“Our names do not sound British enough”

The deaths of countless victims such as Ahmaud Arbery and Breoanna Taylor, and the horrific murder of George Floyd with a knee symbol used by NFL star Colin Kaepernick in the fight against police brutality, had been witnessed across the world which revitalised the Black Lives Matter Movement. Not only in America but throughout Europe. Companies such as Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) have acknowledged that they have profited from the sin of slavery and want to correct this wrong by giving more opportunities to Black people. However, as a Black British woman of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent you cannot help but question the sincerity of these companies in relation to diversity. Did we have to have three lives taken at the hands of racism, police brutality, and a global protest to act now? This could not have been done before. Likewise, diversity within the legal profession has been a struggle to achieve besides a number of other issues that women regularly face.

Benefits of diversity in the legal workforce

Firstly, commentators define diversity in the workplace as a company that hires a wide range of individuals based on background, abilities, skills, and experience. The UK is praised for its multiculturalism. The legal profession has to reflect the multiculturalism of our society. Diversity is more than a badge of honour or a trend to follow. Diversity is a commitment. A continual commitment. Now, it is essential to remember that law firms are businesses. They need to make money, and diversity has been used as an economic tool. This is because it wins law firms business as it shows a firm’s commitment to diversity. Diversity strengthens a firm’s reputation, and this can be illustrated by the law firm, Linklaters, which implemented a mentoring scheme called Diverse Voices. It is therefore no surprise that the Financial Times named Linklaters the Diversity Leader of 2020.

Diversity increases innovation. When you have a legal team that consists of individuals of different ethnicities and backgrounds, this results in better problem solving and critical thinking skills. Equally, it sparks new and innovative ways of solving a problem and legal strategies being created. Additionally, as much as we like to be optimistic and praise the amount of law firms offering Black minority ethnic individuals training contracts, we forget to recognise to a full extent the challenges that they face. I say this as a woman coming from an ethnic minority background. Ethnic minorities have to face the reality of institutionalised racism; we are taught at a young age that we have to work 10 times harder to get to where we want. As an ethnic minority woman, specifically a Black woman, we have to deal with the stereotypes of being “loose” and “open to groping” being attached to us. We have been discriminated against because of our last names. It does not sound British enough. We do not look like the people who a law firm hires. We have been advised to straighten our natural hair because it does not look professional enough.

The legal profession needs to change

If I were to offer solutions to the legal professions’ diversity issue, I would advise we stop using the term BAME as we all are not disadvantaged in the same way. The term BAME acts as an umbrella term. It groups the struggles minority ethnic individuals experience under the same category. This term fails to identify the challenges an Asian person may face in comparison to a Black person. For example, a Black person may well face challenges that relate to stereotypes which may not necessarily relate to an Asian person.

Secondly, law firms need to have more ethnic partners (eg Black, Asian etc) to match our changing demographic in society. While firms pride themselves for having a diverse trainee intake, we should not be misled into thinking the firm has diverse talent. Diversity seems to be a problem at the senior level, and this is an issue that needs addressing. How many Black senior associates and partners does a firm have? Only when the answer to this question is a high percentage can a firm boast a diverse workforce.

Lastly, if an individual was to question whether a firm is truly diverse, this should not be something that we should be offended by. Replying with “I am not racist” and then using a handful of employees to exemplify the somewhat diversity in a firm doesn’t do justice. Instead, firms must use the question as an opportunity to have a discussion to educate themselves and learn how to not only better themselves as an individual but also the firm in general. Analyse statistics and discuss what could be done to improve those figures and raise those percentages. Devise schemes and initiatives solely targeted on increasing diversity. Actions speak louder than words.

Isabella Fabunmi

My name is Isabella Nana- Ama Ayomide Fabunmi (Yes! I used my whole name. I am proud of it). I am a 20-year-old final year law student at the University of Westminster. I am a Black British woman of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent. I am the eldest out of 3 siblings. Because of my heritage I have faced racism. I've been called a “demon”, “pigeon”, “half a human” and a “traitor.” I am also multilingual and speak English, Spanish and Italian. My goal is to become a polyglot because I love being able to communicate with people in their own language besides English. My ideal career would be to become a lawyer linguist. One goal that I am passionate about achieving is having a World War II memorial erected for West African soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. My great grandfather fought in WWII and lost a leg. They all deserve to be honoured and remembered.

Isabella Fabunmi