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Does the UK Legal Sector Have an Issue with Diversity?

The Case for Diversity

Top candidates are being and will continue to be, missed if women, transgender, non-binary, BAME, disabled and LGBTQ+ people are not encouraged to consider a legal career. Firms that fail to demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity may miss out on new recruits; a report by the SRA suggests diversity is a key consideration when making career choices for some solicitors. A team of diverse individuals, with different world views, skills, and experiences, has greater potential to provide original ideas and methods that can provide a commercial advantage.  

Those working in the law industry need to reflect the demographics of the population they serve if as a profession, they are to command the trust of the wider population. Evidence shows that a diverse legal profession encourages potential clients to access legal advice and results in a better consumer experience. 

While at first glance things have improved markedly diversity at partnership-level has actually seen a 2% slump since 1995

Solicitors Regulation Authority, 2018

The Current Diversity of the Profession: Entry

With regards to the number of women and BAME entering the legal profession, there has been vast improvement. According to the SRA, 48% of solicitors in June 2018 identified as women and 20% as BAME. In 1970 just 10% of new entrants were female and in the mid-1990s only 2% of solicitors identified as BAME.

Despite these positive developments the progress has not been even or universal. Black and Black-African solicitors continue to be under-represented, constituting 2.1% of the profession, but 3% of the working-age UK population. The data on disabled and LGBTQ+ members of the profession is extremely limited with datasets featuring on the Legal Standards Board remaining incomplete and other studies, like that completed by the SRA, making little mention of their existence.  

The Current Diversity of the Profession: Retention and Progression

Beyond the largely encouraging recruitment statistics, there continues to be disparity between the long-term career paths of men and women, white and BAME. Women earn less and are less likely to work in large corporate firms. They are also more likely to leave the profession at an earlier stage of their career and specialise in low-income areas like family law and immigration.

The report Mapping Advantages and Disadvantages suggests that on average across all types of firm there is a 73.5% chance of a white man becoming partner, compared to 29.1%, 18% and 13% for BAME men, white women, and BAME women respectively. This disparity is not just limited to large corporate firms; even in high street firms, white men have a 70% probability of reaching partner whereas all other demographics lie between 30 and 35%. Researchers in the United States have also found that there has been ‘more success in recruiting than retention and progression’.

Why is Diversity not Increasing at Senior Levels?

One might suppose that as recruitment of minorities grows it is only a matter of time before senior management reflects that; in fact, taking the experience group in which partnership levels are most common (10-19 years’ experience) it becomes apparent that the absence of minorities at partnership level has continued over time. Of those solicitors in 2015 with potentially 10-19 years’ experience, 59% of men were partner equivalents compared with only 32% of women (a 27% difference). In 1995, 79% of men and 54% of women with 10-19 years’ experience were in partner positions, reflecting a 25% difference.

Despite the great improvements made by regulatory bodies to record the diversity of the profession, the data is increasingly limited when determining why women and minorities are not reaching senior levels. There has been no quantitative data so far gathered to determine why minorities leave the profession, do not apply for promotion, or are over-looked for more senior roles.

In the SRA’s report Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity, the SRA has conducted some qualitative research by interviewing minorities employed at the most diverse firms in the UK. The main obstacles for BAME and women discerned by this report were:

  • Family commitments
  • Firm culture and inclusion
  • Career progression

This pioneering research is one of the first studies that makes recommendations to diversify one’s workforce on the basis of evidence gathered. More work is yet to be done in order to quantify both why minorities are not reaching senior positions and the effectiveness of diversity policies.

Best Practices to Diversify your Team

There are many recommendations within the SRA’s report, Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity, that target both recruitment and retention of minorities. The full report is worth a read, but here is a brief look at those we at Weekly10 found most interesting.

Diversity Monitoring

The aim to fill the current gap in the data should not just be a target for regulatory bodies of the sector but could add real value to each individual firm. Recording and monitoring a firm’s diversity, including feedback from minority individuals, can be a powerful tool in evaluating the effectiveness of different diversity strategies. Quantitative and qualitative data is a powerful tool when selecting which diversity strategies to pursue and is a powerful mandate to implement further reforms. Publishing this information enforces a culture of inclusivity within the firm, challenges employees to be more inclusive and can attract more diverse talent externally.

Flexible Working

Flexible working, according to Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity, needs to be used by all employees without stigma if it is to be an effective strategy for keeping parents in work long-term and not effecting their chances of promotion.

In order for flexible-working to be used widely within the firm, it must be economically sound. Firms should invest in systems that allow effective and remote management. Here at Weekly10 we encourage the use of technologies that ensure a consistent and regular conversation between the team, a constant feedback process that allows efficient and quality remote working.

Fair and Transparent Career Progression

In order to ensure that promotions are transparent and fair, the SRA’s report recommends clear metrics and targets for all employees to meet in order to progress. In addition, the report recommends coaching and mentoring programmes to encourage all staff to aspire and achieve.

Weekly10’s platform can be used to set regular personal goals through discussions with management. A personal record in conversation with your manager ensures targets are fair and transparent. In order for mentoring to be truly valuable it needs to be properly recorded and communications regular. Using the Weekly10 platform with its weekly reminders can ensure that mentoring is an enduring and constant process.

Inclusive Culture

Building an inclusive culture can be an ill-defined and therefore daunting task. The SRA recommends ‘making genuine attempts to understand your staff and get them to share their experiences’, ‘create a supportive culture through mentorship’ and ‘make positive statements’. Using a regular feedback app can give all levels of the company the time and space to make these changes. In particular, Weekly10’s pass-up feature can be used to commend and celebrate a particular employee’s achievements.

How can Weekly10 help your law firm?

If you have any questions on how we could help your team to sustain and build its diversity, please contact our team or book a demonstration today.

Sources

The Legal Services Board has compiled infographics of current levels of diversity within each arm of the legal sector: https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/research/market-intelligence/diversity

The SRA’s most up to date research on the diversity of solicitors is recorded in the report: ‘Mapping advantages and disadvantages’  https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/how-we-work/reports/diversity-legal-profession/

The SRA’s most up to date research on best practices to encourage diversity ‘Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity’ https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/how-we-work/reports/unlocking-benefits-diversity/