You would think that in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement (whatever you think of its politics), the death of George Floyd with the ensuing protests – and the increasing visibility of race diversity issues in the profession, that things would have improved significantly.
The Law Society has published a report following research into the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors. Parts of it make for some uncomfortable reading.
David Greene, the Society’s president, highlights how the research shows that barriers remain for BAME solicitors at every step of their career. The research was conducted via desk research, looking at the data and a series of virtual roundtable discussions with solicitors and recruiters,
No one can deny there have been huge strides over the decades. In 1990 there were, for instance, 709 BAME solicitors and in 2019, that figure had risen to 20,675. But among a number of concerning findings, since 2014 the proportion (8%) of BAME partners in firms with at least 50 partners has risen by just 1%.
Progress is too slow and more must be done.
Ethnicity pay issues are not a huge part of the report by any means but the findings are significant. It reveals a substantial pay gap: BAME solicitors were found to be earning an average £20,000 a year less than their white colleagues. This represents a substantial pay gap of 25%.
The headline points to note from the research include:
- Almost a quarter of solicitors in small firms are from BAME backgrounds.
- They are twice as likely as white solicitors to be sole practitioners.
- A third (34%) of partners in single partner firms are from a BAME background.
- BAME solicitors are particularly underrepresented in larger firms, especially at partner level, with just 10% of solicitors from a BAME in the largest of firms.
- 17.5% of practicing solicitors come from BAME groups, which is higher than the national average of 14.1% of the wider working population.
- 10% of that number are Asian solicitors, while just 3% of the profession identify as Black.
When you think of wellbeing and stress in the workplace, you might be forgiven for associating it with typical triggers such as excess workload and – in the coronavirus crisis – covid-19-related isolation.
But the research revealed that BAME solicitors reported high (‘severe or extreme’) levels of stress compared to white solicitors. Related to this, undoubtedly, are the experiences of workplace discrimination and bullying reported by the respondents. The report states almost all the research participants had experienced some level of ‘microaggression’ based on their ethnicity. That is a damning indictment on the profession.
More specifically, the report says 13% of BAME solicitors had been subjected to adverse discrimination and 16% had been bullied. It appears to be the worst for Black African and Caribbean solicitors, of which a third had suffered.
So what’s next?
Greene challenges the profession to have “some frank conversations” and said that the Society will be using the research as a basis for its future work in ensuring a diverse, inclusive profession.
For now, the Society has made several recommendations which all firms should seriously consider if they want to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion, for example:
- Encouraging open conversations about race, with a ‘senior level sponsor’ for race inclusion;
- Implement blind shortlisting and contextualised recruitment;
- Set targets if not representative;
- Provide structured monitoring programmes for BAME individuals;
- Implement a more systematic approach to partnership selection; and
- Tying senior leaders’ bonuses and pay to D&I outcomes.
Greene make clear that the recommendations ought to give firms “a much-needed blueprint for driving equality and inclusion up to the most senior levels”.
Firms will find useful the Law Society’s recently published toolkit, Promoting race inclusivity in the workplace: a toolkit for organisations. It emphasises how culture is key for true inclusion. That would certainly be a great place to start – then a culture of inclusion can then be built to achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace where all lawyers can thrive.
It is undoubtedly more of a challenge for smaller firms, without the resources of larger firms to commit to a dedicated D&I person or team, but the principles remain – it is a vital issue that cannot be ignored by any 21st century law firm.