Black History Month - can we Improve Diversity in Law?

Posted in Latest News on 19 Oct 2023

Here at Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment, we take great interest in efforts to make law a more diverse field.   

We recently covered the Ministry of Justice’s report on the Diversity of the Judiciary, and there have been plenty of news headlines and stories about attempts to increase diversity in the legal workplace. With October being Black History Month, we felt it was worth looking at the progress achieved so far and seeing what can be done to make law a more equal sector for those from BME backgrounds.  

To go back to the MoJ’s report on Diversity to start with, they found that, currently, legal professionals who identify as Black, Caribbean, or African were broadly in line with the working population who identified as the same ethnic group in the 2021 census (4.2%). These statistics have also been corroborated in a recent SRA study, which showed that 3% of surveyed legal professionals identified as Black, Caribbean, or African. However, one thing these surveys revealed was that the statistics get smaller and smaller the more senior the position. Only 3% of the total 17% of partners who identified as BAME were black, and the larger the firm, the less likely they are to be from BAME backgrounds. Outside of statistics, BME lawyers report difficulty getting into the profession, a lack of progression, and an unwelcome work culture. All these things are factors in black lawyers leaving the sector at a higher rate than any other ethnic group and is something that needs to be addressed. But how can firms go about doing it?  

Increasing diversity might sound simple, but it can be more complex than it looks. After all, most bias nowadays is unconscious and, by its very nature, can be challenging to identify. Many companies now have unconscious bias training to reduce this issue, and by redesigning hiring processes, these biases can be weeded out right at the beginning of the process. Anonymising applications automatically can be an excellent way to eliminate instant discrimination during this process. Being transparent about your diversity policies from day one and even on job adverts is also essential. This way, you can show how much you value diversity in your company, which has been a major factor for BME job seekers. Another good way to promote diversity is to work with inclusion and diversity groups to help promote a better working culture. Your company may not be best placed to identify areas for improvement, but an external organisation specialised in this field will be able to guide your company in the right direction. It’s also important to remember that this is a continuous improvement process, and there is no definite answer to improving your company’s diversity.  

There is much to celebrate this Black History Month about the legal sector’s progress in creating an equal environment. However, there are still considerable challenges to overcome to make the industry more inclusive to BME legal professionals and to ensure that the same progression opportunities are available. Many firms are taking steps in the right direction – they now need to ensure those efforts are substantial enough to make real improvements.

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