Impact story: supporting workplace adjustments at BCLP
In the 2020 Legally Disabled? report, 59% of surveyed solicitors and paralegals were disabled at the start of their training.
Only 8.5% of solicitors felt confident to share their disability when applying, and many talented individuals are deterred from applying due to the perceived lack of support within the law firm environment.
For existing disabled employees, limited opportunities to request workplace adjustments and a fear of discrimination were cited as key obstacles.
Many of those who had made requests found the experience challenging.
This did not sit right with us at BCLP.
Our priority was to create an environment where disabled people feel valued, included and able to thrive and succeed.
The action taken
After consultations with our internal disability network and external best practice organisations, our UK offices launched the Personal Adjustments Plan (PAP) in 2020.
The PAP provides a continuous record of workplace adjustments agreed between an individual and their line manager.
The purpose of the PAP is to minimise the need to discuss adjustments each time the individual changes roles, is relocated or assigned a new manager.
The PAP also provides individuals and line managers with a structure for discussions about workplace adjustments.
Our initiative had a significant impact on normalising conversations around disability.
The PAP is sent out to all employees at onboarding, whether or not they specify a disability during the recruitment process.
We’ve heard back that receiving information about the PAP made those who required an adjustment feel more confident that the firm would be welcoming and supportive.
Disabilities can be acquired over time, so we made sure that the PAP is accessible to all staff, and we encourage line managers to raise awareness of the initiative.
Line manager training is provided so that they have the tools and skills to spot where an adjustment may be helpful and approach the conversation in an open and inclusive manner.
Measuring the impact
The PAP is highly utilised within our trainee population, given the more frequent role changes.
Our emerging talent team explains the benefits of the PAP to future trainees, to ensure that joining the firm is a smooth process.
The team also refers to the PAP every time someone changes roles, and ensures that the new department and trainee supervisor are made aware of any agreed adjustments. This makes what can otherwise be a daunting experience, less stressful.
The team tracks the number of PAPs in place, as well as gathers anecdotal feedback from the individuals.
Out of the current trainee population, 19% have a PAP on file, which highlights the increased confidence to request adjustments. Those who have used it have felt “listened to” and “considered”. We are currently in the process of tracking use across the wider firm.
We will be reviewing and relaunching the PAP to ensure that the policy and process are fit for purpose in our new hybrid way of working.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, further examination is needed to ensure that disabled people are properly supported.
Our disability network will be organising focus groups and surveys to gather feedback, and this will be used as a foundation for an updated policy and process.
Once complete, we will be launching the PAP across our global regions.
Listen to your disabled colleagues
Initiatives around disability inclusion must be endorsed by the population they seek to support.
With workplace adjustments, we knew that gathering formal and informal feedback from our disability network was key to ensure that the process is fit for purpose.
If your organisation does not have an active disability group, seek feedback from an external organisation.
Seek best practice
As organisations become more sophisticated with their disability inclusion strategies, the opportunity to learn from each other has never been greater.
Workplace adjustment processes may vary between organisations, but hearing about the various successes and challenges will inevitably give organisations ideas on improving their own processes.
Normalise conversations about disability
Starting a conversation around disability can still be challenging for some – they may feel unsure what terminology to use and fear saying the wrong thing.
We have found that the PAP has been helpful in providing the language to speak about disability in an inclusive and neutral way.
Sharing the lived experience stories of colleagues has also helped ‘demystify’ disability.
Invest in line manager training
While the responsibility for supporting disabled individuals does not sit with line managers alone, they have a key role to play.
Investing time and funds on engaging and interactive line manager training can have a huge effect on the day-to-day experience of disabled colleagues. We have found that training which goes beyond the legal duty of the employer is most effective.
Review, refresh, repeat
Our working patterns and behaviours have undergone enormous change, and there is no sign of this slowing down.
We review and update our policies and processes on a regular basis to ensure that we account for changes in the way we work, and how this may affect teams and individuals.
All views expressed in this article belong to the author, not the Law Society.
Create lasting change in your firm
The diversity and inclusion framework is a systematic approach to developing and delivering a diversity and inclusion strategy.
It has simple steps you can follow, tangible actions you can take and regular checkpoints to help you monitor your progress.
We are also gathering impact stories from across the legal sector to share learning of what has worked and help others plan actions.