Black History Month and why it matters

  • 14/10/2021


Black History Month was first celebrated in the UK in October 1987 and has been celebrated every October ever since. Black History Month is a tribute to those from African and Caribbean backgrounds for their significant contributions to civilisation in past and present times, as well as being an opportunity to raise awareness and teach others about black culture.


Cultural shift and the effect on businesses

Amidst Covid-19, lockdown gave most people greater time for reflection and the opportunity to think beyond their everyday lives. This is arguably one of the reasons why the widespread footage of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked such global outrage, causing May 2020 to be the start of a long-awaited shift in how race and inequality is viewed in modern-day society.

One area of focus in particular was race and inequality within businesses. In 2020, employment tribunals in the UK saw a 48% increase in the number of race discrimination claims made. Whilst we are unable to conclude whether this is due to more instances of race discrimination taking place, we can be pretty sure that people from ethnic minorities now feel more comfortable to speak out about their experiences due to the impact of recent events. Businesses have a duty now more than ever to tackle racial inequality within their organisations, law firms included.


The benefits of EDI in law firms

Not only will promoting racial diversity within law firms establish a culture which creates an inclusive and healthy work environment for their staff and employees, but it will also benefit firms in terms of their business development. It allows for a pool of knowledge and understanding across a number of cultures, permitting access to a wider talent pool when recruiting and permitting access to more areas of the market when seeking new clients.


What can be done to encourage change in the legal profession?

Whilst by now most law firms have policies in place to tackle racism, it is clear that just having a policy is not enough. We must go beyond meeting diversity quotas and box ticking.  Conversations about race and inequality are counterproductive if real change does not follow them, which begs the question: what is your firm doing to promote equality, diversity and inclusion within their organisation?

Three practical ways that you and your firm can show an appreciation of difference and drive inclusion within the legal sector are:

  1. Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Training– EDI training for management and employees will help to make sure that there is a firm wide awareness and understanding of effective diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace, regardless of whether people are in the office or working from home.
  2. Recruitment – Many businesses across the board have been under the spotlight about the racial makeup of their workforces, making diverse recruitment a priority for employers. Some popular methods of diverse recruiting include offering careers talks, mentoring programmes and legal internships to allow the best talent from ethnic minorities to have access to law firms and the people within them, which they may not have otherwise. That said, diverse recruitment should not just be limited to entry level staff and should be reflected at all levels within a law firm, from paralegals to partners.
  3. Networking – Over the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of BAME non-profit organisations across the UK promoting racial diversity in the legal community, partnering with some of the top law firms. Beyond sponsorship law firms should be collaborating with networks such as these to organise career development workshops and networking events for black people in the legal profession, addressing issues surrounding black retention and career progression.

Miah Gordon, JMW Solicitors LLP and MLS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee