Diversity and Inclusion: How Law Firms Stack Up

Diversity and Inclusion: How Law Firms Stack Up

Research has found that the legal sector is struggling to achieve diversity in its employment practices. But how large is the gap that needs to be closed?

Hasna Haidar, Senior Copywriter at Bolt Burdon Kemp, explores issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in law, and offers her advice on how firms can improve.

While ‘diversity and inclusion’ can seem like recent buzzwords, anti-discrimination in the workplace has been enshrined in law since 2010’s Equality Act. And yet, companies – including law firms – are still struggling to create a truly inclusive and diverse workforce. For example, a recent report into diversity in the legal industry by Bolt Burdon Kemp found that only 29% of partner roles in large firms are held by women – despite women making up 47% of the workforce.

Further findings in the report demonstrate that the legal industry is falling short in equality when it comes to three other key demographics:

  • Disability– only 3% of lawyers report being disabled in comparison to 19% of the working population. What’s more, the Junior Lawyers Division Resilience and Wellbeing Survey in 2019 found that 48% of junior lawyers reported experiencing mental ill-health.
  • Ethnic minorities – only 19% of lawyers in 2019 were from an ethnic minority background. The proportion of ethnic minorities also falls drastically as the size of the firm increases. In larger firms, only 8% of lawyers are Asian and only 1% are Black – yet they make up 27% and 8% of 1-partner firms respectively.
  • Sexuality– only 3% of lawyers identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, in comparison to 7% of the British population identifying as such. Furthermore, 3% of partners in larger firms are gay men while only 1% are gay women – showing there’s a gender imbalance at play too.

How does your firm stack up in these metrics? Whether you do better or worse than the average, it’s important to keep striving for better. After all, an inclusive legal workforce would be able to serve their community better, being able to understand and appreciate the experiences of a broad range of individuals. Thus, with the new year fast approaching, you may want to incorporate some diversity and inclusion goals into your wider company aims. Here are a few things to think about as you get started:

Whether you do better or worse than the average, it’s important to keep striving for better.

1. Introduce diversity and inclusion targets

As part of your company plan for next year, decide a few realistic targets you’d like to meet by a reasonable deadline. Evaluate the past and current demographic makeup of your workforce, and figure out which area you would like to – and can – improve on. For example, you may want to increase the percentage of ethnic minorities in your firm to 15%, and LGBTQ+ to 4% within the next 3-5 years. Once you’ve set a goal, make sure you’ve set up the right recruitment practices and cultural efforts necessary to see it come to fruition.

2. Hire a Diversity and Inclusion Expert

To that end, you may want to hire an expert who you can consult on the right approaches to take. A diversity and inclusion expert can guide you on the best way to tackle any internal or cultural roadblocks you may have, as well as advise you on how to approach certain subjects in a sensitive way. For example, they can conduct a diversity hiring audit on your current practices, and teach you how to reduce unconscious bias, how to deal with staff who may be resistant to change, and how to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

3. Take responsibility by being open and transparent

Reaching equality means prioritising accountability, transparency and inclusion. Leadership teams will need to take responsibility for any former or current failings that might be relevant to the improvements you’re trying to make. Take ownership of and be open about your mistakes to show your intentions are genuine, and get better buy-in from your staff. You may want to report publicly on your successes – or even lack thereof – at the end of your efforts, so you’re always holding yourself and your company to account.

However you approach your journey to a more diverse and inclusive workforce, remember to keep lines of communication open – particularly to the demographics you may have neglected in the past. After all, in order to be truly inclusive, you need to listen and take on board any grievances and concerns they might have. By learning from them, speaking to the right experts and setting clear goals to hold yourself accountable, you can take the necessary steps to ensure your firm is one that is balanced, productive, thriving and welcoming to all.

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