Article written by Jessica R. Dhodakia
GROW Mentoring hosted an event for Allen & Overy and Barclays at A&O’s office in London on 8th February 2023. GROW is a registered charity, founded by Justin Farrance, focused on diversity and social mobility in the legal profession. The GROW event sold over 150 tickets within two hours, and attendees travelled from across the United Kingdom for the in-person event at Bishop Square in London. The event discussed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, more commonly known as DE&I.
The Global Managing Partner of A&O, Gareth Price, introduced the event and sat on a panel with senior members, including Laura Muir, Barclays UK General Counsel; Phil Aiken, Barclays General Counsel for Consumer Banking; and Shruti Ajitsaria, A&O Partner and Head of Fuse.
The panel discussed the challenges of joining the legal industry from a low-socioeconomic, ethnic minority, LGBT+, and disability background. Daniel Fletcher, the keynote speaker, sat down with Justin Farrance to discuss DE&I. Daniel shared his story and background as a young professional in the fashion industry, urging young legal professionals not to be discouraged by their disadvantaged backgrounds. Following Daniel and Justin, trainees and associates from A&O discussed their experiences being from a diverse background and their thoughts on the future of law. Panellists shared their life philosophies and personal advice about diversity and opened up about tackling unconscious bias, finding support, and gaining the courage to speak up about these social issues.
In terms of diversity and inclusion, top-tier law firms consistently record staggeringly low numbers. Linklaters, a magic circle firm, reported in 2022 that only 25% of its partners are women, 76% are white, and 78% are heterosexual. Clifford Chance reported in 2022 that 89.5% of its employees are non-LGBT+ and 74.6% are white. Although there are 60.1% of employees in total that are female at Clifford Chance, 71.5% of partners are male. The event offered an opportunity to focus on addressing this problem across the legal profession.
Gareth Price spoke about diversity in the legal profession and said that ‘the funny thing about inclusivity is that you can talk about it in the abstract, but inclusivity is something felt individually. It is not felt by a body of people, each individual feels it.’
According to a senior panellist, people should ‘feel at home when working at a firm’ and it is critical that young professionals should not waste an ounce of energy worrying about their background. Young professionals who feel uncomfortable may not give their full effort and time to developing their full potential because they are worried about not fitting into the status quo. The GROW event showed that firms and solicitors must invest in DE&I in order to succeed and achieve top-tier results.
The event sheds light on balancing a career and a family life. Shruti Ajitsaria, A&O Partner, and Laura Muir, Barclays UK General Counsel, both reflected on having children while in a competitive and challenging career and shared several anecdotes of experience. This left those who are considering having both children and a career encouraged to know that having both is not only possible, but achievable.
It was a rare opportunity for Allen & Overy, Barclays, Daniel Fletcher, and other key speakers to talk about diversity, whether it’s race, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. The GROW event gave aspiring solicitors a chance to hear from senior members on improving the legal industry and the opportunity to openly address the ongoing issues of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.