By Legal Aware on

Ambiguous term is stunting debate, says LegalAware

The word ‘diversity’ is an unhelpful one, not least because it means different things to different people. I got a taste of this in the responses I received on Facebook and Twitter when I asked around 4,000 people what diversity meant to them. Responses included:

“Feel it’s a buzzword used everywhere that doesn’t really have any meaning; it hasn’t achieved equality.”

“Oh dear. ‘Dai (Welsh man’s name) ‘versity’ – syllables 2-4 of word university – geddit?”

“The inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures…)”

“Depends on the type of job but generally an unhelpful term”

There are official definitions for diversity and equality which make you realise how easily these terms are conflated in normal parlance. The term diversity refers to a culture and way of working that recognises, respects, and values our differences for the benefit of the organisation and for the individual. Equality means ensuring people are treated fairly and given fair chances; it is said that treating people equally does not always mean treating them the same. 

According to official statistics from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the number of practising solicitors by population with known disability status increased between 2009 and 2010 from 640 to 850 (although the number known not to be disabled also increased).

Their statistics for 2010 provide the following number of professionals by ethnic group: 8,000 Asian solicitors, 2,300 black solicitors, 1,000 Chinese solicitors, and 9,6000 white solicitors. Broadly speaking, this means Asians and Chinese are overrepresented in law relative to the general population, and black lawyers underrepresented. More details on the stats are available here.

But so what? Are firms supposed to hire more disabled solicitors, or solicitors from ethnic minorities for the sake of it? It’s my belief that law firms should be representative of society as a whole, and should be more keen on including disabled lawyers at all ranks of their firm.

Indeed, I believe that law firms would be better off investing money to make sure that this is the case, rather than simply spending money on marketing and promotional literature. I have explained my opinions in the comments to Alex Aldridge’s Guardian article on discrimination and the law earlier this year, and on my own student society blog.

I believe that an useful first-step in advancing the diversity debate would be to phase out the word ‘diversity’ from the terminology, because, far from encouraging individual differences, clumping people together – inappropriately – inadvertently abolishes key individual differences.

LegalAware is the head of the BPP Legal Awareness Society, and a keen and devoted legal blogger.

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