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Is disability the last hurdle of diversity?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 20/11/15

Conversations about diversity have historically been held all across the legal sector, with the universal conclusion that gender, race, sexuality etc should not impact one’s career progression within the field. Yet one area seems to be falling behind the rest; that of disability. According to statistics gathered by The Lawyer, an online source of legal news, despite 19% of the UK’s population and 16% of working-age adults living with a disability, only 1% of individuals at the smallest firms report this to their workplaces – a number which falls to 0.7% at larger organisations.

Waqas Zaib, chairman of the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division, has explained that,

“The main reason we believe that membership to the division is low is that people do not want to disclose a disability. A lot of individuals believe that if their employer knew of their disability they would be treated less favourably or it may lead to a negative impact on their career.”

This is obviously a sensitive area, and many even argue that lawyers should not have to disclose delicate information like this. But it does seem that there can be no apt way of offering appropriate support – and therefore aiding progression within the sector – if people with disabilities remain anonymous. As we discussed in a previous blog, mentoring or even feeling that there is an awareness of disability towards the top of firms can be useful for those who don’t see anyone “like them” at senior level and so conclude that a partnership is unattainable.

Zaid continued,

“We need to continue to challenge the notions that disclosing a disability will have negative implications, that expensive adjustments need to be made to employ someone with a disability or that disabled people can’t carry out work as well as their able-bodied colleagues.”

It is more important than ever that we get this dialogue going within organisations and the wider sector – and not just for disabled candidates. These professionals represent a vast pool of untapped talent which, if engaged with, could dramatically boost the success of firms.