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Diversifying the legal workplace

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Diversity is finally getting the attention it deserves in the workplace: here's why...

Diversity has become a buzzword in the Legal sector recently, and for good reason. We live in perhaps a more diverse society than ever before: vastly improved levels of gender equality have seen more women enter the workplace than ever before, and the ethnic minority population in England and Wales has almost doubled from 8.7% to 14% in a decade. However, these changing demographics have, for years, remained unrepresented in a sector where only 27% of women are legal partners, and only 8% are from an ethnic minority. 

Legal partners need to take the best interests of their clients into consideration, in order to better represent their needs in everything from legal matters to underwriting. Having a diverse workforce is therefore of extreme importance. Today, firms need to focus on increasing diversity in the workplace, from people with disabilities to people who identify as LGBT, if they want to recruit a workforce who can bring more to the table. Given that racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%, investing time into a comprehensive diversity strategy will help your firm stay competitive in the legal sector and offer a better, more comprehensive service to a huge range of clients.

This is especially important when you consider how rapidly the UK’s demographics are changing: along with an increased ethnic representation in the UK population and an increase in the number of women at work, more than 1 in 20 people in the workforce are LGBT, and their consumer power is worth between £70-81bn. Meanwhile, 19% of all small to medium sized businesses are owned by ethnic minorities- indeed, one in ten of London’s businesses is Asian-owned. Taking into account the fact that a diverse boardroom often brings with it an increased ability to adapt to change, new ways of thinking and a huge amount of different experience, it’s clear that diversity offers legal firms huge potential. 

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To attract clients, tap into these potential huge customer bases, and better represent their interests into the bargain- especially when it comes to very relevant legal issues like sexism and ethnic representation- businesses need to diversify their business offering and their hiring strategies. 

In the rapidly-changing world of business, steps are already being taken in the legal world to address this issue. In 2010, the Equality Act was passed, which put in place a legislative framework to protect and improve equality across the country. Stating that law firms had duties as employers, and as service providers, the Act requires all companies to follow equal employment guidelines. As a result, many law firms are working on improving their diversity policies: indeed, transparency is becoming more of a trend within the industry, with companies like Blackrock and M&G Investments coming forward to report on the effect that their diverse hiring policy has had in terms of ethnically diverse staff.

Creating equal employment opportunities is now becoming more achievable than ever; this increased interest has resulted in respected legal institutions like the Law Society doing a lot of work to support the Equality Act, with divisions dedicated to lawyers with disabilities, from ethic minorities, and women, who can provide support and advice to those who need it. The Solicitor Regulation Board has also set out a series of diversity regulations for solicitors to follow, with the aim of eliminating ‘unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation’, and advancing an ‘equality of opportunity’. 

Though there are many institutions that are working to improve equality, there are also steps that legal firms can take to play their part in improving opportunities for everybody: making sure that your leadership team understand the benefits of diversity and inclusion is paramount if you want to create a fair and equal diversity recruitment strategy; everybody should be aware of its importance in underpinning business success. Diversity should be everybody’s responsibility, especially when hiring new staff, and this should be backed up by a clear and transparent recruitment process: indeed, all staff should demonstrate the values and behaviours needed to create a diverse and liberal working environment. 

For extra guidance, your firm should set out an action plan for improving and implementing diversity in the workplace, which should be followed up by an official document that expands on this plan and gives your team something to refer back to, and get support from.

Diversity is finally getting the recognition it needs in the legal sector- and with it, a change in representation across the market. More women are joining the legal profession than men, and currently make up 48% of solicitors, whilst 56.7% of BAME solicitors are women. Of the people registered to study law at undergraduate level, 35.5% are BAME individuals. Though there remains a lot of work to do, the signs that the next generation will be a catalyst for change is encouraging: given the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring legal firms, it makes sense for businesses to start innovating and adapting to the changing marketplace. At IDEX we pride ourselves on keeping on top of the changing market so we can offer a diverse range of clients the chance to shine and innovate in their new roles. Browse our selection of Legal jobshere, or have a look at our blog section for more information on the Legal Industry here