
Tema spoke to Global Leaders in Law about the steps needed to create a truly diverse and inclusive legal industry, strategies to ensure diverse voices are a part of the business narrative, and the importance of coaching and mentoring to nurture diverse talent. Global Leaders in Law:
What do you think is the future of diversity in the legal profession?
I believe that to demonstrate diversity, our profession should truly be representative of our society and especially our particular customers. I work for a diamond mining company (Debswana) and even with the evolution in clientele, our biggest ultimate consumers are women. While in the in-house profession, you will find a fair representation of women, the same cannot be said for our external counterparts. That is something which needs to be dealt with in order for them to better understand our businesses and what needs to be driving them into the future. We also need to pay attention to other types of diversity, including racial, sexual orientation, religious, disability etc. otherwise we run the risk of the diversity message sounding ‘hollow’ to those who are not included and therefore minimising the potential impact. From my perspective, we really need to push the envelope to ensure that women are represented in our field in the very top positions and also in external legal practice. In my engagements with the law firms that do legal work for our business I have tried to better understand the problem of lack of diversity and its frightening to realise that some of the issues remain the same, issues such as lack of flexibility in the working environment, sexism and harassment continue to prevail even in this modern day and age). As Debswana now has metrics around the representation of women in our business, especially at leadership level, I am including similar requirements in the law firm conditions of doing business with the company. This will be similar to the Mansfield Rule, localized for our law firm practice environment. Looking to the future, I do believe that there will be an evolution in diversity and inclusion as those organisations that fail to recognize and implement these will simply become unsustainable. More and more, the consumers of our services are demanding a more consumer-centric experience and this includes being able to feel comfortable in the legal services environment. We are also better able to innovate and create effective solutions for our clients when we operate in diverse teams.
How do you get diverse voices to be part of the business narrative? What methods have worked for you?
In my role, it’s very important to be able to communicate with and earn the trust of varied colleagues from across the business and value chain. I believe that the nature of the role helps you to learn very early on, the power of diversity in problem-solving. A strategy employed by Debswana is providing opportunities for talented employees to be involved in various multi-disciplinary business projects for business improvement. You get exposed to people working for the company in very different areas and from different walks of life and again the creativity that I have experienced from such as been very refreshing! It’s also a great way to mix up people from different business areas with leadership, so they can get a better feel of the up and coming talent within the business. Of course, you also have to be very intentional as well as employing such strategies. In the wider group that we are part of, the business units have targets that relate to various aspects of diversity at the business entity level. Having those targets can sometimes seem mechanistic, but they are a good reminder of the commitment of the business to creating a more equitable working environment. The business has also started employing various communications channels, where leadership communicate with the wider business about issues which
affect employees. While these are still getting off the ground, I believe that they will help us to create a safe space to raise issues and speak up.
For a while now we’ve been hearing lawyers, both in-house and outside counsel, calling for equality and diversity in the law. But it doesn’t seem that much has really changed. What will it take for that to change?
Everyone seems to go in for the politically correct phrases of the day, but its much more difficult to get meaningful consideration of what is then required to be done to make diversity a reality. I believe that in any organization seeking to make real change, the first step is to ensure that the leadership are fully committed to the process and understand why it will be beneficial to their business and operations. Otherwise you get those who are actually comfortable with the status quo and will only respond in so far as they need to meet targets but are not mentally committed. The tone is set at the top after all. Our leaders, from all walks of life, need to take coaching and mentoring seriously as it is one of the most important requirements of their roles. Identify talent in the business from diverse backgrounds and nurture it to succeed. In our business I have noted that many of our talented women will work hard and expect to be noticed/rewarded, meanwhile the men will more often work just as hard but also cultivate conducive relationships in order to ensure that they have the right backing and support. This can then challenge the women to remain consistent and intentional in their effort to remain relevant and deserving contenders for emerging growth opportunities If nurtured correctly, this ‘healthy competition’ can definitely support organizational effectiveness, however, we need to do more to get women comfortable with engaging sponsors on their own strengths and ideas and forming the relationships necessary to be successful at the top of the corporate or law firm ladders. Also, just like with our other values and commitments, the leadership then need to ensure that the diversity commitment is placed at the centre of the decision-making table for frequent reference. Each decision should be weighed against the backdrop of these values and commitments to ensure it makes the cut of getting us closer to our vision.
The topic of unconscious bias has been around for some time. Do you have workplace strategies to bring awareness and solutions to that issue?
Our business has rolled out unconscious bias training across our business. It has been a revelation to most of us in that we are all affected by it in so many ways. Awareness has really been helpful in checking oneself on a daily basis about the biases which play out in our decision-making. Having the vocabulary has also assisted us in being able to call time-out and check each other on this too.
If there are any GCs out there who might be reluctant to push for more diversity within their legal departments or to breach that topic with the executive team, is there any advice that you can give them?
The science is out there about the effectiveness of diverse teams in financial, cultural and innovation achievement. This is amplified when your core business is problem-solving and creating legal solutions for business strategies. Look at the community that you serve and try to find the various pockets of talent which you could be missing out on and then extrapolate the lost opportunities to do more business, to connect with your communities, make your working environment more comfortable and find new and better ways of making your job easier.
It does seem that the tone and urgency changed significantly with George Floyd’s killing. How would you describe this moment?
The former UK Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan once told an apartheid South African parliament that ‘the wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.’ It very much feels like we are on the cusp of a momentous change in modern society and how things are done, what is acceptable and what is not. Just like in South Africa, many people seem prepared for things to get worse before they get better, because the ultimate goal justifies a temporary pain.
What do you think is not being asked that is an important part of this discussion?
I think that with race and what I have seen with gender balancing, there is a silence from those who have benefitted from the status quo. We need to get them into the debate in order to co-create the new rules and environment, or else we will be repeating the ills of the past just in a different way. They must also be willing and committed partners in this journey. Debswana has taken care to get men involved in and sometimes to lead activities related to gender balancing and this has allowed some conversations to take place about ‘what does this mean for us?’ and I believe there is more of that required to ensure that ultimately, we are all accommodated. The US debates about ‘cancel culture’ are also important. While it’s important to call out open misogyny or racism, I don’t believe that its helpful to shut down honest discussion and debate. If we are going to really live diversity, then we need to be inclusive about how we get there.