To facilitate change and
improve the retention and progression of candidates from diverse backgrounds,
the focus needs to be on inclusion. The big question is: are we trying to
assimilate people from diverse backgrounds into the established norms of the profession
or are we trying to change the culture of profession? I believe the answer
should be the latter.

We need to be careful to
avoid workplace diversity evolving into solely a business necessity, rather
than being driven by an emotive discourse and moral case for equality towards
the individual, leading to an enhanced performance.

Instead of focusing on the
outdated debate about the benefits of diversity in the workplace, let us focus
on the matter of inclusivity. Managing the diversity that now exists has become
a bigger problem. The approach to recruitment into the legal profession has
improved, but issues remain surrounding progression and retention. More women
are entering the profession than men; however, the proportion of female
partners at City firms is usually less than 25 per cent.

There should be a focus on
the procedures and safeguards that can be put in place by organisations to
ensure that the same opportunities are available to women who are mothers.

Many graduate recruitment
organisations focus on helping firms recruit ethnic minority trainees, but the
figures in relation to ethnic minority associates and partners are also low.
There remains an issue in relation to the progression of Black and Minority
Ethnic (BME) practitioners at the Bar, with only 6 per cent of QCs declaring
that they are BME (compared with 12 per cent of the practising Bar)
and 90 per cent declaring that they are white. There has been no change in
these figures since 2014.

There is a paradox at play
in the recruitment of diverse candidates in the legal profession. While some
chambers and firms would be happy to recruit a diverse candidate over an
equally qualified traditional candidate, this is only the first step in
overhauling the process. The lack of thought and provision for
diverse employees, who may already feel excluded from the mainstream, stunts
the growth of the legal profession and causes capable, bright, and enthusiastic
professionals to leave.

The dialogue now should be
focused on inclusivity and ensuring that diversity paradoxically becomes the

An illustration of this is
that, rather than firms making adjustments for specific employees, adjustments
could be made so that differences are not apparent. This can be done with, for
example, dietary requirements, by ensuring that food options are varied
enough to embrace all cultures without highlighting individual differences, and
with activities and team-building excursions that embrace people from all

Inclusivity is much more
difficult to implement in sectors deeply embedded in tradition. The social
norms were developed when the world was a different place, and politically
and socially at odds with the times we live in today. This means that the
issues are systemic and will require gradual and sustained cultural change.

But as the economy becomes
increasingly global and our workforce increasingly diverse, organisations’
success and competitiveness will depend on their ability to effectively
manage diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Tunde Okewale MBE is a
barrister practising from Doughty Street Chambers
Vol 160 no 25 28-06-16

Ed’s Note: This article was originally posted here.