Diversity and inclusion

D&I question corner

In our newsletter, we run a Q&A segment that aims to help with diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues you may be facing. We offer practical steps you can take, information and guidance on where to go and what to do to help you with challenges or obstacles.

Take a look below at the questions we’ve answered so far. This page will continue to be updated.

Do you have a question we can answer or a problem we can help with?

Submit your question or problem anonymously

We all have implicit biases and as a result tend to gravitate towards people we feel we have an affinity with – people who look or think like us.

Just being aware of this and creating a mindset that is more objective and consciously inclusive, is a good first step towards reducing unconscious bias and improving decision making.

There are several ways you can reduce the effects of implicit biases:

Acknowledge and question your assumptions.

For example, if you find yourself assuming that a woman with caring responsibilities will not want to take on a challenging work assignment, ask yourself what evidence that is based on. This will help you focus more on the individual than the stereotype.

Increase contact with people who are different from you. Take time to see things from the perspective of others. This will encourage you to understand their situation and influences better.

Be inclusive in meetings. Acknowledge everyone, not just those you know or those in the room.

Consider not always sitting next to the same person. Ask someone who is joining remotely to chair rather than someone in the room to be more inclusive of remote participants.

Become an ally or a champion, speak up and question others when you think their decision-making might be influenced by bias.

Ensure your organisation has clear criteria and transparent processes in place to encourage objectivity.

Monitor decisions and report diversity data to encourage people to be more conscious and consider more the potential impact of bias on outcomes.

For this year’s IWD theme #BreakTheBias campaign, women lawyers representing our Women Lawyers Division produced several powerful messages on what it would mean to them to be part of a profession free of biases.

Find out how you can #BreakTheBias

You should begin with a look at:

  • how well people with different characteristics are represented across your organisation, including in different functions and levels of seniority
  • how this compares with the external labour market, similar firms or the profession as a whole

This will help you identify if there is a particular demographic group that is under-represented or an area of the business where there is a lack of diversity.

Metrics such as pay gaps, diversity in applicants, shortlists and appointments, gaps in retention, and analyses of work allocation and progression rates will enable you to do a deeper dive and understand where you need to prioritise action and resources.

Good baseline data will enable you to set realistic but challenging targets, which will help create the motivation and focus for successful delivery.

Data also helps assess whether progress is being made and the strategy is working as intended.

A D&I strategy that is founded on good data is more likely to gain support and help overcome ‘diversity fatigue’ – the tiredness that many feel with all the talk about diversity when there is little evidence of specific action or change.

There are limits and challenges to the data-driven approach to D&I.

First is how to make sure you are getting good completion rates from staff so you have reliable data. Clear communication is needed about:

  • why data is necessary (so the organisation can improve diversity and inclusion)
  • how it will be used (including assurances about storage, reporting and anonymity)

Poor disclosure to all or some questions is itself an insight into the culture of your organisation that may help shape your strategy.

Be cautious about over-focusing on numerical data.

Interviews, focus groups, responses to staff surveys or culture audits will provide valuable evidence and insights to guide your strategy too.

“Genuine and sustained change is a slow process and the Legally Disabled? project has demonstrated the importance of disabled solicitors leading that shift in culture and working practices. Two years on we are extremely proud to have initiated what offers real possibilities for change in the profession, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Lawyers with Disabilities Division and disabled people in the profession.”

Professor Debbie Foster and Dr Natasha Hirst

Let us take you back to January 2020. We sit excitedly in a crowded room at the launch event of the first ‘Legally Disabled?’ research report. An in-depth look at the experiences of disabled people in the profession. The first of its kind.

We, the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, had worked with the Legally Disabled? research team, Professor Debbie Foster and Dr Natasha Hirst of Cardiff University Business School, to conduct the research and were eager to share it.

It was vital that disabled people were actually involved in producing the research and equally important that we lead on addressing the findings – ‘nothing about us without us’.

Most of the research findings were of no surprise to disabled people, many of us living them every day, but it was affirming to have the data behind us to drive change.

One of the biggest takeaways for the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, and our disabled colleagues throughout the sector, was the confirmation of what we’d believed for years. Disability has been largely overlooked in action and strategies to improve diversity and inclusion.

Moving forward

With the support of the Law Society and continued involvement of Debbie and Natasha, we have held a number of roundtables discussing the research findings and exploring ways forward for better disability inclusion.

In the last two years this has included:

There has certainly been increased interest in this area and organisations of all sizes and locations have asked us to speak to them and help improve their practices.

Many individuals have contacted us and have felt empowered to seek action within their organisations, often by pointing to our guidance to show what’s possible and realistic.

More to be done

Whilst we are heartened by the change in attitude and progress, there remains much to be done. We continue to hear far too many negative and discriminatory experiences, many of which relate to the barriers to entry.

We’ve been pleased with the number of education providers who have started a dialogue with us on the challenges experienced by disabled students and we plan to discuss these at roundtables with firms and in-house teams in 2022.

Additionally, we hope to issue guidance on these challenges which will address frequently cited elements like:

  • reserving work experience or training spaces
  • ensuring recruiters put forward disabled candidates

It’s our fervent hope that the next two years, and beyond, are as productive and positive for disability inclusion.

We will ensure that momentum is sustained for progress in the profession and that disabled people continue to feel heard, empowered and supported.

Email lawyerswithdisabilities@lawsociety.org.uk if you would like our assistance or to get involved with our work.

Jane Burton and Yasmin Sheikh – chair and vice-chair of the Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD)

Is hybrid working positive for diversity and inclusion?

Risks and benefits

Hybrid working has improved access to jobs and work opportunities by removing barriers that disabled people, working parents and carers, and people from less-advantaged backgrounds have faced when required to commute to an office every day and work at set hours.

However, there are potential risks to diversity and inclusion too.

The main concern is that it could create a two-tier workforce: those who are most present and visible in an office and those who, by choice or necessity, work at home more frequently.

Visibility, exposure and networking have always been key to progression.

Proximity bias could have a greater impact in a hybrid environment and mean fewer opportunities for those who are in the office less.

Proximity bias is the idea that employees with closer physical proximity to their team and leaders will be perceived as better workers than their remote counterparts.

Assumptions and environments

It's important to avoid making assumptions.

Not all working carers, parents, or disabled people will want to work from home or avoid attending events in person.

Many disabled employees have found remote working easier during the pandemic.

However, being physically able to access the office is still important and these spaces need to be set up in such a way as to be inclusive of disabled people.

If disabled people are working from home, organisations must ensure they have the adjustments needed to work effectively, including the provision of accessible technology and other equipment.

Better for everyone

A good inclusive hybrid strategy will draw attention to the risks and put steps in place to mitigate them.

This could include:

  • ensuring fair systems for work allocation
  • maintaining virtual networking opportunities
  • providing training to staff on inclusion

Regular and open dialogue with employees is important to make hybrid working better for everyone.

Leaders can act as role models themselves by adopting a mix of home and office working, removing the pressure of presenteeism

How should considering intersectionality impact what we do to progress diversity and inclusion?

Intersectionality has come somewhat freshly to the forefront in discussions about diversity and inclusion, despite it being a concept that was first identified more than 30 years ago.

Intersectionality focuses on how different identities intersect and combine to cause multiple disadvantages or advantages.

In our podcast series with Leeds Law Society on intersectionality, Professor Doyin Atewologun emphasised the continued relevance of targeted action to address problems or barriers associated with single characteristics.

She also explained how an understanding of intersectionality can further enhance efforts to achieve equality, diversity and inclusion.

Here are her three practical tips for how to incorporate intersectionality into D&I work to make further progress.

Talk about intersectionality

Start by acknowledging that our identities do not exist in single identity silos.

Intersectionality gives us a more nuanced understanding of the issues and barriers that some people face.

It also celebrates our diversity, as it recognises we all have multiple aspects to our identities.

Intersectionality has the potential to create connections across single identity group divides, and those connections can help build collaboration to challenge all forms of discrimination.

Ask ‘who’s missing?’

In any single identity space, network or initiative, ask: “Who is missing here?”

Which women are missing? Which LGBT+ voices are we not hearing? How are disabled or differently abled ethnic minority individuals represented?

Once you've asked those questions, you can then turn the focus to how we can be more inclusive.

Intersectionality introduces a new measure of progress as it acknowledges that real progress has not been made until those at the margins of different groups have also been uplifted.

Improve data analysis

Wherever possible, gather better data and analyse it from an intersectional perspective. This will give a more detailed understanding of what the issues are and where progress still needs to be made.

It's important to note that attempts to do intersectional analysis on numerical data can be difficult if the sample size is smaller.

It may be better to use other qualitative forms of data collection and analysis such as focus groups.

I’ve heard a lot about the importance of diverse role models. What makes a good role model and what is “role model fatigue”?

“You cannot be what you cannot see” sums up the impact diverse role models can have.

There are many ideas and perceptions as to what makes a good role model. First and foremost, they need to be visible.

Effective role models also challenge the status quo. They’re not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations and raise issues that are rarely spoken about.

Role models and protected characteristics

In social mobility terms, compared to more established champions in the workplace, there is still a reluctance to talk openly about social class and background, especially among those in senior positions.

There is still stigma around class and people are unwilling to share, possibly for fear of their status and reputation being undermined.

By contrast, in our Pride in the Law report, LGBT+ solicitors told us they felt more confident about being ‘out’ the more senior they were, and some felt a sense of responsibility to be a role model to others.

At the same time, there was a realisation that anyone at any level can be a role model.

Role model fatigue

Role model fatigue is seen as the over-reliance on the same individuals in an organisation to act as role models.

Many Black, Asian or minority ethnic people have expressed this fatigue in the past year with the increased focus on race.

They feel they are often being asked to represent a whole group of people when speaking about themselves. They may also experience discomfort by being singled out and given the responsibility to explain their identity to others.

Using role models in this way detracts from all staff taking the responsibility to learn more about diversity and to seek to understand the experiences of others.

It's important for role models to be supported and recognised for their contribution. Take care not to make them feel ‘othered’.

You should also remember the importance of everyone, but especially senior staff, in role modelling inclusive behaviours to others.

There are a lot of awareness days, weeks and months in the diversity calendar.

Inclusive Employers’ online calendar includes over 100.

Diversity awareness dates can be a great way to raise awareness and show support for different aspects of diversity and inclusion, as well as social justice and human rights.

It can, however, be overwhelming to knowing which dates to mark within your organisation and how to do so.

Your diversity and inclusion agenda

It’s important to not rely on using the diversity calendar as your sole diversity and inclusion focus and the basis of your agenda.

Celebrating these dates should be part of a long-term focus to deliver substantive change, not a performative action of moving from one date to the next without any clear and valuable objective.

The dates which you mark or celebrate should be aligned with your diversity and inclusion priorities and strategy.

They should not be driving all of your activity, but instead used as key moments for you to:

  • launch and create initiatives
  • reflect on progress and the challenges ahead
  • share stories to help raise awareness
  • celebrate the successes of diverse role models

They are part of your journey towards clearly identified goals.

Diverse celebrations

Not every date needs to be marked in the same way.

You may want to organise or sponsor events or plan communications around some of the more high-profile and established dates, such as Pride, International Women’s Day, Black History Month or Disability History Month.

There are time and cost-effective ways of marking dates too. For example, you may have staff who are willing to share their own experience by writing something for the intranet.

You could start an online discussion, or raise awareness by simply sharing history timelines, online campaign resources, guidance and information from external organisations.

Finally, it's good to involve staff and employee networks in discussions about which dates to mark and how. They may be able to generate their own ideas and activity and help deliver your plans.

Achieving gender equality involves changing workplace practices and policies and challenging bias and perceived norms about men's and women’s roles.

There are more men in senior positions with the ability to influence decisions, policies and workplace culture.

Listening to female colleagues – seeking to see things from their perspective and understand what some of the ongoing barriers may be to retention and progress – is a good starting point.

If your company has a women’s network, they may have events or meetings that you're welcome to attend.

Be an ally of female colleagues

Be an ally and champion of female colleagues.

For example, if you're asked to speak at an event, ensure it's not a ‘manel’ and there's gender balance in the speakers.

Ask for gender-diverse shortlists from recruiters for senior positions and ask what's being done to diversify the recruitment pool and build a more gender-diverse pipeline.

Create gender balance at home

Greater gender balance cannot be achieved in the workplace, unless there's greater gender balance at home.

Do what you can to encourage a workplace culture and policies that encourage more equal caring roles such as promoting more widespread use of flexible working and more equal paid parental-leave policies.

The impact of the pandemic on women

A survey by the Next 100 Years project into the impact of COVID-19 on women in the law found that half of working mothers in the law have taken on more childcare responsibilities than their partners during the pandemic.

A poll carried out by us for International Women’s Day in 2021 found that 77% thought the pandemic would have a negative impact on gender equality in the profession.

Now is an important time for men to step up and consider what they can do to help ensure the pandemic does not turn the clock back on progress made so far.

A more gender-balanced profession and accommodation of work and family life will be better for everyone.

Find out more in our Male Champions for Change toolkit

As a senior member of my organisation, what steps can I take to improve our workplace culture?

Some organisations have identified speaking up and listening up as key issues when they've carried out surveys to assess their culture.

Barriers to speaking up particularly exist for women, junior staff and those in minority groups.

It can feel riskier to speak up if you're not in the majority or lack power in an organisation.

Encouraging staff to speak up about instances such as bullying, harassment or microaggressions can be done by putting in place:

  • anonymous reporting options (also called trust tech)
  • support helplines
  • speak up guardians (trained colleagues who you can speak to confidentially about any concerns)

Training managers and leaders to be more skilful in asking the right questions and creating the right environment to empower people to speak up will also help create an inclusive culture.

This will also be more productive, as people will feel more comfortable in sharing ideas and be more open to learning.

The message from the top has to be clear – that diversity and inclusion is not only appreciated but that inclusion must be demonstrated.

This will come about through conscious and consistent action across every interaction.

Including diversity and inclusion aims in end of year reviews, equipping managers and partners with training, and actively participating in benchmarking activities designed to measure inclusion are all ways that you can embed inclusion across all levels.

What is an inclusive culture? How do you know if your organisation has one and how can you create it?

An inclusive culture is one that accepts and values the differences that we all bring, makes sure there is room for everyone at the table and enables all to speak and be heard.

When answering the question "is my organisation inclusive?", we must first acknowledge that it's too simplistic to think that a firm or organisation has just one culture.

Organisations have multiple sub-cultures shaped by teams, managers, partners and departments, so it's very common to find that different parts of the business feel different.

Leaders have a very influential role in creating culture change within workplaces.

Equally, identifying what's happening at a micro-level ensures that the organisation’s inclusion is embedded throughout the entire business.

Working directly with your people, gaining their insights, and understanding how they feel at work and perceive the culture is an integral part of this.

How marginalised groups and junior staff feel about the culture is a real indication of inclusion.

Organisations must go beyond speaking about inclusion. Begin to look at the outcomes and reach of inclusion activities across the business to evaluate what effect, impact and change they're contributing to.

Organisations should be regularly assessing culture through surveying and listening to staff, analysing results by protected characteristic at different levels of the organisation and in different business units.

It's also important to consider what policies and practices beyond diversity and inclusion initiatives shape culture – for example, what behaviour is most rewarded?

What are some benefits to blind recruitment? Should it be a compulsory part of our recruitment process even if we acknowledge our unconscious bias?

Blind recruitment is the practice of removing information from applications that may lead to bias decisions based on preconceived stereotypes of cultures, ethnicities, education, class status and so on.

Most blind recruitment practices suggest leaving only the necessary information to make an informed decision based upon merit and experience.

Removing information that risks bias influencing shortlisting decisions (such as name and university/school) means that each candidate will be subject to the same assessment of their skills and qualifications for the role creating a fairer playing field.

It's important to acknowledge your biases but, in conjunction, processes like blind recruitment that prevent them from being acted upon are likely to have greater impact.

Unconscious bias, by definition, is something that we lack awareness of. It can particularly affect decision-making when thinking fast like during the initial sift of applications.

At interview stage, the recruitment process is no longer completely blind, and it's especially important to acknowledge our own biases and how they may affect our decisions.

Structured interviews, panel diversity, and panel members scoring candidates individually before deliberating together may help minimise the impact of bias on group decision-making.

Finally, it's worth considering the benefits of contextualised recruitment too.

Whereas blind recruitment is aimed at assessing merit by simply removing personal identifiers, contextualised recruitment goes a step further in levelling the playing field.

It asks for and uses additional information about candidates’ personal circumstances to make adjustments when shortlisting, such as:

  • the school they attended
  • how many hours of work they did while studying
  • if they've ever been in care

Exceptional candidates who outperformed in those circumstances may have not got through on simple blind recruitment but may be shortlisted under contextualised recruitment.

My organisation is thinking of signing up to the Women in Law Pledge. What does this include?

The Women in Law Pledge was created to progress women’s equality within the legal profession.

It’s a public commitment made by your organisation to implement changes to meaningfully contribute to positive progress.

It consists of setting a number of targets within your organisation that tackle issues like:

  • the gender pay gap
  • inequality of women in leadership positions
  • lack of maternity and parenting support
  • lack of flexible working policies
  • culture changes needed to achieve equality

We’re not prescriptive on what your targets should include, but we offer suggestions based on our 2020 gender equality research, which identified several common issues faced by women lawyers internationally.

Once you have been a signatory for six months, you will be asked to review how the pledge has been implemented and integrated within your organisation. This to help us develop tailored support to those that have made the commitment.

We understand that there are many components to achieving progress in equality and our goal is to ensure firms receive comprehensive support.

A similar review also takes place after 12 months.

I’ve overheard some of my colleagues saying inappropriate things that are transphobic, homophobic and discriminatory about other members of staff. The comments have been shrugged off as 'banter’, but I don’t agree. What can I do?

In some circumstances, banter is beneficial and an important aspect to an inclusive workplace culture.

It becomes a problem, however, when it makes anyone feel uncomfortable, excluded, embarrassed, harassed or bullied in any way.

Next time you overhear or witness your colleagues making these comments or demonstrating behaviour of any type that makes you uncomfortable, you should try addressing it directly with them.

Often people don’t realise the impact of their actions and having an informal conversation can help them to understand your point of view and stop any future issues.

Try to explain in a constructive way why the comments are hurtful and inappropriate.

Be specific, focus on the behaviour and not the person, and identify how it made you or others feel when you heard it.

If this is not successful, or if you do not feel comfortable speaking with them directly, you should inform your line manager of what has happened and ask them to speak with the person/people.

If the comments still don’t stop, or if you feel that the situation requires more formality, you can make a complaint through your organisation’s HR procedure.

Depending on the severity and type of behaviour, formalising the situation with your HR and management teams should be the first step.

I’ve noticed that a number of my colleagues are struggling with their mental health. What can I do to help?

On top of the usual pressures of working within the legal profession, we are all now dealing with the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many are currently suffering with low wellbeing and it’s important we try to look out for the signs of deteriorating mental health and reach out to colleagues and offer support where appropriate.

It’s equally important to understand boundaries and make sure you’re looking after your own wellbeing too. Guide people to professional support services where necessary.

If you can, and feel able to, you could start by asking your colleagues how they are, offering to listen to them and encouraging them to seek further help if they want it.

Think about how best to initiate this conversation – even the more practical elements like through whether to do it via video or phone call – and familiarise yourself with further sources of support for mental health and wellbeing.

Unfortunately, it may be challenging to replicate the kind of authentic, organic discussion you could have in person.

A helpful start may be sharing how you’re feeling and what has helped you in dealing with the current situation and asking if they feel the same and how they are managing.

Allow them the time they need to share, if they feel comfortable to, and be prepared to offer reassurance.

If you’re their manager, it’s important to be open and receptive to these conversations and that you approach them in a non-judgemental way.

Frequently staff will look to you to lead by example. If you notice that members of your team are struggling, not only should you address this directly and with compassion, you should make sure all employees are aware that they are welcome to discuss this topic with you and there is help available.

If your organisation has mental health first aiders or champions, you should signpost your colleagues to them.

If no such initiative exists within your organisation, you may want to suggest to HR or leadership that they consider it.

We’re all experiencing some form of negative impact to our mental health due to the pandemic and some are struggling more than others – organisations should be aware of that and have resources available to support staff effectively.

Alternatively, there are a number of external organisations which can offer mental health support.

We have resources to help with stress and low mental health alongside who you can contact if you need help.

I've just secured a job and I did not share my disability beforehand for fear of discrimination. I need some reasonable adjustments and I don't know how to go about it.

Sharing your disability with your employer can be daunting, but your employer has a legal obligation to ensure workplace adjustments are made to support you.

Working without support can mean that disabled lawyers are unable to bring their whole self to work, which can negatively impact their physical and mental health.

Telling your employer, colleagues or anyone else about your disability is your choice but, if you decide to do so, we recommend speaking to HR and your line manager first.

Advise them of the adjustments that you need and work with them to ensure they’re suitable.

If your organisation has a disability network, get engaged with it. Peer support is a great way to know that you are not alone.

For more information on support, visit Access To Work.

My firm has very few ethnic minority employees so doesn't see the point in setting up a staff network, but I think that my colleagues and I would really benefit from having one. What should I do?

Staff networks can be effective vehicles to support colleagues and raise awareness.

If you don’t feel that your workplace is engaged with the idea of starting one, partnering with local firms who may be in a similar situation to you is a great way to form a supportive network with your peers.

You also have the option of finding other external networks within the legal profession like our Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division or regional forums.

These can be helpful tools in growing your professional connections, discovering new perspectives and strengthening the agenda.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to talk to your HR department about their recruitment policies.

If you have identified that there are few ethnic minority people at your workplace, it would be helpful for your firm to understand why this is the case and how to change it.

Senior buy-in is key to addressing issues such as this, so having a conversation with your firm’s leadership team would be vital.

I've been a partner at my firm for seven years and haven't told anyone that I'm gay. I do try to get us involved in History Month and Pride celebrations in case there are other people in my situation but feel it may be time to tell my colleagues. What's the best way to do this? Have I been setting a bad example?

Coming out can be a stressful time and you should not add to that stress by thinking you have set a bad example.

Deciding to come out is an entirely personal decision and something you do when it’s right for you – you should never disclose this information if you do not feel completely happy to do so.

A good place to start would be talking to colleagues you feel most comfortable with.

You may find they’ve already guessed or suspected but have taken their lead from you and so haven’t mentioned it. It’s likely they’ll be relieved you’ve spoken about it and your relationship with them will instantly be more open and genuine.

They may know if others have been speculating and their knowledge of the firm will help you gauge how others might react and decide who to tell next.

It’s entirely up to you whether you want to make a big announcement to your team and fellow partners or let word trickle out.

Once you stop censoring what you’re saying (for example, the pronouns you use when referring to partners), you’ll find that you’re naturally ‘being out’ rather than actively coming out which will put much less pressure on you and the situation.

You should also consider clients and other contacts. They may find out through your colleagues so you should think about whether you would prefer to tell them yourself.

Again, you do not have to say anything if you would rather not at this stage.

You are unlikely to receive as many negative reactions as you fear; often those are far outnumbered by the positives – including the positive impact on your own mental health and wellbeing.

Your firm will also benefit; your performance is likely to improve once you can be yourself, you’ll be a role model for others and are likely to ‘do’ History Month and Pride even better!

My colleague is really struggling with her mental health. She isn't concentrating in meetings, she's exhausted all the time but refuses to stop or take breaks as she's worried she'll be judged by more senior staff. I'm supporting her as much as I can but not sure what else there is to do? Do I go to HR or straight to our managing partner?

While peer support is incredibly important, the wellbeing of your colleagues should not fall solely on your shoulders or be a cause of negative impact to your own mental health.

Mental health is a very personal journey and there could be many contributing factors as to why she isn’t seeking internal support.

This could include fear of stigma, as you’ve mentioned, and the perception that it could have an adverse impact on her career.

We suggest that, before speaking to HR or a partner, you give her the opportunity to speak to people equipped to support mental health challenges.

If possible, find out if your organisation has mental health first aiders and suggest to your colleague that she should speak to one.

Mental health first aiders are a great first step for signposting without stigma and for offering a listening ear.

If your organisation doesn’t have this internal resource or your colleague would feel more comfortable speaking to an independent party, we suggest that she contacts LawCare.

LawCare is a charity which offers independent, free and confidential emotional support. They understand the pressures of working in the legal profession, how it can affect your mental health and will listen and advise where possible. You can contact them via email, phone or webchat.

Read about organisations that can support you across a range of personal and professional issues

I'm an LLM student and currently looking for ways I can engage with the legal sector and make connections. Where should I start?

There are a number of ways to keep in touch with the legal profession.

Stay updated by following those that inspire you and learn about the ins and outs of becoming a solicitor.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with news and events that may be of use to you and to connect with individuals.

We update our Twitter and LinkedIn daily and share articles, guidance and opportunities. Most law firms and organisations in the sector do the same so we'd recommend following any that you're interested in.

Our social mobility ambassadors act as role models for the profession and can be a good place to start if you're looking for advice or inspiration, particularly for a specific area, or route to, law.

Even outside of the social mobility ambassador scheme, we often receive offers from those within the profession to be mentors, so get in touch if this is the kind of connection you're looking to make.

Generation Success also offers mentoring opportunities as well as the chance to become a student ambassador and join useful networks.

Physical events are a ripe opportunity to network and offer the chance to do so around specific topics.

There are frequently free events across the country around dates within the diversity calendar. If diversity and inclusion in the profession is something you’re enthusiastic about, it may be worth keeping an eye out, or actively searching for, these kinds of events.

This calendar by Inclusive Employers is a fantastic tool to check which dates are coming up.

If you’re looking for work experience, these resources may be useful:

Volunteering at law centres is a fantastic option for work experience, too, if you're in a position to do so.

Using your university’s career service may also be helpful.

There should be greater awareness and support around fertility treatment and baby loss. Currently this is an area I feel is suffered in silence, even in my large global law firm. It is not referenced in any policies around maternity or absence and yet is a source of enormous strain to deal with in silence.

It's important for organisations to take a proactive approach when it comes to infertility, particularly as statistics show that one in six couples are affected by it.

Due to the stigma, individuals going through treatment often do not share their experience.

It’s vital that we create environments which enable people to feel comfortable discussing this topic and feel supported when doing so.

Suggestions on how you may do this as an employer

Employee communications

Use opportunities such as Infertility Awareness Week (19 to 25 April) and other dates within the diversity calendar to raise awareness.

Posting a blog on your intranet, making external resources readily available where there’s no internal alternative and ensuring staff are aware of the date would be easy ways to do this.

Open conversations are essential to lifting the taboo and so it’s important all staff see communications on topics which are often not discussed.

Start a staff support group

People may feel more comfortable to share with their peers (in contrast to HR departments or managers) and so staff networks are a great way to encourage support within your organisation.

Employees will have a safe space to share experiences or worries and receive help and advice from others in a similar situation.

Such groups can be operated very discretely, and with membership kept private – so long as there is at least one named person for people to contact.

Work with charities and support networks to help create new and inclusive policies

According to Fertility Network UK, having a supportive fertility in the workplace policy is good for business and employees – levels of distress associated with fertility treatment are reduced and employees are more likely to be productive and remain in work.

Treat fertility appointments as you would all medical or maternity appointments

Employees should not have to take these days off as annual leave.

Offering employees both empathy and flexibility is paramount. Adopting a proactive approach to topics such as these is good for both the employee and the business.

If you have experienced miscarriage or baby loss, you may want to consider bereavement counselling.

Sands is a charity that supports people through the loss of a child. It has online resources which might be helpful, or you can contact them directly on 0808 164 3332 or via email.

Asperger’s syndrome is a previously used diagnosis on the autism spectrum.

Autism spectrum disorder/condition (ASD/C) is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how a person thinks, communicates, relates to other people and experiences the world around them.

Autism is one example of neurodiversity, meaning simply the variation in human brains – others with names include dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Many neurodivergent people choose not to describe themselves as disabled, despite their condition satisfying the definition of disability within the Equalities Act 2010.

Organisations do not always appreciate the strengths that people with autism may have.

For example, attention to detail, methodical/novel approach and observational skills are all hugely beneficial traits. But, often, the focus is on the possible challenges, such as difficulty with social-emotional interaction, sensory processing sensitivities and anxiety.

Firms and in-house teams are gradually becoming more and more aware of the experiences of disabled people as a result of dedicated, thorough work like the research recently conducted by Legally Disabled.

The recruitment process at most organisations still needs work in order to be more inclusive of those with autism (as indeed it does for other disabled people).

Together with Legally Disabled, we're working on ‘easy wins’ and action points to address this.

We’re asking organisations to consider and evaluate:

  • how accessible their online recruitment forms and processes are
  • their use of artificial intelligence and other technology to ensure it does not perpetuate unconscious bias
  • whether their recruitment processes and job descriptions have been prepared with only a non-disabled person in mind

We are also encouraging them to include in all recruitment processes the question "What adjustments would help you realise your full potential?" and to send applicants (or include on their website) maps, plans and photographs of their offices to relieve anxiety.

You can only be asked about your health or disability in very limited circumstances as explained in this guidance from the government.

It's for an individual to decide when in the recruitment process, if at all, to mention their condition.

When deciding to do so, consider if the organisation has clearly stated diversity and inclusion policies, or displays membership of Disability Confident, Business Disability Forum or similar.

If you do mention your condition you can request a reasonable adjustment during the recruitment process, which many include not having to take a psychometric test or having longer to do it, for instance.

What could I do to get my firm and colleagues passionate about gender equality and diversity and inclusion generally? I'm sure they care about it greatly, but we don't impact or influence the profession in any way when it comes to this. What can we/I do?

Raise awareness 

Offering information and education on various diversity groups and the challenges they face is a great place to start for driving passion for equality.

It's difficult to feel passionately for something you know very little about and so education is absolutely key.

A perfect opportunity to do this is to mark dates from the diversity calendar within your organisation.

Make staff aware of the dates by using resources such as this calendar from Inclusive Employers and publishing them alongside a brief description on your intranet pages.

Take a look below at what you could share with your organisation for LGBT+ Pride month:

June is LGBT+ Pride month and is dedicated to increasing the visibility, equality and acceptance of the LGBT+ community.

This month is a perfect opportunity to seek out information on issues the LGBT+ community continue to face and find out how you can be an ally to help progress equality and inclusion.

Find out more from Stonewall

Join existing initiatives

There are a huge range of initiatives you could encourage your organisation to get involved in.

Many are focused on specific diversity areas rather than encompassing all of D&I but that may make these easier to adopt.

Below are two examples:

The Women in Law Pledge

A transparent commitment to gender equality which requires organisations to create targets which will enable positive change for women in law.

The Mindful Business Charter

Focused on mental health and practising mindfulness in the workplace across things like meetings, working hours and workload delegation.

Make small changes

If your organisation is not at the stage where it can make drastic D&I implementations, like policy changes, making small changes still achieves progress and should not be discounted.

Changing your vocabulary and being more mindful of your language is an easy way to begin your journey to inclusion. This can be implemented at any time with minimal effort.

Including your pronouns in your email signature, for example, is a simple way to show a commitment to inclusion, both within your organisation and to clients and peers across the profession.

Using gender neutral language where possible, such as “To whom it may concern” as opposed to “Dear sirs” is another easy way to contribute to your inclusive future.

What is white privilege? Does it apply to all white people?

White privilege is the innate advantage white people have within society solely based on their race.

This can manifest in a vast variety of ways. Some examples include:

  • people that look like you are largely represented within media
  • you can easily find products that match your skin tone and hair type
  • your history is a part of the curriculum
  • you generally have a positive relationship with the police
  • and many more

The term does not discount the challenges white people have faced but describes the reality that, although white people and people of all races can have similar negative and disadvantageous experiences, White people will not suffer the biases of race in addition.

The word “privilege” is intrinsically associated with wealth and power. While you may not have these attributes physically, it's true that you will, as a white person, have them socially.

It's not racist to have and/or acknowledge that you benefit from white privilege.

Simply accepting and being aware that many situations are often much less difficult for you because you're white is not discriminatory – that awareness is both beneficial and necessary to dismantling racism.

Understanding this term will make you more aware of your biases, which should allow you to address them and make sure they are not affecting your ability to practise equality and inclusion.

Often people are not consciously aware of this advantage and so it is perpetuated.

It's important to be constantly aware of your privilege and how it could affect your decisions and behaviours.

Is there another alternative to "Dear sirs" than "To whom it may concern"? Where possible we write to the recipient in the first person but that isn't always possible. "To whom it may concern" seems too vague and often frankly a little pompous.

Language plays an incredibly vital role in inclusivity and has been used to perpetuate exclusion and inequality throughout history.

There is a balance to be achieved between what's best practice, what's inclusive and what's appropriate.

However, as the world, and legal profession along with it, is evolving it may no longer be necessary to uphold traditional vocabulary customs such as the infamous “Dear sirs”.

With the changing times, it's increasingly easy to adapt your vocabulary to be more inclusive.

In terms of addressing an unknown recipient in a legal context, or any professional context, it should always be appropriate to address them as “Dear” followed by their name.

With resources such as LinkedIn and other public online communication channels and platforms, it should be relatively easy to identify the person you're contacting.

It's worth noting that if you do use online resources to identify your recipient, you should not assume their pronouns.

Often people will establish their preferred pronouns on their online channels/platforms so they may be readily available but, if they're not, avoid using them.

As mentioned in the question, if this information isn’t known or you cannot identify the person, we would still suggest using “To whom it may concern”.

There are very few alternatives that do not assume the gender of the recipient, thus also excluding “Dear sir/madam”.

Less formal alternatives could include “Good afternoon/morning/evening” or addressing them by job title if you know that information.

Consider whether a salutation is really necessary – could you just use the matter or case name?

In almost all circumstances, there will be an inclusive alternative to an outdated salutation that may cause hurt and offence.

We must all be aware of the perpetual discrimination associated with language, from greetings to slurs.

A dedication to diversity and inclusion is thorough and visible in all areas of work and life.

Our top tips for navigating language

If in doubt, don’t

If you’re questioning whether a joke or comment is appropriate in your professional or personal life, simply don’t say it.

If you’re questioning whether a greeting is inclusive, find another way to say hello.

If you’re unsure, ask

If you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, ask them what they are.

If this is coming from a place of learning and compassion, the other person should not be offended by your question.

Keep on learning

The D&I space and language is constantly evolving and, while it can be overwhelming to keep up, it is an important part of being inclusive.

Find a reputable source of information: for example, Stonewall has a robust glossary that may be helpful, and take the time to update and educate yourself.

Members of my team make me feel inadequate and undervalued, frequently ignore me and refuse to help me. Is this bullying? What can I do about it?

It’s common for victims of bullying to find it difficult to recognise if they're being bullied.

Frequently, bullies will ignite and perpetuate feelings of blame or guilt in their victims, but it's important to remember that it's not your fault.

According to the National Bullying Helpline, asking yourself these questions can help in determining whether you're being mentally and/or emotionally bullied:

  • do I feel intimidated or threatened at work?
  • am I regularly humiliated or ridiculed in front of my colleagues?
  • have I been called names?
  • are my efforts consistently undervalued or disregarded?
  • do I feel sick or nauseous when working with a particular colleague or manager?

Bullying is usually a sustained issue.

Isolated incidents on their own may seem relatively insignificant, even manageable, although this does not discount them.

If you answered yes to one or more of the questions above, especially if you've been feeling this way for a long time, it's very likely that you're being bullied.

As mentioned, it's normal to feel as though you're to blame.

Starting to keep a diary of incidents may help you reflect and gain perspective on the situation.

A simple record of what happened, who was there and how it made you feel will also be useful if you report or escalate things to a formal complaint.

You should also seek emotional support. Bullies often make people feel socially isolated and undermined, and this can make it harder to find the confidence to take action.

LawCare, for example, often deals with calls about bullying at work from those working in the sector.

If you feel comfortable doing so, you should have a conversation with your manager about the situation or approach HR and have an initial discussion with them. It would also be helpful to familiarise yourself with your organisation’s policies and processes for dealing with bullying.

Reporting concerns about bullying is daunting and many fear the consequences of speaking up.

Some organisations have confidential advisers, guardians, or options for anonymous reporting to encourage people to come forward.

A good process will offer a variety of channels for raising concerns, take prompt action to investigate and resolve them, and keep you updated through the process.

However daunting it may be to report a problem to your manager or HR, remaining silent is likely to perpetuate the problem.

Bullying behaviour, if not challenged, often escalates and can become endemic in a workplace.

If you witness such behaviour, it's important to act too, checking in with the victim, signalling the unacceptability of the behaviour, and reporting concerns.

No one deserves to be bullied and your employer has a legal obligation to support you and create an environment in which you feel safe and respected.

Further resources are available from the National Bullying Helpline, ACAS and LawCare.

I'm not disabled but my son is and I've struggled in the workplace because colleagues and employers have not been sympathetic to the issues this causes for me.

Caring for a disabled child while juggling work commitments can be extremely challenging and, often, employers have difficulty providing adequate support to parents and/or carers.

An initial discussion with your manager and colleagues about your experience, and your son’s disability if you feel comfortable to do so, would allow for greater understanding of the flexibility you may need.

If you do not know how best to do this or need support in what to say, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has guidance on how colleagues and employers can support parents with a disabled child.

At your next one-to-one with your manager, signpost to this resource and build a discussion around it.

Employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and for taking into account any risks to their health and wellbeing from the working environment.

Additionally, speak to your internal communications team and ask them to put this information on the intranet and on staff news bulletins to help inform your wider organisation.

I’m keen to set up a staff network as a senior leader within my firm. How do I get other partners involved and get people enthusiastic about joining?

Buy-in of senior leadership is a great way to boost the profile and the effectiveness of staff networks.

As a senior leader your role in starting the network is one way to build the enthusiasm for people in your organisation to join. It sends a meaningful and positive message when there is buy in from the top.

Getting staff involved

Suggestion of how to get staff involved include:

Clearly set out the purpose and aims of the network

When people know what a network is working towards, they're more likely to want to be a part of it.

Establish a clear direction and plan a route to get there with help of network members.

Advertise the role staff can play

Be clear in your advertising that the network is staff-led and each member will have a valued role in contributing to the work of the network.

Staff networks should be a place where staff feel safe to participate and contribute, allowing them a place to be authentic without fear of judgement.

Offer members ways to engage with the work of the network to create a sense of belonging. This could be through formal roles, attending meetings etc.

Getting senior leadership involved

To encourage more senior leaders to participate, consider:

Starting the conversation

Roundtables are a great way to discuss topics. They're a valuable opportunity to share vital data, hear others views and inform

When leaders are aware of the need of the network, they are more likely to engage.

Setting out clear roles and responsibilities

Many leaders do not know how they can be involved in staff networks which could be why they do not engage.

Clearly stating how leaders can participate, for example by sponsoring the staff network, can help.

Leaders should also avoid dominating and directing networks.

I'm applying for a new role. At what point should I disclose my disability?

You're not legally obliged to disclose your disability at any point during recruitment or employment.

It's entirely up to you when, if ever, you tell your prospective or existing employer about your disability.

Employers are not permitted to ask you about disability at or before making a job offer except for a number of clearly prescribed reasons.

This includes to ascertain if you need a reasonable adjustment, in which case they should just ask you whether you need any adjustments and what kind, and not interrogate you about the specifics of your disability.

It's important to note, however, that your existing or prospective employer is not required to make a reasonable adjustment if they do not know or could not be expected to know that you have a disability.

It may then be of benefit to you, and your employer, to disclose so that they're able to make the adjustments you need to fulfil your potential in your role – creating a mutually advantageous experience for both of you.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding and, in some cases, overt discrimination, it may not always be a positive experience.

To help mitigate intrusive questioning, and to help reduce anxiety, it will help you to prepare for how the conversation may go.

This guidance for job applicants from the Equality and Human Rights Commission covers what questions can be asked about disability during recruitment.

Additionally, Demi Rixon, vice-chair of our Lawyers with Disabilities Division, has shared her personal experiences of disclosing and some useful techniques to help guide the discussion.

 

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS