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Corporate responsibility, equality, diversity and inclusion

Julie Ashdown - head of E & D and Corporate Responsibility'Diversity and inclusion have been key themes for the Society over the past 12 months, and with good reason. Not only is the profile of our profession changing, as people from a range of different backgrounds take advantage of the great opportunities that a career in the law provides, our society is also changing and is now more diverse than ever. As opportunities for international business and growth also go from strength to strength, promoting and supporting diversity has never been more important.

Over the past 12 months we've seen a record number of signatories to our Diversity and Inclusion Charter as more and more practices recognise the importance of promoting high diversity and inclusion standards. We've also seen firms who have been signatories for some time reporting improved diversity standards, proving that a commitment to diversity leads to improvement across the profession. Our practice notes continue to provide the profession with sensible advice on promoting diversity in the workplace, whilst our events have helped colleagues from across the profession understand issues such as flexible working. Read on for more details of some of our key achievements from the past year'.

  • 330 legal practices have now signed up to the Diversity and Inclusion Charter, representing over one third of all solicitors in private practice in England and Wales. This shows that law firms are committed to improving the accessibility of the profession to the widest possible range of people.
  • The Diversity and Inclusion Charter annual review, published in December 2012, showed that 70 per cent of charter signatories were achieving a higher diversity and inclusion score compared to 2011, which is fantastic progress. In May 2013 we launched a campaign to improve awareness of the procurement protocol: the commitment by businesses who buy legal services to consider diversity and inclusion as part of their usual tendering process.
  • This year saw us host and sponsor the 9th annual London Legal Walk. This year over 7,500 participants walked the 10km course across London, raising an incredible £575,000 for legal advice centres and support.
  • In November 2012 we celebrated the 11th annual pro bono week. The packed schedule included an interactive debate on the role of pro bono services in supporting self-representing litigants, a pop up legal shop in Sheffield and the publication of the latest 'guide to pro bono' which assists MPs and advice agencies with how they can best access pro bono services for the constituents and clients.
  • We've held many successful events this year to celebrate the achievements of diverse lawyers. These included special events to mark Black History Month in October, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in February, and International Women's Day in March. Our regular diversity forums throughout England and Wales have continued their successes, providing practices with the opportunity to network and learn more about issues such as flexible working. This year we've also held targeted outreach events to provide practical advice to individual solicitors wanting to apply for a judicial appointment.
  • This year we've worked with the SRA to help practices to record their diversity data more easily. The new system is more streamlined and straightforward and comes with a revised practice note to assist with collecting data.
  • The Society-sponsored Legal Sector Alliance has continued to go from strength to strength this year. A fantastic 259 practices have now signed up to the alliance to show their commitment to sustainability and taking action against climate change. To date, Legal Sector Alliance members have achieved a total reduction of 35,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide - that's equivalent to the total annual emissions of two large UK law firms!
  • Diversity and inclusion have remained key concerns in the national media this year and we're continued to contribute to the discussions. In October 2012 we spoke out against changes to the Equality Act, specifically the plan to remove the third party harassment provision which makes employers liable for failing to act where their employee has been harassed by a third party. We know that the profession isn't prepared to tolerate harassment in the workplace, which is why we think it's so important for this provision to remain. Not only does it encourage best practice, it also reduces the risk of potential incidents of workplace harassment. We believe that employers want guidance on issues like this, not to be absolved of responsibility and avoid provisions that actually make for better workplaces.

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