EY head of law for UK and Ireland Philip Goodstone talks to The Lawyer about building resilience, looking after each other and championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

COVID-19 has meant dealing with a constant level of uncertainty, something that some lawyers – who are used to working to schedule – may struggle with. How can lawyers build resilience and equip themselves to better cope with this perceived loss of control?

It’s human nature to struggle with uncertainty, so it’s important for all of us to build up resilience and learn to deal with not always being in control, especially at the moment. For me, it’s about finding a balance in life, looking after your physical and mental wellbeing, and building in measures whereby you are able to control your own future. I’d highly recommend setting out a clear sense of purpose – and investing in yourself to meet that purpose.

Something important for those of us in a leadership position – especially in terms of role modelling for teams coming through, and in particular as we build a more diverse workforce  –  is being able to show people more than one way of working, that it’s not all about presenteeism and long hours. For me it’s how you can add value to the business and clients, and how you look after your colleagues. Having a wider, people-centric perspective is a great way to build resilience and help achieve a long-term future in the legal profession.

Philip Goodstone

What is your advice on managing and motivating remote teams in the current climate and beyond?

The number one priority is making sure team members are safe, their families are safe, and that colleagues are able to work – not just in terms of technology – but also in terms of having a support network around them.

In addition to ensuring safety and wellbeing, I am passionate about making sure my team members feel connected and engaged, that people aren’t working too long hours and are taking breaks. It’s important for all us to ensure that we’re able to separate home life and working life which I recognise is very challenging for lots of people right now.

It’s also vital to leverage the wider leadership team, not just one person (for example the leader of a team or HR Partner) in your communications, it should be a collaborative, joint effort. Seven months in, I’ve been reflecting on how we can preserve the positive culture and ethos of the team at such a challenging time, I’m extremely proud of the spirit of camaraderie we’ve felt and demonstrated at EY. For us it’s more than just about the job, it’s about looking after each other.

For our ‘away day’ recently we hired an online escape room, which was a brilliant opportunity to work together and something we’re planning to do again in the coming months.

The thing I miss the most is speaking to people face-to-face, so I’ve been making the most of video calls – picking up the phone and checking in with colleagues and clients.

In parallel to the COVID-19 crisis, we are also experiencing social justice movements – and business leaders – pushing for more workplace diversity. How are you helping to champion more diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?

This has long been at the forefront in my mind, and something that has been a big focus for me since we first set up the EY Law business in the UK. I was passionate from the outset about the importance of building a diverse team and it has informed how we have instructed out recruitment agents and how we have approached significant business decisions.

Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter have provided an important catalyst to look more closely at ethnic diversity and to take the time to learn and gain a better understanding of the underlying issues. However, I acknowledge and realise that good intentions can only take you so far. That’s why, it was great to see EY publish firm-wide commitments on anti-racism in the UK earlier in the summer to help accelerate the pace of progress and to achieve long-term, sustainable change across the business. We’ve also looked at what more we can be doing as a UK Law team to ensure we are building an inclusive culture.

I believe now is the time to be bold and relentless in terms of leadership from the front on this. It shouldn’t just be something at the fore because of recent events but should remain at the core of everything we do, for the long term.

As a firm, we will not rest until we have created a truly diverse and inclusive environment, where all our people feel that they belong. EY’s Race and Ethnicity Network and the EY Black Community have provided valuable forums to help share and highlight the lived experiences of our people and have played a big part in the development on the new actions we are taking to improve racial diversity at EY.

We are listening to how our black colleagues feel and we will do more to ensure that we are living up to our values. Making improvements around diversity and inclusion – with specific targets – has been one of my top priorities for this year and will continue to be for some time to come.

Who has been the biggest influence in your career?

Undoubtedly my dad. He wasn’t a lawyer – in fact he had a DIY shop. He started his working life at 14 and wanted to make sure that, unlike him, I had access to higher education and a profession. Like so many teenagers, I was initially utterly resistant to doing what my father told me! There were actually very few things in life where he would be too directive – he let me find my own path, but he always said if I got a profession that would be a very good thing, and he was right.

During my degree, I was determined not to go law school. Whilst I went off travelling the world after graduating, my father rang up every school to try and get me a place and eventually succeeded.

In addition to his tenacity, he has influenced me with his humility and is my role model in life. I hope he’s taught me how to be humble too. I try not to judge myself on my job title, who I work for, or the clients I represent, but by looking at myself in the mirror at the end of each day knowing I have fulfilled my purpose, that have I lived my values, and have I treated people the right way.