I’m a black female aspiring solicitor: Is my glass ceiling double glazed?

If you’ve been within a mile radius of any City firm, sniffed its brochure or browsed through its ‘About Us’ section on its website, I’m sure you have heard of the D word.

No, not Doomsday… I’m talking about DIVERSITY. It’s the new buzzword. Gone are the days where law firms were proud of being pale, male and stale. Now they are attempting to embrace the variety of all demographics.

Plainly put, diversity is most commonly associated with a differentiation of race, gender or sexual orientation. But more broadly, it can be applied to any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another, including age and religious background. When it comes to law firms, diversity initiatives are the measures implemented to embrace these differences.

Now you might be wondering why you need to know about this. Well, most law firms will want to see that you understand the importance of diversity and as a result match their values.

Here are four reasons why diversity is important to law firms:

1. It is the morally right thing to do:

Well firstly, this is a bit of an obvious one, but a push for diversity is the right thing to do. We live in a world where we are all different, yet still of value to one another. Essentially, it makes sense to appreciate this and to not discriminate or exclude others based on differences alone.

2. It allows for collaboration of different perspectives:

The law is moving at a fast pace and clients are no longer looking for simple legal advice; they are demanding creative solutions from their legal advisors. Creativity sets a firm apart from its competitors. And the more pools of knowledge a firm can draw ideas from, the more innovative it can be. This allows it to offer its clients a greater variety of solutions to a problem.

And particularly for global firms, diversity can ensure that teams have a wide knowledge of different cultures and customs. Needless to say, this is beneficial when dealing with cross-border and cross-jurisdictional cases.

3. It makes business sense:

Diversity brings in the moniesss!

Rosie: this is what I imagine having money feels like.

Research shows that companies with a diverse leadership and team perform better financially. It has long been recognised that clients appreciate diversity in the workplace and a visible diverse team brings in more clients.

4. It improves morale and lowers staff turnover:

Embracing people’s differences and allowing them to be themselves fosters a sense of self-identity and encourages people to perform at their highest ability. They are comfortable enough to provide valuable input. This is especially important as a lack of diverse representation may contribute to BAME solicitors choosing to leave the profession due to feeling like they don’t fit in. Representation at senior levels is particularly important, as this allows junior members of staff to see them as role models.

A diverse workforce allows for formal and informal mentoring, and may just be the support a BAME individual needs to not feel out of place. Thus improving the retention rate of employees.

What does this mean for my career?

As you can tell, there are some really strong arguments supporting diversity. So as a young, black aspiring solicitor, I can expect my career to be nothing short of a series of successes. Akin to running through fields of flowers on my way to Partnership.

kermit field

*Freeze scene*

Nope. Life is not that simple.

Success is not handed out to all of us, and even if all the stars align, some of us are in a better position than others to actually succeed. And this idea is something that has been drilled into me ever since I started university. I’ve lost count of how many times, lecturers, guest speakers and the media have spoken about the injustices people face due to their gender or their race.

WOMEN are at a disadvantage. BLACK PEOPLE are at a disadvantage. So, what happens when you’re BOTH? Will my struggles be multi-faceted? Will I get a double scoop of discrimination? Will the glass ceiling be double glazed?

It’s pretty hard to come to terms with this before you’ve even ripped the labels off your brand-new-nicely-fitting-but-awkwardly-sitting suit. Before you’ve even had a chance to sneak a glance up to the glass ceiling. Alas, at least I’ll be prepared. Also, I should be encouraged by the fact that firms do seem to be pushing for diversity and inclusion (at least they’re trying, right?) But… can I really be comforted by this?

Here are some of the questions I ask myself:

Am I a queen (the one my mother raised me to be- full of self-belief and wonderful qualities) or a quota-filler?

Research shows that firms with a diverse leadership and team perform better financially. And let’s face it, it looks good to the public when a firm appears to be inclusive. But, is it genuine? I heard a black female lawyer say that a firm tried to persuade her to wear her hair in an afro on picture day, despite that not being her usual hairstyle. So as good as diversity and inclusion sound on paper, is it really genuine? Or is it a front? As a black female, will I be hired based on my abilities or simply to fill a quota? A mere tick-boxing exercise?

It’s only 30%?! Waiter… get me something stronger.

In my last job, there were talks about a 30% club, an initiative with a goal to have at least 30% women at senior level. As much as I appreciate the idea, I was hardly jumping for joy at the thought. Despite a profession having over 50% women in it, the aim was to have 30% in senior roles. This is hardly proportional representation. *Sigh.* Don’t even get me started on the numbers of black women in senior roles. Research shows we’re still lagging behind.

If that’s not 50:50, I’m sending it back.

Training the unconscious-  how are we planning on doing that??

So one thing my last job was good at was providing training. However, one session which stuck with me was a on unconscious bias. In a nutshell, it was on how our subconscious perceptions affect our interactions with others. The training aimed to help raise awareness of subconscious preconceptions which can cause biases within decision making processes. This is all well and good, but upon leaving the session I felt unfulfilled. I couldn’t help but think the session promoted mere tolerance, rather than genuine understanding and respect.

I guess I can take comfort in the fact I am bright enough, and ambitious enough to become a lawyer. And while I can’t change my skin colour or my gender, really…I don’t want to. Despite all the diversity issues discussed in this post, I haven’t yet felt the need to view either as a negative thing. I guess when it comes to discrimination issues, that bridge will get crossed when I get there. Equality and diversity laws have changed black and minor ethnic people’s lives for the better. Have changed women’s lives for the better. But there’s still much more to be done. We’ve tackled the surface of the issue, but now it’s time to attempt to dig deeper.



ChrisThis article was written by Christiane Sungu.

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