On Thursday 10th February 2022, LCAM hosted the City of London Corporation’s taskforce to boost socio-economic diversity at senior levels in UK Financial and Professional services for a private roundtable discussion with leaders in the legal sector. It was an engaging and thought-provoking discussion that touched on a lot of different areas of consideration for improving diversity in this metric.

Common consensus

A common point in the discussion was that a lot is being done at entry-level, something I have personal experience with. Whilst at university I was on the executive committee of a large cultural society and given the intersection between socio-economic circumstance and race, a large proportion of our sponsors engaged to boost recruitment in these underserved demographics. Universities are a huge hub for recruitment in general, and the promotion of contextualized recruitment systems makes clear to students that socio-economic status, disability, caring responsibilities and educational standards where they grew up have an increasing part to play in consideration for employment.

Follow-through: Targets and data

As for translating this influx of diversity at the recruitment level into more senior positions? Target setting was a topic for discussion on the day and views were varying. For firms that have already set targets, they were seen as generally positive even when they were not reached, as the existence of the targets provided an impetus for the firm to create change. The view that large firms ought to have been setting targets already due to having the capacity and resources to do so was also expressed, then countered with the ability of smaller firms to make changes quicker, without as many bureaucratic delays. However, how should targets for socio-economic diversity be set? What should the parameters be? In my view, the process for setting targets should be as broad as possible, accounting for socio-economic factors that would have affected the employees education and upbringing as well as their ability to progress within the organisation thus far.

Building on this, the collection of data for this metric is also susceptible to stumbling blocks. As it stands, data for socio-economic diversity is practically non-existent, so there is no jumping off point for where data collection should even start from. Moreover, a firm idea of where the data should go or count towards was also said to be lacking. Without a start, end or clear purpose, I reflected that a focused, and perhaps separate, examination of the use of data to improve socio-economic diversity was needed.

Education: schools and apprenticeships

An interesting point raised was where discussions of socio-economic diversity should start from. The study of law is largely absent from the UK curriculum – my personal first experience of law was at university. The mystique around the legal profession starts early, with most picturing lawyers as high-flying, fancy city professionals, a far-off dream for children of low socio-economic circumstances. The inclusion of law or stronger careers advice at school-level helps would bolster the conversation around all areas of diversity simply by introducing it to a wider-pool of people earlier.

Additionally, socio-economic diversity in any profession needs to take into account what the qualifying routes are into the profession. As someone that has an unspeakable amount of student debt from four years at university and needed a scholarship to complete the bar course, I can lead the calls for the legal profession to provide more accessible routes to qualification. Nevertheless, a luke-warm reception to the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route shows that there is hesitation when this is done. Apprenticeships are a viable and practical means of entry to the profession, especially for those that need to be earning while they are learning. And yet, newer qualification routes are creating almost a tiered system of entry that, at very worst, can be cause for preferential treatment. In my opinion, the perception of apprenticeships is in need of a great overhaul in order to prevent such a distinction.

Conclusion

All in all, the work of the taskforce is incredibly important and the results they produce will have a lasting impact on the fabric of professional services. Although there are difficult questions to answer, starting the conversation is the first step and I am happy that LCAM is playing a role in this. Following this up with positive action will make the difference.

You can find out more about the work of the taskforce and how to get involved here.

Eleanor Umeyor, LCCI Research Assistant – National