The role of the EDI committee is to increase the understanding and awareness of the issues affecting those groups with characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010 and developing practical ways of addressing those issues.
The committee is divided into the following sub-committees which, with the exception of age, mirror the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010:
REACH (Race, Ethnicity & Cultural Heritage) Religion
As age is considered to be a characteristic that affects everyone, the expectation is that this will be considered across groups, as is well-being (which is not a protected characteristic in itself).
The structure of the committee is flexible, meaning that people can sit on more than one sub-committee or swap about. Further, sub-committees can collaborate on issues that affect more than one group.
The widening impact of the pandemic did not dent the committee members’ commitment to ensuring that EDI remained high on the BLS engender. The importance of the issue was emphasised by the global reaction to the death of George Floyd, which led us to take a serious look at what was being done to improve equality, diversity, and inclusion both within BLS and its member firms.
The REACH committee organised 3 round tables with senior managers and leaders of member firms, providing an opportunity for them to share practical ideas of the steps that they were taking to attract more black recruits, encourage opportunities for black staff members to progress within firms and to retain staff members. In addition to the opportunity for the discussion, the members received information from experts in the field of recruitment and employment as well as hearing some more personal stories of aspiring and actual black lawyers’ experiences in the legal profession.
Those roundtables marked only the beginning of what will be a continuing process to support firms in effecting real and positive change. Part of the thinking is that if ideas and action can tackle the particularly intransigent issue of discrimination against black lawyers, the resulting successful strategies should (with adaptations as necessary) encompass all underrepresented groups in all strata of the profession.
The sub-committees are making increasingly imaginative use of social media with the Disability sub-committee sending out a series of tweets for Disability Awareness Day in July 2020 and the Social Mobility sub-committee organising a Twitter Take over with Birmingham University, answering questions from students.
Undeterred by the inability for face-to-face networking, the Social Mobility sub-committee organised a virtual RAIL (Raising Aspirations in Law) event, which was well attended and received, despite some technical difficulties which led to some students being imprisoned in the same breakout room for longer than expected. However, positively, this led to them being able to obtain more detailed information from the professionals that they were with than might otherwise have been the case. This sub-committee also aimed to dispel the stereotypical impression that many people have of lawyers (posh, white, male) which may prevent them from either seeking to join the profession or seeking legal advice. The innovative aural piece – “This is What a Lawyer Sounds Like” should be circulating soon, no doubt to be followed by “This is What a Lawyer Looks Like” at some point next year. Just to make sure that every base was covered, members of the sub-committee also published Top Tips for Junior Lawyers, using each letter of the word COVID to form the basis of advice for coming successfully through the pandemic.
The women’s mentoring project launched by the Gender sub-committee continues. We are currently in the process of collecting data from participants for evaluation. The sub-committee also produced an extremely well-received virtual session about menopause, packed with lots of interesting and practical information from a range of speakers about symptoms, the impact on work, self-care, and tips for employers in terms of how best to create a supportive culture and environment, as well as their duties to do so. It was pleasing to note that men also attended the event, which is what EDI is all about.
The Gender sub-committee leads on BLS support for the Equal to Everything Project, aiming to get the story about Baroness Brenda Hale into as many schools as possible. They are aiming for a target of 260 books; are more than half where there and edging closure so donations for the purchase of books are still welcome.
The Disability sub-committee hosted a panel event in October 2020 to raise awareness of World Mental Health Day in which legal professionals on the panel shared their own experience of mental ill-health, providing practical advice for improving your own. Again, that combination of personal experience and practical solutions was very well received, augmented by the presence of a member of LawCare who was able to provide an overview of the impact of the pandemic in terms of the increase in the calls that they were receiving and also providing useful advice.
These are not all of the events that the committee has produced in the last year but give a good indication of the energy and commitment of the group and what it has to offer. The only disappointment is that the Forum on the BLS website is not yet sufficiently used as a vehicle for members to share their views on anything, from any EDI concerns to issues affecting the legal profession generally.
We are now becoming more strategic in our thinking which should enable us to become even more effective both as a committee and a society. Individual committees have been encouraged to prepare EDI plans based on their areas of responsibility, considering the impact of the issues both on the lawyers in those areas, as well as clients.
The President, Inez Brown, an ex officio member of the committee, spearheaded the introduction of an EDI category for the Legal Awards and EDI will now become a standing item on the agenda for Council meetings. There is a recognition that we have to embed the principles of EDI within the culture and structure of the society if we are to offer proper support to our members. We look forward to an exciting year ahead as we hope and prepare for more opportunities to meet face to face and begin preparing in earnest to ensure that BLS has the opportunity to shine as part of the Commonwealth Games.