Social mobility is a significant challenge in the legal sector, and one that the sector is aware of and looking to overcome, but there’s still a long way to go. While steps are being taken to widen participation for junior lawyers, these positive changes are unlikely to be reflected in senior positions for some time.
According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), 52% of lawyers identify as women, with only 35% at partner level. 18% of lawyers identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic, with 17% at partner level, and only 5% of lawyers have disclosed a disability, compared to the workforce average of 14%, with 4% at a partner level.
While these stats are disappointing, there are firms who are walking the walk when it comes to diversity and social mobility…the question facing these organisations is how to communicate this progress authentically and respectfully?
It’s difficult to argue with data. Businesses that have positive diversity stats should make sure they showcase them as it can really set them apart from competitors. It’s also easy to spot firms who shout loudly on diversity, but don’t share the figures to back it up.
For those firms who aren’t quite where they want to be yet, it’s still important to share your data for clarity. This is a clear signpost that you’re committed to improving and you’re not shying away from the challenge. Alongside the data, include tangible steps you’re taking which you can reflect on each year to demonstrate your authentic and long-term commitment.
Champion diversity everyday
A spotlight on minority groups on awareness days simply isn’t enough. If you’re only showcasing certain partners on the 8th March, or in October you’re not doing enough. If you don’t know the relevance of those dates you have even more work to do…
In every piece of activity from a podcast to a keynote speech think about the people you’re shining a spotlight on and why. Too many panels and events consist of similar people – and often you hear the same reason “It’s an industry wide challenge”.
And while this may be true, it isn’t going to change if no-one takes action. Instead, when you’re asked to take part or attend an event, make sure you are considering your firm’s responsibility to champion diversity. Ask who else in involved and make sure it’s representative and aligned with your values. If it’s not, don’t be afraid to turn it down – this often creates a positive dialogue and encourages others to ask similar questions.
Have a mix of voices in the media, on all topics
Think about who’s representing you in the media, are they representative of your firm and the talent you’re looking to attract? If the answer if no, the next question is why? Take the time to ask the lawyers who align with your values and are more representative why they don’t put themselves forward, and work with them on this – whether that’s through media training or building them up with more manageable opportunities before progressing to big ticket items like broadcast.
Perhaps most importantly understand what they want to speak on. Don’t assume that somebody who identifies as black will be comfortable talking about race issues, or that a partner identifying as a woman will want to discuss the menopause or changes to maternity leave. Make sure to understand the toll discussing these topics in a public forum can have, and ensure you’re listening to their preferences and respecting their boundaries.
Ultimately, firms that have a more diverse workforce will reap the rewards, but the way this diversity is communicated can be make or break too. Authenticity and listening to the people with lived experience will always be the best approach.