Diversity and Inclusion in UK Legal Firms

26 Apr 2018
Having a diverse workforce within your firm can have a positive impact on your bottom line, according a 2017 report by McKinsey & Company “Delivering through Diversity”.

More than 1,000 companies across 12 countries were analysed for the report and findings show that those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. Gender results showed similar trends, with companies in the top quartile for gender diversity being 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

The stats

Gender

Although the gender gap is fairly narrow when it comes to male/female lawyers in UK law firms – 48% of all UK lawyers are women according to the SRA – the differences become greater when seniority is considered. The SRA, which collects diversity data from the law firms they regulate in England and Wales, reported that as of August 2017, women make up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners. The difference is even more pronounced in large firms with over 50 partners, where just 29% of partners are female. Just recently, magic circle firm Allen & Overy’s latest round of promotions saw just two women made partners within a list of 20 (read the full article in the Law Gazette).

Ethnicity

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers are well represented within the legal sector. The SRA reports that one in five lawyers in the UK are Asian. Black lawyers make up 3% of the total – which is equal to the figure represented within the whole UK employed workforce.

Differences become clear in the figures collected from large UK firms however, as those with over 50 partners report that only 8% of those are from a BAME background. A surprising fact perhaps when comparing this to firms with one partner, where just over a third of partners are from a BAME background.

So what can you do in your firm to improve diversity and inclusion within your firm?

If your firm has work to do in terms of improving diversity and inclusion, you’ll benefit from undertaking a review of your strategies, policies and processes with the aim of developing an improvement plan to work to over time. This is definitely not an overnight job, but we have put together some suggestions on where to start and things you can do to help steer your firm in the right direction.

Start at the top

The ethos of diversity and inclusion must start at the very top of your firm, with the senior leadership team living its values and leading by example. Your senior leadership team will then need to ensure the message is cascaded down to everyone across the business, with regular communications which feature diversity issues so that it remains a key aspect within your business strategies and processes.

Build relationships

All employees within your firm should make the effort to build good working relationships with other team members and clients, with the aim of developing a greater understanding of the various cultures, opinions, circumstances and anything else which makes other people different from each other. Opportunities can be provided to allow this to happen, such as at team meetings, by sharing employee profiles (with permission of course) in internal newsletters and organising social events.

Review your recruitment procedures

It should go without saying that having a fair and transparent recruitment policy and procedure within your firm is a necessity. However, you can go a step further than the ‘need to haves’ by introducing additional guidelines and processes for recruitment and induction, such as providing information on career progression, pay scales, gender and age equality, and importantly, making sure these are explained using inclusive language. You can also ensure that you only recruit and promote people who display the behaviours and ethics that align with your firm’s values as a diverse and inclusive practice.

Further reading

The SRA have a number of useful resources on their website, including:

The SRA have also published a Risk Outlook paper entitled ‘The Business Case for Diversity‘, which outlines the benefits of diversity for both the public and firms.

The Law Society of England and Wales have also published two papers about Diversity and inclusion in law firms:

A British Standard, BS 76005 – Valuing People Diversity and Inclusion, has been developed to support organisations in embedding diversity and inclusion into their culture and everyday practices. Find out more about BS 76005.

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