Marc Tobias: Diversity in the legal profession

Diversity in the legal profession: A series of PR stunts, or are we beginning to see meaningful change?

There’s no denying that in recent years there has been a lot of noise surrounding the issue of diversity. But is this anything more than a PR exercise by law firms in order to gain CSR points, or are we actually starting to see real, meaningful changes to truly diversify the profession? And furthermore, what role has HR got to play?

Perhaps the most important point to remember is that firms, like any organisation, need to hire the candidate who is not only best qualified but who is also a good cultural fit. But the reality facing the legal profession is that more often than not the correct fit is the stereotypical Russell Group alumnus from a middle to upper socio-economic background. And it is this that is perhaps the overarching issue hampering a truly diverse profession.

So what’s the solution? In recent times we have seen some real positive steps: Last year saw the launch of the Accutrainee training scheme, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has unveiled its plans to offer two law scholarships for University College London law students, Ashurst has introduce quotas for the number of women it wants in its management team, and PRIME was launched to improve social mobility within the legal profession.

Initiatives are being launched so what should HR professionals in the legal profession be doing to further promote diversity? HR departments are at the heart of each and every organisation, it is these professionals who can really kick start change. And HR teams ought to be taking steps to ensure diversity is not simply a box ticking exercise. Here are some thoughts:

  •  Professional networks – does the legal profession need to take action like other professions, for example investment banks, who have set up gender, ethnic and sexual orientation groups?
  • On-site childcare facilities and flexible working for all female employees– will this assist working women and is it time firms started seriously thinking about this option?
  • Target versus quotas – targets are one thing, but does the legal profession need to go as far as quotas to propel women and other minority groups up the career ladder?

As an HR professional, what’s your opinion? What more needs to be done to truly diversify the profession?

About Marc Tobias

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