It has been a week of contrasts. On Wednesday afternoon, IP Draughts was one of 67 people who participated in a two-hour Zoom discussion on social mobility in the IP professions. We were divided up into groups (in breakout rooms) to discuss themes. Our group discussed career development, including how to attract mature applicants into the professions.
Each group was required to propose both immediate actions and longer-term actions. An immediate action that our group came up with was adding material to the recruitment part of firm websites to focus on the needs of older people. It was pointed out that many IP firm websites are focused on fresh-faced, eager young graduates.
On longer-term actions, IP Draughts proposed that each firm should have someone at partner level whose job was to influence “hearts and minds” among the partnership in favour of diversity actions.
No matter how enlightened we think we are, it is human nature to select people in our own image. We feel comfortable with our own kind. A conscious effort needs to be made to think differently.
Sometimes, IP Draughts worries that if you move too fast, or create a group-think among so-called enlightened people, while not carrying with you others who care less about these issues, the result may be counterproductive. Perhaps we need to focus on the worst excesses before getting too starry-eyed about the ideal scenario. Yes, he knows the counter-arguments to this gradualist approach, but it doesn’t stop him having the concerns.
There is still plenty to tackle at the extreme end of the spectrum. This week, a young, black, female barrister tweeted about her experience of being challenged at court three times in one day by people who assumed she was a defendant or journalist. She commented about how mentally draining this was. Her tweets were picked up by the national press, resulting in a public apology by the civil servant in charge of the English courts.
Apologies sound good, but what would really make a difference is spending significant sums of money on staff training across the thousands of people employed in the courts.
The solicitors’ profession is not immune from extremely questionable behaviour. A report has just been published by the Bridge Group on research commissioned by nine leading commercial law firms. It seems that 53% of partners at those firms attended private schools, which is a huge percentage compared with the number of people in the population who attended private schools. People from lower socio-economic backgrounds took a year and a half longer on average to reach partner, while women took nearly a year longer than men.
Thinking about the IP professions, in IP Draughts’ view the issue is a little different. It is more about intellectual attitudes than social attitudes – put crudely, which university you attended, rather than which school. But the exclusionary effect is similar, and it disadvantages many of the same people.
One comment in the report that struck a chord with IP Draughts was from someone who referred to the extra energy required to fit in with the dominant group.
IP Draughts thinks back to his experience in a London law firm 30 years ago, when for several years he put additional energy (i.e. beyond that required for the work itself) into fitting in with the partners’ needs, to some extent suppressing his natural instincts. After several years of doing this, he came to the conclusion that the effort was wasted. He found this realisation disillusioning. No doubt he was naive, and perhaps the partners weren’t even aware of the efforts he was making. He lacked a mentor with whom he could discuss such things.
Well done to the firms for commissioning the research. Now, what are you going to do about this strikingly non-diverse data?
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