Author: Tom Armstrong, Business Development Manager.
BARBRI are committed to increasing social mobility within the legal sector through initiatives like the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification fund, also known as SWSQF, as well as partnerships with organisations like refugee charity Breaking Barriers. Under the BARBRI Bridges initiative, we are hoping to continue to play our part in making the legal sector in England and Wales an environment that promotes equal opportunity and removes barriers to entry.
Although BARBRI as an organisation, and the legal market generally, has taken many steps to increase social mobility in the industry, data from the Social Mobility Commission and the SRA shows there is still some way to go to bridge the gap between the demographics of the workforce in England and Wales, and those of the legal sector. Currently 64% of the national workforce is categorised as working class, ‘lower’ socio economic background, or intermediate background. When compared to the legal sector (39% in the aforementioned categories) there is clearly more to be done to increase social mobility.
There is a multitude of data to suggest more diverse workforces can lead to increased productivity, innovation, and problem-solving capabilities within an organisation, so bringing aboard a non-homogeneous team is shown to be worth the time invested.
Here are a few actions to consider when looking at increasing social mobility within your organisation:
Measure your current employee data and see how you can improve
One clear action you should take before implementing any policy, is to see how your organisation currently supports candidates, and what your employee demographic data is. For example, amongst law firms 22.5% of employees attended a fee paying school (compared to 7.5% nationally) and 58% have a professional socio-economic background (compared to 37% nationally). If you find yourself above industry standards (which is still comparatively poor to the national levels), set your own standards higher. Every organisation holds a responsibility to improve individually in order to make an impact collectively.
Analyse how your recruitment process may be negatively impacting candidates
Organisations typically require multiple interviewing stages, with in-person interviews widely accepted as necessary. However, this may lead to an unlevel playing field, and an application process that’s not accessible to all candidates. There are a multitude of social mobility cold spots throughout the UK, which is defined as areas where social mobility outcomes are relatively bad. Many of these cold spots are difficult to navigate to London from, and as many of the potential talent groups there typically come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, their ability to travel to major cities for in-person interviews is severely impacted. Also, many would not have anyone in their network who have been through similar interview processes, so even if they could travel, they may underperform as they are not able to prepare to the same level as other candidates. Small changes such as conducting interviews over the phone and offering online assessments can mitigate this. Where in person interviews are necessary, you can consider offering a detailed brief of what this would entail to give more insight to those who aren’t familiar with this environment.
Obtain company wide buy-in, especially from the top down
For policies to be successful, there must be buy-in from all employees, especially senior leadership. This can ensure that policies aren’t just implemented but monitored and improved consistently. This can be done by using anonymised questionnaires and other self-report devices that give employees who may be most affected by the changes a chance to give their opinion freely.
Constantly seek improvement
Once areas for improvement are identified, and policies are put in place to remedy these, you may find the need to do it all again. With every new individual that joins your company, and an ever-changing working environment, the need to review these policies, and the data that informed their implementation, is vital.
Actively show commitment
Just implementing policies and practices to try and increase social mobility isn’t enough. These need to be widely publicised to make sure the general market is aware of the policies. How can candidates apply for positions? Offering public opportunities, like short insight sessions and work experience, to improve knowledge of what working in the legal sector entails for candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds can help pique more interest in the legal industry. It can also position the wider market to benefit from a more diverse candidate pool to choose from in all stages of the recruitment process.
The government updates their State of the Nation report yearly, and through the Social Mobility Index, organisations can highlight social mobility cold spots to fish for more diverse talent. By showing a commitment to improving accessibility, through creating more opportunities for lower socio-economic candidates to learn about the legal industry, how to start a career in it, and offering an equal opportunity recruitment process, we can all aid diversity in the industry to make legal a place for all.
If you would like to speak further on this topic, or you would like to learn more about BARBRI’s commitment to social mobility please feel free to reach out.
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