Inviting everyone to dance: inclusion, not just diversity
I. Stephanie Boyce is keenly aware of the example she can set for professionals in the legal field.
As only the sixth woman and first person of colour to hold the role of President of the Law Society of England and Wales, she's committed to sharing her story and being visible for others.
In a recent interview for the Travelers Talks legal podcast, Stephanie spoke about how her move in childhood to the United States influenced her career path as a Black woman.
“I was overwhelmed by what people couldn’t access. By their low socioeconomic position because of the colour of their skin,” she said.
“Their voice could not be heard or wasn’t being heard. I absolutely believe that if you can see it, you can be it. History is peppered with people who have been visible role models, who have made the crooked path a bit straighter for everyone else.”
A look at the record
Research has shown that the more diverse businesses are, they are better positioned to innovate, adapt, and become more profitable.
While the legal profession has made progress in improving its record on diversity and inclusion, there is still work to be done. According to new research by the Law Society, Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors are earning less overall and occupy fewer senior positions than their White counterparts.
This is leading to an ethnicity pay gap of 25%, or a difference of £9.12 per hour. Beyond compensation, solicitors in these demographics also report lower levels of workplace wellbeing. They also say that the culture of law firms, particularly larger city firms, is not inclusive leading to lower retention.
In a separate Law Society study on LGBT+ equality and visibility, responses indicated overall progress but room for improvement.
While 97% of respondents reported feeling able to be themselves at work either sometimes (44%) or always (53%), other responses indicated a need for change.
For instance, 37% of respondents reported experiencing homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at work, and more than half of respondents said the lack of LGBT+ role models at work was a pressing issue for them.
In her role, Boyce sees an opportunity to make the legal profession more diverse and inclusive than the one she entered.
“There needs to be recognition that if you’re female, if you come from a Black or Asian or other minority ethnic background, if you are gay, if you are disabled, that you don’t have the same role models, you don’t have the same visibility and you possibly don’t have the same opportunity,” she said. “There is room for us all.”
What’s the best path to improving the landscape? Stephanie says that while having targets for increased representation can make organisations accountable, they aren’t sufficient.
To make targets more than simply a box-ticking exercise, they must be supported by an action plan with results that are measurable. This means that the end goal needs to be clear, and the data needs to be monitored periodically to track progress.
An important part of this is collecting feedback from the people that the initiatives are supposed to benefit. This will ensure that everything is working as intended and will provide confidential, safe spaces to report racism, bullying, harassment and microaggressions.
However, setting and managing diversity targets is only half the story. “It’s not enough to give someone a seat at the table if you don’t allow their voice to be heard,” she said.
“Senior leaders need to use their power and influence to drive initiatives which make workplaces more inclusive for everyone.”
As the motivational speaker Vernā Myers says, “diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance”. We’re all in this together.