Womble Bond Dickinson’s office umbrella project opens up conversations about neurodiversity

March 14, 2023

Multi-coloured umbrellas have been put up in transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson’s Bristol office to provide an uplifting visual representation and celebration of neurodiversity.

The initiative, pictured, which will also take place in the firm’s seven other UK offices, is part of its neurodiversity umbrella project, which has been launched to mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week. 

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term which covers a number of neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes about neurological differences and aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported.

Womble Bond Dickinson’s umbrella project is a national initiative by the ADHD Foundation, which the firm is supporting by sourcing the umbrellas.

The project is being led by the firm’s UK-wide disability network, a central point of representation for everyone in the firm who identifies as disabled, is affected by disability or long-term conditions or simply wishes to become involved and champion its work within and outside the firm.

Made up of more than 80 members, including six partner champions, the network proactively raises disability awareness throughout the year, positively contributes to policy development, drives change, promotes accessibility and fosters a working environment based on mutual respect, inclusiveness and equal opportunities. 

Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) legal director Michelle Essen, who chairs the network, said: “Around one in five people is neurodivergent and yet there are still many misconceptions and a lack of understanding about what being neurodiverse means.

“Marking Neurodiversity Celebration Week with our eye-catching umbrella project is about acknowledging that not all disability is visible, openly supporting and embracing those who think differently, and recognising the many talents and strengths of people who are neurodiverse.

“Disability affects us all, directly or indirectly; and knowing we are not alone and normalising conversations about our experiences lends enormous strength.

“Our disability network has achieved so much already and created a safe space where our people want to tell their stories, often for the first time in a professional environment, and it’s so rewarding and humbling to be a part of that.” 

WBD partner and diversity and inclusion board sponsor Jessica Tresham, pictured with the umbrellas in the firm’s London office, added: “With support from our diversity and inclusion networks as well as our board, we pride ourselves on our open and inclusive culture where our differences are valued and celebrated.

“We continue to build on what we’ve achieved so far, working with our networks and our clients to drive positive change, not just in our firm, but across the legal profession.”

Over the past few years, WBD’s diversity and inclusion networks – which include WBD Disability, WBD Pride (LGBTQ+), WBD Reach (race, ethnicity and cultural heritage) and WBD Thrive (women’s career development) – have taken significant strides towards creating an inclusive working environment.

Recent milestones and initiatives include:

  • Retaining its Disability Confident Employer accreditation, and becoming a member of the Business Disability Forum;
  • Adopting the use of #CamelCase, a hashtagging system making hashtags easier to read for people with dyslexia and vision impairments;
  • Introducing a reverse mentoring programme for senior leadership by members of its diversity and inclusion networks, including WBD Disability;
  • Being recognised by Stonewall as a Top 100 Employer 2023 and receiving the Gold Award for being an LGBTQ+ inclusive employer;
  • Investing in an ongoing mental health awareness campaign including the roll out of firmwide training. WBD has the same number of dedicated mental health first aiders across the firm as traditional first aiders;
  • #CountMeIn, a firmwide, voluntary, data collection initiative designed to monitor how the firm is doing against its diversity and inclusion goals and in order to more rapidly make progress towards them;
  • Receiving the Gold Status Award from the Law Society Diversity & Inclusion Charter; 
  • Achieving Gold Investors in People and Silver Investors in People Wellbeing Standards.

WBD UK managing partner Paul Stewart said: “Diversity and inclusion is a cornerstone of our business and values.

“Womble Bond Dickinson has an inclusive and progressive culture that nurtures equality, fairness and respect for all.

“Underpinned by our ongoing #beyourself campaign, our people feel empowered to bring their full selves to work in a firm that embraces difference and individuality.”

WBD has more than 120 partners and around 450 lawyers in the UK, where its Bristol office is its second largest. It also has 23 offices across the US.

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