To celebrate this week’s appointment of I. Stephanie Boyce as President of the Law Society as well as her commitment to help tackle discrimination, I thought I’d consider the topic of ethnic equality and diversity within the legal industry. I want to highlight passed open discussions and initiatives currently taking shape to help open up the sector and create equal employment opportunities for ethnic minorities in the modern legal profession.

Diversity in the working world should always involve combating discrimination in employment and promoting equality. Historically the legal profession has  been viewed as white, male and elitist, and it was sadly a rarity to find anybody not fitting that bill.

Fortunately, the industry has made significant steps forward, however recent data shows that there are still challenges to overcome and progressive changes yet to be made.

Roy Appiah, a senior associate at Clifford Chance, described some of the barriers he had come across in his career: “Clifford Chance is undoubtedly a great place to work and I am very fortunate and privileged to do so. However, as a black or ethnic minority lawyer, you are never too far away from reminders that the firm, and the industry, were not designed for people like you to rise to the top.”

Roy went on. “These reminders come in many forms, like having your security pass checked twice to enter work, or being invited to training about what leadership looks like where none of the dozen speakers look like you.”

He continued. “Being one of the very few ethnic minority lawyers in a department, and seeing very few ethnic minority partners within the firm, showed me that there is a much smaller margin of error for progressing in my career than my white peers. As a junior lawyer, and even now to some extent, I’m conscious not to draw attention to my obvious visual difference. I don’t want to provide ammunition to those holding stereotypes about people like me.”

He further added: “As my career has progressed and I demonstrated to myself and to colleagues that I can do this, it is as though I have earned the right to be more of myself at work. And it is no coincidence that I am a better lawyer when I feel I can be myself.”

Ngozie Azu, Rare alumnus and head of international relations at Slaughter and May, said in her 11 years at the firm that she had been “fortunate to have a number of senior sponsors who have supported me along the way with advice and mentorship. There’s always been a focus on the stats, on outreach, on improving our recruitment processes. Which is great.”

She continued. “The challenge for firms is to ensure that they are creating an environment in which everyone can bring their most authentic selves to work without fear our differences will mark us out or impact our ability to succeed.”

Positive action is being taken and remains at the forefront of industry news. With Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, Clyde & Co and Irwin Mitchell going public with their gender and ethnicity results.

Unlike the gender pay gap, reporting on ethnicity pay gaps is not mandatory so this anticipates a shift in attitude for diversity and inclusion. Ethnicity pay gap reporting is a chance for businesses to understand their workforce better and it is important to analyse the specific barriers to entry as well as progression for ethnic minority employees.

Former corporate solicitor Chris White, now head of legal diversity organisation Aspiring Solicitors, said “law firm leadership needed to be decisive about taking steps to implement change.” Chris attended a comprehensive school but became a solicitor at Norton Rose Fulbright, before leaving in 2014 to attempt to change the legal profession by increasing diversity. He agrees that gathering and analysing statistics is key to making progress but said: “If you haven’t collected it and don’t have historical data, you can’t reflect on where you’ve been and you can’t project where you want to go.”

Truly addressing inequality at work starts with recruitment, with employee engagement and co-creation just as crucial. However, publishing ethnicity pay gap data will help identify current inequalities and empower employers to take active steps to address them.

If you are a legal professional considering a change within your career or a hiring manager seeking staff, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us to discuss your requirements in confidence.

We’d love to hear from you.

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