Not only am I humbled by the trust that the Council has placed in me to take the helm, I am also immensely proud to be part of a team that embraces the values of diversity and inclusion. Most of our members are familiar with Vice Presidents Amirali Nasir, Brian Gilchrist and C M Chan. The Council’s election of the four of us, who represent diversity in gender, culture, religion, ethnicity and legal practice, speaks volumes about the inclusive culture we have at the Council.
There is increasing evidence shown by different research studies that diversity brings a higher chance of success to an operation. A diverse workforce is able to enrich the network of the operation, address a wider spectrum of client demands and is more sensitive to cultural differences. These added values help expand the client base.
For the legal profession, a striking diversity deficiency is gender imbalance. The proportion of women varies at different stages of the career path in a law firm. Women made up about 59% of trainee solicitors, 60% of assistant solicitors, 36% of consultants and 28% of partners (as of 20 July 2018). While more than half of the new entrants to the profession are female, only about one quarter at the senior level are female.
It has been argued that it is a conscious choice on the part of the women lawyers that they do not progress to leadership positions. However, is it indeed a conscious choice on their part or is it the result of an unconscious bias embedded in a firm’s process of decision making on matters like allocation of work and job promotion that leads to the loss of women talent at the top? That is a question for the decision makers to reflect on.
Whatever the cause, the hard fact is that a substantial proportion of female solicitors are dropping out along the way. If this trend of talent loss continues, the profession will have difficulty sustaining its growth in the long term, having regard to the trend that the majority of the new entrants are likely to be female in the foreseeable future.
A diverse workforce needs to be supported by an inclusive work environment. Inclusion allows staff to feel respected and valued and they are likely to stay with the employer longer leading to improved staff retention. This in turn saves costs in recruiting and training replacement staff, maintains productivity, and minimizes disruption to clients.
When the results of the 2018 Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) were recently released in July, there were extensive media reports on how a student who had special education needs (“SEN”) with only 10% vision acuity excelled in the examination and scored 5** in two subjects. The story highlighted how an inclusive school environment had helped not only the student with SEN but also everyone else in the school who learned to appreciate diversity and to respect differences. The student, despite her vision impairment, was elected head girl by her fellow schoolmates.
In 2017, similarly another SEN student who suffered from high bone fracture risks (osteogenesis imperfecta) scored excellent results in HKDSE and gained admission into the law faculty of the University of Hong Kong.
These are all very encouraging examples of how an inclusive school environment can nurture success. Very soon, these SEN students will graduate and join the workforce. As members of the workforce, we must all contribute to ensuring that the inclusive culture extends to the workplace.
The Law Society has long adopted a very clear statement of diversity and inclusion principles and we have also encouraged members to do the same. Some firms may find it helpful to have practical guidance on how to turn their commitment to diversity and inclusion into positive action for their practices, staff and clients. The Law Society will review how we can further assist our members.
As we study the experiences of other jurisdictions in advancing the principles of diversity and inclusion, the collection of relevant data relating to gender, ethnicity, disability and other areas for diversity profiling is a major first step. The development of a set of diversity and inclusion standards will also help set the benchmarks for firms to measure how their practices, policies and procedures are positioned. Some kind of self-assessment tool is also useful to help identify which specific areas in a firm’s operation need improvement. Further, providing practitioners with opportunities to share best practice advice and guidance with their counterparts from across the profession and collating a database of examples of practical implementations to achieve diversity and inclusion are also worth further consideration.
In the meantime, should members have any views or suggestions on the promotion of diversity and inclusion in legal practices, you are most welcome to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.