Diversity and me
Diversity refers to the breadth of ethnicities, races, genders, religions, abilities and more that constitute humanity. As a black woman, diversity is important to me as it defines how I navigate through life and the legal industry. As a child, it was instilled in me that I had to work twice as hard as my white counterparts to achieve the same results and even then, success was not guaranteed. Visible diversity in organisations shows that this kind of success is available for minorities. It provides role models for aspiring professionals in that field. Once in that working environment, diversity opens opportunities to learn more about different types of people, as well as connect with similar individuals.
Diversity is important to dispel the notion of Othering those who are different. It is important to disrupt stereotypes and the idea that minority groups are homogenous to reduce prejudice and discrimination. Subsequently, working at a firm where diversity is part of the business strategy is important to me. It depicts a commitment to inclusion and equality.
The lack of diversity within law firms
Law firms as employers and large societal players have a duty to address concerns of a lack of diversity. Especially as the legal industry has been (and continues to be) dominated by white men. In 2019, the Solicitors Regulation Authority reported that in England and Wales, 51% of lawyers in firms were men and 67% of partners were men. 79% of lawyers surveyed were white. Firms must encourage equal opportunity from a moral standpoint and a profitability perspective. Globalisation and increased interconnectedness have made having a diverse workforce desirable to attract the greatest talent and international clients. I believe there are three significant ways through which law firms should address concerns: education, action, and monitoring.
Education breeds awareness. Confronting inherent biases, subconscious racism and misplaced beliefs is essential to addressing concerns. Organising interactive talks on subjects such as ableism, white privilege, and micro-aggressions in safe spaces would promote healthy debates. It would allow individuals to share experiences and struggles, facilitating greater understanding of how unchangeable characteristics affect fundamental aspects of life such as job opportunities or accessing loans.
Action is the follow through of education. This would involve creating social mobility initiatives and firm-specific mentoring programmes with diverse mentors, facilitating progression within the firm of diverse individuals, creating accessible office spaces, and more. It would require investment of time and capital. However, the benefits of encouraging diversity are wide-ranging. For example, there is increased creativity and variance in perspectives which encourages innovation – a key advantage in such a competitive market.
Monitoring is necessary to ensure this action and education are having the desired effects. Regular reporting on pay gaps and diversity of fee-earners within the firm by managing partners alongside action points for continued improvement would be essential. Creating a recommendations and reviews box that all employees can anonymously contribute to would allow for honest feedback and therefore, support meaningful change as well.