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How to build gender diversity in the legal sector

January 26, 2023

Gender diversity is one of the most pressing topics in the legal sector. Especially in the wake of a pandemic which has disproportionately affected women, who have had to simultaneously juggle career and caring responsibilities. It is an issue that requires greater discussion – a discussion that we sought to continue with our latest webinar, Gender Diversity in the Legal Sector. Our co-founder and director Jacob Aitken was joined by leading HR and talent management consultant Kerry Jarred on 31st March 2022 to discuss the steps that the industry needs to take to support diverse talent.

Below are some of the key points from Jacob and Kerry’s conversation. If you missed the webinar, you can watch an on-demand recording in full here.

What is gender diversity?

As Kerry noted, “It’s an evolving space for everybody – a lot of the terms are evolving and adapting in that space, and there’s a recognition that it’s not just a male / female split.” Gender diversity is about breaking the barriers that plague perceptions of gender roles and capabilities. Whether this is the fabled limitations of female talent, parental leave for fathers, or any of the other issues that gender diversity and equality seeks to combat, it was also mentioned that “there’s a greater recognition of understanding each person as a whole person.” It is this deeper understanding that has “opened up a whole realm of possibilities for individuals and businesses” – and it is this realm of possibility that firms need to investigate.

“Initiatives and programmes can easily become a tick-box exercise if you don’t understand what the barriers are.”

What can firms do to build a more equitable future?

Central to the discussion were the concrete actions that firms can take to both reassure female talent entering the industry and support those already working within it:

• Mentorship – and reverse mentorship

• Alumni and ex-lawyer outreach programmes

• Return to work programmes

Actions to combat gender inequalities cannot operate in isolation. Although unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion training has its place, firms should take a “multi-pronged” approach. Challenging employees’ ways of thinking while supporting them with actions that tackle the greatest challenge – barriers to thinking what’s possible on a practical level.

“It’s about starting a conversation.”

The power of communication

One thing that unites all these actions is communication. Getting people involved from all levels and listening to a variety of voices is integral to their success. As Kerry said, “If you have a diverse working group, you’ll get much richer conversations”, and by inviting different stories to the conversation, it will result in a greater number of opportunities and potential actions. Storytelling is “not something that you just drip in. It has to flow through everything.” From auditing, to policy, to procedures, or even a firm’s tone, a firm’s commitment to improving gender diversity involves a company-wide embrace of all communications. Firms cannot just undertake “tick-box actions”, and if genuine action requires difficult conversations, do not be afraid to have them.

“We need people to take charge and challenge their peers.”

Embrace data

Jacob and Kerry noticed that firms are increasingly more comfortable at examining the data behind their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Similarly, legal directories are also asking firms to be more transparent with their diversity and inclusion data. In 2019, Chambers and Partners launched their D&I Charter and began to include diversity and inclusion criteria in their submissions process. Other directories such as The Legal 500 and IFLR1000 are also raising awareness of the importance of gender diversity. Analysing the numbers is one important measure of success, but the data must be understood as one of multiple critical success factors. While data is an indicator that work is moving in the right direction, feedback from working groups and the people that your initiatives are for is equally important.If you would like to learn more about gender diversity and legal directories, download our free white paper on the topic. A deep dive into the contemporary landscape of gender diversity in legal directories across the world, it also offers advice on improving your D&I rankings through your submissions.

“Unconscious bias is there, it’s real, and the first step is just to acknowledge that. And if you’re mindful of your own biases, you’re more likely to call yourself out on it.”

The future of gender diversity in the legal sector

There is more work to be done to build an inclusive and fair future for all incoming and existing talent in the legal industry. A huge amount of change has already happened, in part facilitated by a pandemic that enforced working from home and other changes that, in the past, may have been deemed revolutionary or beyond the scope of achievement. The barriers to gender diversity and inclusion are becoming more obvious and by the same token, we are identifying ways to deconstruct them. If we continue to break biases through conversation, engagement and outreach programmes, the future of the legal sector will be bright.

If you would like to hear more from Kerry and Jacob, simply click the button below to receive your free on-demand webinar recording. If you would like to learn more about how Kidd Aitken can help you leverage your diversity and inclusion initiatives through your legal directory submissions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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