International law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) has launched its Neurodiversity Umbrella Project to mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13 to 19 March). The project will see multi-coloured umbrellas set up across the firm's UK offices to provide an uplifting visual representation and celebration of what neurodiversity is.

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. The Neurodiversity Umbrella Project is a national initiative by the ADHD Foundation, which WBD has supported through sourcing the umbrellas. 

WBD's Umbrella Project is being led by the firm's UK-wide Disability Network, chaired by legal director Michelle Essen. The Network has been 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 the work the Network does within and outside the firm.

Currently made up of over 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.

Michelle Essen, WBD Disability Network chair, comments:

"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."

Jessica Tresham, Partner and Diversity and Inclusion Board Sponsor at WBD, adds:

"With the 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.

Paul Stewart, UK Managing Partner at WBD, says:

"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."

Diversity and Inclusion is a core theme of WBD's responsible business programme. To find out more about the firm's initiatives, read its latest responsible business report.


Paul Stewart in WBD's Newcastle office with umbrella display

Paul Stewart with the umbrella display in WBD's Newcastle office.


Jessica Tresham in WBD's London office with umbrella display

Jessica Tresham with the umbrella display in WBD's London office.