Key findings from the Law Society’s “Race for Inclusion” research

In December 2020 The Law Society of England and Wales released its findings from research on the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors, in a report “Race for Inclusion”. Sarah Alonge, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser at the Law Society for England and Wales talks through the key findings in a blog post for the Business Healthy network.

“Insights and information drawn together through data analysis, a series of virtual roundtable discussions with solicitors and recruiters, and desk-based research have highlighted challenges faced by Black, Asian and ethnic minority workers in the legal sector.

For example, this explorative work shows that retention rates for Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors are lower in larger City firms than for their White peers, with many leaving to join smaller firms, or parts of the legal sector that are seen as being more inclusive, such as in-house legal departments.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors also see slower career development up to and including partner status, again impacting on retention rates, and there is a significant ethnicity pay gap.

Ethnic minority solicitors work longer hours each week, but for an average of £65,000, including bonus, each year — 25% less than their white colleagues (£86,000).

In addition, almost all participants in the research had experienced some level of microaggression based on their ethnicity, including comments about their name or about their presumed culture.

It is considered difficult to raise the topic of racism and racial disparities in the workplace. Such findings make it no surprise that Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors report lower levels of workplace wellbeing compared to White solicitors. 24% of whom reported severe or extreme stress compared to 18% of white solicitors.

The feeling of having no voice has led many to struggle with their mental health, paying for counselling or taking a break from the profession.

We know from research that many organisations are doing work around workforce diversity, but change is coming too slowly or not at all in many areas, and more needs to be done.

Focusing solely on overall representation in the profession can be misleading; a more nuanced perspective is needed, which looks at the experiences of different ethnic groups across different parts of the profession. Not all groups are faring equally well. The category “BAME” (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) has been used as a way of grouping ethnic minority people from the main minority ethnic communities in the UK. However, this term can often mask the experiences of Black, Asian, or minority ethnic people, as the acronym is frequently used as a way of referring to a singular identity or set of experiences, instead of a group of people with individual experiences.

Of the 17% of solicitors who are Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic, only 3% identify as Black in comparison to 10% identifying as Asian. Even when looking at mental health and wellbeing, the experiences of specific groups vary. For example, Black solicitors are more likely than any group to experience bullying, with 16% reporting bullying in comparison to 13% of White.

As well as highlighting some of the challenges experienced by ethnic minority lawyers, this research by the Law Society offers recommendations, which can be adopted by the legal profession to promote inclusion.

These include:

  • Taking a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I), and using metrics to identify problem areas and design interventions
  • Encouraging and leading conversations about race, and having a senior level sponsor for race inclusion
  • Ensuring confidential ways of reporting racism, bullying and harassment, and microaggressions, so staff feel safe speaking up
  • Including questions in staff surveys to assess inclusion and wellbeing, and analyse results by ethnicity

To read the full research finding and recommendations, visit the research page on the Law Society’s website.”

Xenia Koumi

Xenia is a Public Health Specialist at the City of London Corporation and leads the Business Healthy programme