[Originally published 16 April 2019]
The excellent recent biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsberg "On the Basis of Sex" highlighted that judges cannot ignore cultural change when it comes to sex discrimination. Similarly, law firms can no longer afford to ignore the commercial necessity to embrace diversity and inclusion. Earlier this year 170+ US General Counsel, mainly women, issued an open letter challenging US law firms on their diversity efforts arguing they are often perfunctory given “partnership classes remain largely male and largely white”. The letter warned law firms that those failing to deliver on diversity would no longer be instructed: "It is not enough to commit your firm to diversity during the recruiting process or to hire a diversity and inclusion officer and expect that person can effect change without the full commitment of each member of the firm." They are demanding firms to 'walk the walk' not just 'talk the talk'.Since then 65+ GCs in the UK and Europe have signed a statement of support for diversity and inclusion which gives law firms on this side of the Atlantic a similar nudge to embrace change if they wish to retain their business.Almost exactly a year ago large law firms in the UK published their gender pay gap statistics for the first time. They are in the process of publishing their statistics for second time. Some law firms have gone further - Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have joined fellow firms Baker McKenzie, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Gowling WLG in reporting their ethnicity pay gap alongside their gender pay gap, in an effort to foster a broader definition of diversity and transparency. These are all steps in the right direction. Clearly, however, there is still much room for improvement: diversity and inclusion do not just relate to visible differences such as gender or ethnicity - there is still a long way to go with regard to invisible differences such as religion, gender/sexual orientation and mental health conditions such as autism.
Sixty-five general counsel from major companies in the U.K. and Europe have signed a statement calling for law firms to push harder for diverse ranks.