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Are role models the key to diversifying the legal sector?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 13/11/15

Recent data released by The Lawyer, an online source of legal industry news, briefings and insights, revealed that there “has been absolutely no movement in the proportion of female partners at the top 200 UK firms over the past five years, while senior lawyers are still shying away from revealing things like their educational background or sexual orientation.”

Margaret Taylor, a writer at The Lawyer, argues that the reason behind this is that there is a serious lack of role models in senior positions who are available to mentor others. She cites a recent report which found that one in three young female lawyers had already lost interest in progressing to senior management and only 23% thought there were good role models in their firms.

She then concludes that other areas of diversity are affected in the same way. Because many senior partners are reluctant to identify themselves as bisexual or bipolar, for example, younger members of the firm may not see anyone “like them” at a senior level, and may conclude that partnership will be unattainable. In this way, it would be mutually beneficial for existing partners to be open about their diversities in order to breed a culture of role models and mentorship.

Yet surely this has to be relative to each individual practice – some are, of course, likely to have more a more liberal approach to both recruitment and diversity. Perhaps it is important both for institutions to consider exactly what methods would make their cultures more inviting for a universal workforce, and for individual candidates to use their diversities as an asset, rather than something to be covered up.

In this way, I agree that role models could be useful in making a significant change to the diversity of the legal sector, not only to inspire those at lower levels to reach for partnerships, but also to reiterate the importance of diversity at a senior level and bring a whole plethora of people to the forefront when it comes to questions of promotion.