ERF D&I European Legal Sector Article

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Ross Simpson

Burges Salmon, Bristol


Roxanne Ratcliff

Burges Salmon, Bristol


Why ED&I?

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) is a topic that is increasingly becoming part of core business strategy, no longer simply an issue for HR to consider. With increasing evidence that ED&I directly contributes to business outperformance, many business leaders today are looking to up their game in this space. Add in the fact that ED&I can help you capture the best talent and create a cohesive environment to keep that talent and you come to the question – how can we afford not to take this agenda seriously?

The current picture – intent but not reality (yet)

Three quarters of European organisations have diversity as a stated value or priority. However, over a third of these same organisations admit that diversity is currently a barrier to employee progression.[1] This alludes to the fact that that although the business community has good intentions regarding ED&I there are still structural, cultural and regional inequalities that are restricting the flow of diverse employees into our organisations.

In Germany, around a third of lawyers are female however women only make up one in ten partners in German law firms.[2] In the UK around three per cent of lawyers are disabled, compared to 13 per cent of the UK workforce being disabled. Gender, ethnic minorities, disability and LGBT+ are all areas through which European businesses generally have significant underrepresentation at management and senior management levels.

Driving better financial performance

It is worth noting at this stage that strong ED&I performance correlates with strong business performance. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.[3] Businesses in the top quartile for ethnic diversity on executive teams are also 36 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile.

Millennials and Gen Z - attracting the best talent

As businesses that have people as their main commodity, European law firms need to be attuned to what motivates our future talent. Those classed as Millennials (born 1981-96) and Gen-Z (born 1997-2012) are prime areas of focus. Research shows that these generations are often passionate about societal causes and want to work for businesses that reflect their values – whether it be diversity, addressing the climate crisis or community good. In a 2020 global survey of Millennials and Gen-Z, Deloitte found that job loyalty within these demographics increased as businesses addressed key employee needs, such as ED&I and sustainability.[4] Therefore wise leadership teams within law firms will be turning up the dial on ED&I focus in order to develop a stronger employer brand.

Where to start

Recognising that a strong approach to ED&I can have a significant positive impact on your firm, it can be difficult to know where to start in addressing what is a broad and nuanced topic. Many countries now have legal sector ED&I forums and these are a good place to understand the specific challenges in your region and meet other firms that can share good practice. There are also useful tools such as the PWC Global D&I Survey which can provide you with tailored feedback on how your business is performing and potential areas for improvement. Developing an authentic and ideally values driven approach is key. As with perhaps your approach to sustainability, collaboration and honesty are also important elements. ED&I is a topic upon which we can make the best progress by collaborating as an industry rather than focusing on individual gains. Admitting that no one business is perfect in this space but that we are willing to listen, learn and incrementally improve stands us in good stead - with our people, our clients and our stakeholders.

Case study: Burges Salmon, UK

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a strategic priority for Burges Salmon and is spearheaded by its Diversity and Inclusion Group, which reports directly to the Board.

One step which Burges Salmon has taken to deliver on its aim to widen access to the legal profession is implement a ‘Rare’ Contextual Recruitment System for graduate and apprentice recruitment. ‘Rare’ monitors socio-economic factors such as free school meals or first generation to go to university, and puts academic achievements into context depending on where applicants went to school. It helps to create a level playing field and means potential talent who might otherwise slip through the net is not missed. Burges Salmon has monitored the impact that using Rare’s contextual recruitment system has had on the diversity of its applications and recruits. Since introducing this system in 2016, over 35 per cent of graduate applications had at least one socioeconomic flag (e.g. free school meals, first generation to go to university) demonstrating engagement with a diverse talent pool. 25 per cent of trainees in 2019 were from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background.

More details on Burges Salmon’s approach and case studies on specific actions and initiatives taken can be found in their 2020 Responsible Business Report