Diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies have been an important focus of conversation amongst law firms. Webinars and panels conducted by partners tackling the D&I commitments of their firm are of recent abundance. Social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have prompted urgency in discussions surrounding gender and racial bias in the workplace. Legislations, targets, and globalization provide additional pressure in reassessing D&I strategies. Further, prodded by the current work-from-home situation employees are experiencing, firms are rethinking tactics for inclusion in the workplace. It is against this backdrop that we analyse the rise in D&I discussions in the legal industry.
Several legislations and regulatory requirements provide a foundation in bettering D&I in the legal sector. The Equality Act 2010 provides anti-discrimination policies in the workplace. Under this legislation, there are nine protected characteristics (e.g. disability, race, religion etc.) that are given due regard. The fundamental aim of the 2010 Act was to consolidate the existing legislations tackling discrimination and to strengthen the protections afforded to the subjects of the nine categories. This gave rise to many results aimed at improving the work environment for the protected characteristics. The provisions are not only prohibitive of certain behaviours due to its discriminatory nature, there are also additional active steps that need to be taken in some cases (e.g. duty to make reasonable adjustments).
Starting in 2017, organisations with over 250 employees were required to report on their gender pay gap. Such organisations need to publish their findings on their public website as well as report to the government thought the gender pay gap reporting service every year. Breaching this mandatory requirement could lead to fines imposed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This requirement was spurned by changes in the 2010 Act. The requirement of gender pay gap reporting ensures transparency in rewarding your employees fairly. From a business standpoint, equal pay can mitigate talent turnover that could potentially affect a firm’s commercial success. Moreover, with high level of public attention given on the issue, a firm could run the risk of losing its reputation if it fails to report its gender pay gap or continually fails to tackle disparities in wages.
Additionally, there are steps being taken to improve D&I in the legal industry specifically. For example, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires law firms to collect and publish data on diversity in the workforce bi-annually. The report is used to update the law firm diversity tool which aims to make firms aware of the statistics of various diversity categories like age, gender, sexual orientation etc. Furthermore, it allows the SRA to monitor the impact of the regulatory changes the body makes on the diversity in the sector.
Employing effective strategies for creating a diverse workforce produces immediate and concrete benefits. Quotas and schemes for D&I accepted by employers have been labelled by some as a pressure of political correctness. However this is a poorly reasoned conclusion. Companies have a noticeable competitive advantage when there is an inclusive work environment. With diverse people come diverse perspectives and fresh ideas in solving complex legal problems.
Law firms value teamwork. Research by Deloitte Australia shows that diverse teams outperform others by 80% in teamwork activities. The Harvard Business Review found that a diverse group solves problems faster than one that is less so. Moreover, a firm will be able to harness the different skillsets of the diverse employees and become leaders in innovation. In fact, according to a study, a company with effective D&I strategy are more likely to be lead innovation in their given market.
Extensive research has been conducted on the business performance of inclusive companies. For example, McKinsey research submitted that companies that are gender-diverse are 15% more likely to outperform others in the market. Racially-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers. There is also an added benefit of adaptability in a diverse workforce. A study confirmed that inclusive companies are 1.8 times more change ready compared to others. This is a highly appealing trait for law firms due to the ever-changing regulatory frameworks in many areas of law.
Many law firms have been active in promoting D&I in their workplace. For example, to promote racial equity 42 firms have signed the Race Fairness Commitment including Allen and Overy, Baker and Mackenzie, and RPC to name a few. Many firms have also set diversity targets. Recently, Hogan Lovells announced that they aim to raise global partnerships to 15% ethnic minorities and 4% LGBT+ by 2025. They also aim to maintain their aim of achieving global partnership of 30% women. Hogan Lovells have already met their goal of raising management positions to be occupied by 30% women.
Aspiring lawyers should aim to find companies that embraces diversity and inclusion. This is because the benefits of effective D&I strategies outlined above not only apply to achieving business efficiencies, but enables professional development of employees as well. Working in a diverse environment broadens perspectives and braces individuals to take new approaches in tackling challenges. Adaptability, problem solving, and teamwork skills are just a few of the many competencies that can be honed when thriving in an inclusive workplace. Therefore it is best to be take part in the many webinars, panels, and other events where law firms discuss their D&I commitments.
~ Aathira Prakash, The Student Lawyer