Diversity: why it’s crucial to the legal profession
In recent years, the legal profession has received industry-wide attention due to a lack of diversity and the prevalence of white males in legal offices. Whilst numerous leaders and firms have been at the forefront of challenging the status quo to provide more opportunities for Black legal professionals, much work remains before we can confidently state that the legal profession is truly diverse and inclusive.
Diversity is a crucial element of law that allows for a better reflection of society, enabling legal departments and firms to best serve their clients. As an employer, creating a diverse workplace is extremely beneficial as it leads to increased employee engagement and retention. Through championing a diverse workforce, different perspectives are represented leading to greater innovation.
Equity: opportunities for all
Diversity data published by The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2021, saw more than 181,333 respondents working in over 8,782 law firms in England and Wales. Positively, the data indicates a small but steady increase in diversity among all lawyers in comparison to the 2019 survey. Whilst this demonstrates that the legal industry is moving in the right direction, it is still not as diverse as it should be.
Data from the survey shows that overall, 17% of all lawyers are Black, Asian or from a minority ethnic group, with breakdowns highlighting that only 2% of all lawyers are Black compared to 3% of the workforce – no change from the 2019 survey. Similarly, in relation to seniority, just 2% of partners are Black. Additionally, the data indicates that Black lawyers are significantly underrepresented in mid to large firms. Evidently, are few opportunities to progress for Black individuals.
To achieve greater diversity, we must start from the top down. As a result, we spoke to Debbie Tembo, DE&I Partnerships Director at Creative Equals, about how legal leaders can ensure greater DE&I.
Inclusion: leading the change we need to see
Inclusion is about creating a workplace environment where ALL employees feel a sense of belonging. To belong, you need to feel accepted by the people you work with, for who you are and what you bring to the table through your lived experience, skills, and expertise.
Focusing on Black inclusion within the industry is about recognising that there are systemic barriers in the way of this talent being accepted and rising in the profession. It requires us to lean into the ‘equity’ piece of DEI and to recognise that the playing fields are not level, thereby requiring us to work towards changing the systems that get in the way of Black representation and progression.
Here are some thoughts on how we may be able to start creating change and impact:
1. Hire Black talent
…it is that simple. We exist and we exist in numbers. If you don’t know where to find us, become curious about where you are looking. Consider diversifying your recruitment partners and overall recruitment process – audit the process to see where bias is showing up, think about how such biases exclude and work towards becoming more inclusive in your attraction of talent.
2. Train the ecosystem to change
…hiring diverse talent into organisations is the first step, training everyone in the ecosystem to learn how to support diverse talent is the next step to ensuring that inclusion lives in a sustainable way. Too often we place Black talent on development programmes, and we don’t think about the fact that those who work and manage the talent also need development programmes to ensure that they are supporting in the right ways. Engaging the entire ecosystem is inclusive and debunks the myth that Black talent needs fixing. None of us do, we all need space to learn strategies and tools to better support and lead each other.
3. Promote Black talent
…and I don’t just mean promote those who are worthy of promotion into management and senior positions. It is also about speaking their names when opportunities arise to work on high value and strategic projects – give them the exposure to have a seat at the table, to contribute to the work and have their skills and expertise recognised as additive to the growth of business goals.
4. Practice and repeat
…practice inclusive behaviour every day, not just during Black History Month. Real change happens over time by taking small steps every day, sometimes the same steps consistently if they are working. Inclusion of Black talent in every profession is not a “them” thing, it’s an “us” thing – we fix the profession together and we stop relying on Black talent to solve the problems that they never created in the first place.
“I can only speak for myself as a Black professional, to say that I am deeply committed to being a part of the change with others fighting in the arena with me.”
Debbie is a successful senior professional operating in the professional services sector. Since 2016, she has been working with FTSE 100 clients, Top 100 Law Firms and one of the Big Four as Client Relationship Director & Board Member at Obelisk Support Legal Solutions. With a very strong interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), Debbie has advised FTSE 100 companies and professional services firms about the strategic importance of DE&I and its position as a critical enabler of long-term sustainability, both from a people and profit perspective. Additionally, Debbie is involved in the procurement and RFP processes of large institutions, with DE&I as a critical component.
Find Debbie on LinkedIn.