Equality, diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession

It’s been six months since the Black Lives Matter protests following horrific events that took place in the U.S which forced governments, organisations and individuals to change their attitudes towards equality, diversity and inclusivity. We’ve seen people using their voice to tell us that they have had enough of systemic racism. As we approach the end of 2020 and look ahead, what can we lessons can we take with us into 2021 and what is the legal profession doing to show their commitment.

Ultimately, there should be equality, diversity and inclusivity at all levels of a firm to remove barriers that people face in the workplace and create an open and collaborative culture. This in turn feeds back into society as people take home the lessons learnt and information presented to them, it’s a positive change in mindset. We do have to ask ourselves why has it taken so long to get to where we are and why are we still talking about how we can improve. The end goal should be that each organisation is a true representation of society but to get to that stage, small steps need to take place first.

Ensuring equality, diversity and inclusivity in the legal profession is no doubt a focus for law firms and other leading organisations, but rather than being a tick box exercise the focus should be on fostering a culture which encourages and supports people from all backgrounds and walks of life so that they prosper in their careers and law firms retain a talented workforce.

Many firms are trying to find ways to measure the demographic of their workforce however, this is likely to be difficult as collecting that type of personal data can only be collected with consent and therefore firms are always going to be relying on inaccurate data. The government announced it is consulting on introducing mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting however, there has been no indication as to how firms will be expected to collect this data without being in breach of data protection laws.

The SRA published its findings in its report on “How diverse is the legal profession?”. People prefer to keep their information anonymous so the focus should be on how to improve equality, diversity and inclusivity in particular areas such as working with other organisations where roundtable discussions can take place for example the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion https://www.enei.org.uk/ , the leading network for equality and inclusion in the workplace. The SRA’s report highlighted that the number of lawyers that come from a Bame background had risen, but only very marginally and the higher up you go in the firm to partner level this number was even lower.

The reason why there are so few people from Bame backgrounds in senior positions is because the profession is still very much a full of closely connected individuals who are also responsible for the hiring of candidates and typically will hire people that are similar to them. To break down these barriers, removing them (not completely) from the hiring process may be the answer.

To uproot systemic racism and discrimination of all kinds, rather than not seeing people’s colour, religion, background, disability or sexual preference we need to be aware of the biases, identify barriers and break them down. Firms and organisations recognise that they have a lot of work to do in this respect and going forwards will need to do a lot more to succeed in winning over clients and keeping themselves relevant in today’s world.



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