Nimmisha Aslam, associate at Russell-Cooke LLP and member of the LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee, discusses intersectionality in the legal profession.
On 7th February 2018 I was invited to speak on the InterLaw Diversity Forum. This was a combined meeting celebrating LGBT History Month and BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) voices and intersectionality.
The panel consisted of representatives from Clifford Chance, Weil Gotshal, No5 Chambers and the Lloyds Banking Group. It was an inspiring evening with the panel sharing insights into their journeys and the hurdles they had encountered and overcome.
What is intersectionality?
Whilst there is a greater awareness of intersectionality in 2018, the groups with the most knowledge on the term are those to whom intersectionality means the most, such as social activists and marginalised groups seeking social equality. Intersectionality is the social theory of multiple threats of discrimination based on identifiers. First coined as a feminist term to increase accessibility to feminist groups, it is now applied across the identity spectrum, encompassing religion, race, gender, sexuality, disability, age and class. Whilst social theory is discussed, it is not often seen in practise. The UK is a melting pot of identities, and yet those on the privileged side of the spectrum will have limited knowledge of the degrees of intersectionality, and yet ironically be the ones with the accessibility to make a difference.
I volunteer at a women’s charity providing mentoring to BAME women from refugee and asylum backgrounds who are seeking work. Many of these women are forced to leave their countries due to war or civil unrest. When they are in the UK, they struggle to obtain meaningful employment due to a variety of barriers. Due to the strained factors under which they relocate, there is a change in standard of living upon their arrival. They may experience a change in social class, their education often not be considered adequate, and their work experience for job roles they may have had in their home country may be maligned. My role involves providing them with the support to enable them to integrate into a new environment, and provide them with the necessary tools to pursue a career in a new society.
This is where intersectionality plays a practical role. Understanding the social disadvantages of my mentee, whether it is their gender or their race, is essential to the support and direction I would then provide. Therein lies the first step. Conversations need to be had on intersectionality until it is no longer simply a social theory, but a social practise.
Intersectionality and the legal profession
Within the legal profession, advancements have been made to achieve intersectionality. There are various platforms for marginalised groups that are given exposure. Law Society divisions include (and are not limited to): the LGBT+ Lawyers Division, Women Lawyers Division, Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division and Lawyers with Disabilities Division. Representation for all identities raises awareness to the discriminations they face and begins dialogue on how to best tackle/eradicate them, gives them a voice and provides foundations for best practise.
Whether it is in the media, film, or workplace, intersectionality begins with representation. Communities need to be shown that their voices have value, and that their identities do not alienate them. For communities to not be considered ‘other,’ the dialogue for intersectionality needs to involve people from all walks and backgrounds.
How you can play your part
To join any of the Law Society’s divisions, please log on to My Law Society and tick those that interest you.
The Law Society and its LGBT+ Lawyers Division have a full and varied programme for LGBT History Month so please do spread the word to your contacts.
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