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Blog - Unconscious bias in law firms – why we need to do more than raise awareness

Unconscious bias in law firms – why we need to do more than raise awareness

Posted by Tracy Powley 06/01/15

AwarenessJust 18.6% of partners across the UK’s top 20 law firms are women, according to research published by The Lawyer magazine, even though their intake of trainees is fairly evenly balanced between men and women.

And these statistics lag far behind other sectors – many of which could be perceived as equally conservative and male dominated. At Lloyds banking group, for example, 28 % of senior roles are held by women and it is targeting 40 % by 2020.

Despite most firms having clear diversity and inclusion policies, many being part of the 30% club and having networks to support women and ethnic minority staff, the figures show something is not working.

Unconscious bias is a way of explaining what is going on in firms – that despite all the increased awareness around the business case for diversity underpinned by legislation in the form of the Equalities act, bias, particularly against women and BME groups, persists.

Helping partners and managers in law firms understand unconscious bias and explore how we all have prejudices buried within us is a good first step. We all demonstrate preferences for one set of characteristics over another, depending on our past experiences and influences. We like people we perceive to be like ourselves. It is human nature.

Becoming aware of how these subconscious preferences can affect our decision-making and interaction at work is vital if firms are to stop bias creeping into areas such as deciding who to recruit into the firm, who should be promoted or who should be given that high profile case.

But awareness is only the first step. What firms must also do is to equip partners and managers to make changes to their own behaviour and have the confidence to intervene when others’ behaviour or actions show signs of bias.
Research from the ENEI (Employers network for equality and inclusion) cites that managers admit to feeling anxious about “saying the wrong thing” to people different to them.

What is needed is open, honest discussion around these anxieties and guidance to develop the confidence to open up conversations, ask good open questions that stop assumptions being made and ensure all team members are treated fairly, no matter who they are.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the figures clearly show this isn’t happening. The white, male dominated leaders of the legal profession persist in recruiting and promoting in their own likeness.

Invest in explaining the neuroscience and raise awareness for sure – but also help your partners and managers to take action and actually change their behaviour... that is what will start to make the difference.

Click here for more information on how we can help your partners and managers reduce the effects of bias in your organisation  or have a look at other firms we have worked with in this area or call us on 01903 732 782 or email us

Tracy Powley
Tracy Powley

The way we behave towards each other in the workplace has a direct impact on individual wellbeing, team performance and organisational results. This belief has underpinned our work at Focal Point for over 20 years and has never been more relevant. We are privileged to work with a huge variety of organisations wanting to get workplace behaviour and culture right - and to tackle the inappropriate behaviour that may get in the way of this. Supported by our fantastic team of facilitators and coaches, we are able to make a real difference to peoples’ lives as well as organisational performance. Having worked in both large businesses at management level and in 2 start ups at director level, I am able to combine hands on experience of growing and managing teams - and the associated challenges in creating the right culture - with over 20 years in learning and development. I hold the Certificate in Training Practice and am a member of CIPD. When I am not supporting clients or developing the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...

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