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| 19 minutes read

CMO Series EP88 - Silvia Van den Bruel of Hausfeld on driving social inclusion and the role of legal marketing

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Nearly all law firms have a DEI policy in place but how many are truly progressive when it comes to creating an inclusive and equitable environment for lawyers and business professionals to thrive? 

That’s the theme of today’s episode of the CMO Series, and Will Eke is very lucky to welcome Silvia Van den Bruel,  Marketing & Business Development Director at Hausfeld, to talk about social inclusion and the role of the marketing and BD function in driving change. 

Silvia and Will discuss:

  • What Diversity, Equity and Inclusion looks like in today’s firms
  • The importance of language and the other factors that need addressing
  • Hausfeld’s approach to DEI and the opportunities for improvement
  • The role of the marketing function in driving change when it comes to social inclusion within law firms
  • Real-world examples of where DEI has benefited the firm
  • Advice for Marketing and BD leaders looking to take a more inclusive approach in their firm


Will: Welcome to the CMO Series Podcast where we discuss marketing and all things business development in professional services. Today, really excited, we've got a great topic and it actually sort of leads off the CMO REPRESENTS Series. We're gonna be talking about equity diversity and inclusion. And my guest today was featured on our REPRESENTS soundbites and she's going to explore this in more detail.

Nearly all law firms have an EDI policy in place now. But there's not many that can truly say that they're progressive when it comes to creating this sort of inclusive and equitable environment for lawyers and business professionals to thrive.

As I say, that's the theme today that's gonna be running through the episode and we're really, really lucky. I'm really excited to welcome Silvia Van den Bruel. She's the Marketing and BD Director at Hausfeld and we're gonna be talking about this inclusion, the social role and how marketing and BD can help drive this change.

So, Silvia, welcome to the CMO Series Podcast.

Silvia: Well, thank you Will. It's always a pleasure to talk to you. So thank you for having me.

Will: Brilliant. I'm excited to hear your take on this in the industry. So we're gonna start with question one, which is: what does equity, diversity and inclusion look like in today's firms?

Silvia:  So this is of course a very big question and you know, one that we probably have to answer in a bit of a very generic form and there's always work that needs to be done. But I do feel that diversity is definitely on people's minds and seems to over the years have been reasonably developed. And I feel that awareness around the importance of having a diverse workforce is strong and that firms are taking steps to improve. 

I did my homework before coming on this podcast and looked at the SRA statistics. The most recent ones are from 2021 where they say that women make up 52% of lawyers in law firms and 35% of partners are female. And that's a vast improvement from, let's say, 10 years ago, and you all already mentioned the Passle podcast in the CMO series, and I've listened to the first two episodes of the REPRESENTS series. You know, marketing leaders from a really wide range of law firms both in the US and the UK even mention a 50% female partner ratio. So I think that's fantastic. In those podcasts, there seem there seems to have been a consensus around the table that things have improved. But, and there always is a but of course, when we move away from diversity and we move a little bit more towards equity and inclusion, I do feel things are becoming a bit fuzzier and I think much more can be done in this area and there are a lot of different aspects to equity and inclusion. You know, if I think about all the aspects around social inclusion, you know, like prejudices around people's age or having an accent or having certain health conditions. But the one thing I personally am very passionate about and you and I have spoken about this in the past is really around the inclusion of business professionals as a valuable part of the working of a law firm. And what really gets my goat is that law firms often define that part of the workforce as non-lawyers.

Will: Yeah, we have discussed that um before Silvia and you know, I know lots of your colleagues and peers feel very passionately about that as well. it's a difficult one in terms of that non-lawyer phrase, I think someone else mentioned before, you know, the business professional, the area that we work in the marketing team, it is not a home for failed lawyers, which I thought was quite an interesting way of doing it. But leading on to the second question, you know and you mentioned it there that non-lawyer phrase, is language the important factor here or are there sort of deeper issues that also need addressing?

Silvia: Well, language is an important factor. Of course, it is, you know, how would you feel if you are defined by something that you are not? I don't want to be defined by something that I'm not. It's a negative starting point. And it also implies that what is used to define themselves, i.e. being a lawyer, is the ultimate pinnacle and everything that is not that is somehow less important. And in my book, that is as far away from equity and inclusion that you can get.

So in the past, I have seen documents which define business professionals as those that do not work as a lawyer and having worked in finance and private equity for quite some years before I actually joined professional services, we were never defined in that way. And so I feel that this attitude is something a bit more prevalent in law firms. And I think actually a lot of lawyers do not even realise they do it or that they have that attitude. So when we're talking about language, I think it would be as easy to define us as everyone in the firm who supports the business in an administrative, HR, operational, IT, finance or marketing capacity. So it's very simple. So why is it so difficult to do that? 

And I think the way that actually came to my attention was David Burgess from Legal 500 during the pandemic made exactly that observation on one of his LinkedIn posts and it unleashed a huge conversation and it actually made me realise how deeply it affected me. And so many of us, not just in marketing, but also in IT, finance and HR and since then, I have actually been very vocal about it because I am luckily at the stage in my career that I have the confidence to do so, and I'm less concerned about how it might impact my career path. And also I work for a firm that accepts me for that and it is in their ethos to speak about injustice. So I am quite lucky in that respect and different language, yes, would be a first step in the right direction. And interestingly, there is still a debate as to what we should be called.

Personally, I like the term business professional, some other people don't, but I do. So I think we should start, you know, by using a different term but going back to your question. Is it a symptom of an underlying condition? I think, well, I think it is. I think there are deeper issues. I have worked at firms where I was treated differently because I did not have a law degree. And it didn't matter whether I had a first in economics and finance from a well-regarded university in Belgium, there was no interested in finding out. And so for people who are so smart, I think there can be a level of ignorance in that. If they'd never heard of the university, surely it can't be as good as one of the Russell Universities. And so talking about those sort of deeper issues, when I speak to my peers, marketing is often seen as a cost rather than an investment. And I think that was very, very apparent when the pandemic hit and a lot of law firms furloughed some or all of their marketing staff. Something that they like to gloss over now, the whole newly qualified salary debate, I really find it quite difficult to listen to and I find it quite distasteful because how can an industry even begin to talk about, let alone claim how equitable they are when they are prepared to pay a newly qualified lawyer with little experience more than someone with an equal degree who has 20, 25, 30 years of experience. So, you know, someone needs to explain to me how in this day and age, that is still possible. And when I make these points, one of the most arguments that the most used arguments that I get is, “Well, people come to a law firm to appoint a lawyer” and I say, “Well, good luck in running your business successfully without your army of non-lawyers” in inverted commas.

Will: A lot to unpick there.

Silvia: You get me on my high horse and there's no stopping me.

Will:  I think the point about the furlough and obviously speaking to lots of marketing and business development professionals as you like to call them that they weren't there. You know, because exactly that lots of them were furloughed and actually it is glossed over and I think, interestingly lots of lawyers have sort of realised, well, we can't run a business without these very important people that do all the other bits that are not fee-earning. But the point is again, I think it is about language, you know, they call themselves trusted experts. Well, actually, you know, in their area of expertise, the area of your expertise and your teams and you know, in the business professional side of things is HR, it is marketing, it is business development. So there's a sort of trust thing internally that needs to be addressed. But, yeah, it's a very interesting topic and one that we could probably discuss for a whole podcast. 

Silvia: But, you know, the point that people are now making, like when you, you know, listen to Newsnight or you, you read the papers is that they have this whole chunk of people that after the pandemic did, is not return to work. And I see that with some of my friends actually that were furloughed and they were, you know, they were marketing and business development directors or managers and they decided to not return and to just do freelance work or consultancy because they just felt that the true nature of how people thought about their value to a law firm came to fruition during the pandemic.

Will: Absolutely. It's a scar that they now bear and actually, you know, lots of people have that time to think and it's a rejection, right? It's difficult to come back from that if that happens. So lots of great advice. Lots of things to unpick there. You did mention in there that where you work currently house is a progressive firm. Can you tell us a bit more about their sort of approach specifically to equity, diversity and inclusion? And you know, are there still areas for improvement as well there?

Silvia: Yeah. So we've always had a very high proportion of female partners. I mean, we are a young firm. So we only launched in the UK in 2009. So that ethos of diversity has really, you know, always been there from the very start. And so when in January last year, our previous London Managing Partner, Anthony Maton moved on to become Global Co-Chair, Lianne Craig became the first female Managing Partner in London. And at the same time, Melinda Coolidge became the first female Managing Partner in the US. So then also if we look at global management, we have a global management committee and 54% of that is made up of women. And then in London, when we look at the business professionals, actually, and globally, our senior business professionals, 85% are female. So these are   good statistics, agile working has always been a part of the way we operated long before it became an accepted way of working during and after the pandemic. And this really has facilitated the route to partnership for some of our female partners, you know, who have been and still are mums of young children. There is also an entrenched belief that people from different backgrounds and cultures contribute to a better workforce. And if I look at my colleagues in London, you know, we have lots of different nationalities represented, you know, Spain, Greece, France, I'm from Belgium, Netherlands, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden. I mean, I'm sure I'm forgetting others, but it does make for a very different workforce then, you know, sort of, what else can I say? Well, in London we have seven department heads and six of them are women and we are considered trusted advisors. So we all work closely with senior management. We do have a seat around the table in partner meetings and offer active input. So that's quite a nice position to be in.

But, you know, of course, there is still room for improvement. As our workforce ages, I think we should create more awareness around what we can do for menopausal women, for example, you know, I was for a very long time, the only menopausal woman in the London office. So I've been sort of championing that cause as well. And I think we can, you know, we have some great programs around mentoring for example. And I think we can and should roll that out a little bit more widely. So there is still room for improvement. 

Will: Like in all things, always room for improvement. And you sort of, lead me on to my next question there. You know, talking about being the only menopausal woman and also being in the marketing and business development team. You know, do you feel strongly that the marketing function, your role can play a big part in sort of helping drive this change when it comes to social inclusion in law firms, professional service firms?

Silvia: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Because I think we can lead by example because, and this is not only my firm, but you know, when I look at my colleagues and law firms elsewhere, a lot of the marketing teams are actually made up of women. But also there tends to be a mix of different backgrounds, you know, some people have university degrees, some have not, you know, we come from very different regions, you know. One of the best assistants I had, did not have a university degree but was an incredibly quick learner and very smart and she's now on a great career trajectory herself. And I think what that does is that we are living proof that when you put us all together, we bring different qualities to the table and we form better for it as a team. 

I think marketing teams increasingly get a seat around the table so we take positions of influence, so we can influence that way. And I think firms who have been trendsetters are like Mishcons and Keystone Law, for example, and both of these firms have done, you know, have done very well. And I think that that is partly explained by the early adopting of awarding board room seats to non-partners, for example. I don't know whether you know about RGI Consulting. They do a lot of consultancy and research for Financial Times. And in their 2022 year in review, they confirmed that the giving the seats around the table to non-lawyers, you know, if I can use that term, having been very annoyed about it in my previous question, is now a trend that they see more of. And I think, you know, as we were talking about earlier when I listen to the Passle podcast, there are so many great CMOs and directors, both male and female who actually, when you listen to it, they all think along the same terms and they all think in the same vein and, you know, they are all very well regarded in their firms. And I sort of feel that we are a bit, without knowing it, you know, that combined individual effort, it really constitutes a bit of a silent force, which can do good and I actually feel quite positive about that.

Will: Great and actually, I've been told a few times as well, going back to the sort of how you can build out your team. It's quite interesting because obviously the marketing and business development teams in the very nature of how you build them are normally more diverse and more socially inclusive than the, you know, I'm gonna call them these to annoy you, the fee earners within the business. I mean, the lawyers, you know, they are in most firms, unlike the makeup that you saw that they are often Oxbridge graduates and they come from the same cloth. Actually, the marketing teams and business development teams can be different and they can stand out and they can sort of, you know, you can recruit from various industries and you can recruit from various backgrounds and that sort of fits in quite nicely. You have mentioned, I think a few already, but I wondered if you could give the listeners, sort of real-world examples where you can, in terms of this equity and inclusive inclusivity, where it sort of benefited the firm or other firms that you've worked at?

Silvia: Yeah, we sort of mentioned it already, you know, by having a female Managing Partner who actually has benefited from the firm support when she had her daughters in quick succession since 2015, I think she understands the importance of support for young mothers. And so she's a big proponent of enabling you know, female lawyers to have that role of mum and you know, have that family role, but also being able to combine it with their role as successful lawyers where, and it's very difficult to not talk in sort of sweeping generalisations. But if you, if you think about it logically and you look about, you look at the global management team where, where it's like, you know, 50/50 male and female, you know, females tend to be known for being collaborative and having sound emotional intelligence and you know, having empathy. And then you have the great male qualities of strength like assertiveness and independence. And if you combine that at the management level, then you get a very powerful combination. In London, we also have our Head of Commercial Disputes, John McElroy and our Head of Environment and Human Rights, Ingrid Gubbay, they're part of the LGBTQ+ community. They have always been very vocal around the issues that are, that are still alive and the fact that they have, I think has made us more approachable as a firm on the whole um and a safe place to work from my own angle. I think the way we have dealt with the global rebrand was a very good example of, you know, being equitable and they included me. So for 17 months, a team of six people which was made up of the four GC members. So that's our global Executive Committee and the then global CEO and myself, we managed the whole project and they definitely had this approach of “you are the expert, we will listen to you and take your views into account” and having that voice, I think was incredibly empowering and I'm very grateful for them having the trust in me in guiding them in that project.

Will: It's fascinating. I think your point about having a female Managing Partner that, you know, and the thing about getting pregnant, I think these trends, they're trickling down and you know, why should it be such a shock? It should be, you know, it should be normal now. So, you know, it's moving, as you said, at the start in the right direction and it should all be normalised, this sort of thing. So it's great. 

We're just gonna do a quick fire round a bit of fun. And to find out a bit more about some of your sort of interests really. So, the first question I'm gonna ask you, what is your favourite business and nonbusiness book?

Silvia:  I really should read more marketing and business development books. But I'm afraid I don't have a lot of time but my favourite nonfiction books and they're from quite a few years ago are the Freakonomics and the Super Freakonomics series. And I think all the books by Michael Lewis, who is known for being the author of Liar's Poker, I think are fantastic books and they explain in a very accessible way, very complex financial structures and a lot of them have been made into movies. Like the Big Short and Money Ball. So they are quite good fun.

Will: Great stuff. Yeah, that Economics book ages ago. I need to, I just picked it off my shelf when you mentioned it. Actually, he uses quite a lot of great, you know, like gangs and things like that to discuss and talk about the actual economic impact that has on society, right? So, it's a great book that one. I'll have to read that again. What was your first job?

Silvia: So my first job, you know, honestly I had jobs as a student, which ranged from doing some typing for a village solicitor to selling ice creams in the Antwerp Zoo during summer. But my first proper job was actually as an au pair in America after university where I looked after a 3,8 and 10-year-old. And I think that to this day they were among the toughest negotiators I've ever dealt with.

Will: I'm glad you say that I concur, not that I’ve got three. I've got two, but they are tough negotiators. What makes you happy?

Silvia: Oh, when a plan comes together, I love having a plan come together and when we achieve results because we've worked together and made it happen, then I think that always gives you very good feeling and if my partners and the teams are happy, then I'm happy. It's very simple really.

Will: Brilliant. What are you listening to at the moment? And we could be going into a podcast. Obviously, you listen to our CMO Series, of course, music or it could be an audiobook, any of your choice or all three. When I walk to work in the morning, that's actually the only opportunity I have to listen to live radio and I listen to a little bit of Kiss FM. So just to to keep on track of what's like popular in the top 40. And then I sort of dip in and out of the Desert Island Discs podcast with BBC. And I do love the Glitter Box radio show. So that's when I'm having a little bit more of a dancing hat on, and then when I need a little bit of calm and chill I have a couple of lists on Spotify, with some sort of chill lounge or chill Ibiza tunes. So, it's a little bit of a mix really.

Will: Yeah, it's a big mix. Okay. It is a big mix. Yeah, but you know, so are our emotions so you need, you need something for every, every emotion. Now I know you have just not to rub it in again, you have just come back from a holiday and I'm wondering if this features in anything. But the next question is, where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Silvia: So many favourite places. Because one of my passions aside from marketing is photography and travelling and obviously when you travel, you really can combine the photography element. But one place that I will go back to time and time again and, you know, my husband thinks the same way, so that's very lucky, is the Greek Islands. I think they just combine the beautiful landscapes, sea, mountains, the people are really friendly, the food is really great. And it's always like, I have always a feeling that I'm coming home, you know, after my Belgium home and my UK home. So Greek Islands are definitely among the top destinations really.

Will: Yeah, I totally see that. Especially as well, places like Cyprus. My parents used to live there and I think that one of their famous straplines is come to our island 360 days of sun during the year or something like that.

Silvia:  You know, I've had a couple of times where there are other countries that also use that strapline, and I think the Canary Islands are one of them and I have to say, a couple of years ago we went to Gran Canaria and we had 10 days of clouds and drizzle. So I think the the 10 days that it normally didn't rain, we were there. So it’s a bit of sod’s law really.

Will: Yeah, I think the Greek Islands are a bit further east, aren't they? So they’re true to their word. Brilliant. Okay. Thank you for that Silvia. Some interesting and great recommendations there. As I say, it's been really fascinating having you on Silvia and we've covered a lot and I know that we could probably talk even longer in more depth, but I wanted to just finish on which we always do. And I'm sure your advice is going to be great. What would, if it was just whittled down to one piece, what would your one piece of advice be for marketing and business development leaders looking to take um a more inclusive approach within their firm?

Silvia: I think, have confidence in your own ability to instil change and yet to have that voice. That's what I would say.

Will: Amazing as I say, thank you so much for your time and I'm sure our listeners would absolutely love this episode. So thanks again. It's been fascinating and have a brilliant weekend when it comes.

Silvia: Yeah. Thank you very much for having me.


e2e, professional services, marketing, cmoseries