Promoting a good working culture in law firms - Part 2: The importance of wellbeing in the workplace
One of the key responsibilities for any employer is to create an inclusive workplace culture where all individuals feel respected and supported. To be clear, the responsibility in respect of EDI does not stop at mere compliance with relevant legislative requirements, as these only set the basic minimum standard employers should be seeking to achieve. Nonetheless, it is helpful to set out, briefly, what these legal obligations are.
First, there is the overarching Equality Act 2010, which brought together extant legislation previously covering a range of EDI areas, such as race relations and sex and disability discrimination. The Equality Act now provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.
In relation to the legal services sector, there are further key obligations in relation to EDI.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which regulates law firms and those working within them, also sets out key obligations in respect of encouraging EDI and prohibiting discriminatory behaviour in its recently launched Standards and Regulations (StaRs):
Legislation sets the minimum legal obligations, those being to ensure that your firm takes steps to remove potential discrimination, harassment and victimisation. It is clear however, that your regulatory obligations extend beyond mere compliance with the law: not only is an inclusive approach increasingly recognised as a commercial imperative for businesses, but it is also a fundamental component of promoting an optimal workplace culture.
What firms choose to put in place, in terms of appropriate policies and procedures relating to EDI, will no doubt be proportionate to, and dependent upon, the nature of the business and the size of the firm. Accordingly, to give effect to these obligations in the day-to-day running of your firm, and with the intention of improving your firm’s culture, you may want to think about the types of EDI policies and procedures you want to implement, or at least update, in order to achieve fair outcomes. As we discussed in our first blog , culture is not static and this means your EDI policies and initiatives cannot be set in stone. They will need regular re-visiting and updating and will need to reflect the firm’s regulatory obligations in addition to the basic requirements set out in the underpinning legislation.
Here are some key steps you might want to consider implementing:
This does not need to be complicated, but will need to be a comprehensive statement about what EDI means for your workforce, clients and other third parties you deal with. This document is not to be confused with your actual EDI Policy. This policy statement might include information about your commitment to the principles of EDI as well as setting out any legislative requirements. Such a statement usually states that you have a workplace culture which does not, for example, tolerate harassment or bullying (often referred to as a “zero-tolerance” approach).
or review the one you have in place - the Policy should outline your approach to key issues such as recruitment, retention and progression and be outward-facing so that clients understand how you are seeking to encourage equality of opportunity and respect for diversity within your workforce – ultimately these are the individuals acting for your clients.
in light of the LSB’s statutory guidance. You will need to be thinking about how you collect, monitor, analyse and report (this includes publishing) diversity of both your own workforce and of your clients. You must not see this simply as a tick-box exercise to comply with the requirements set by your oversight regulator and implemented by the SRA, but rather, as an opportunity to better understand the needs of your staff and clients. It might also highlight areas where you need to improve your performance and the quality of service you are providing to your clients.
from the data you have collected and analysed. Again, you will want to explore presenting this information in a way which works best for your firm, particularly with regard to any highlighted weaknesses or areas for improvement. These initiatives are likely to be different depending on your firm, but examples might relate to increasing representation of female and/or BAME solicitors at more senior levels in your firm, or recruiting trainees or apprentices from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
or review the one you have in place. In terms of recruitment, everyone wants to attract the best individuals, so you will want to think about adopting an approach to recruitment which is fair and encourages promotions, in order to maximise the chances of getting and retaining the best people for each role. Recruiting a diverse workforce is likely to increase employee wellbeing (and in turn increase productivity by enhancing motivation) and could reduce your recruitment costs (if you have less staff turnover). A further benefit is that a diverse workforce will better understand the needs of diverse clients, enabling you to be better placed to provide a quality service to those clients.
As we set out in our first blog, managers will have a key role in promoting EDI within their firm, and to drive forward a workplace culture which is built upon trust, two-way engagement and loyalty. This responsibility will extend to identifying and removing barriers, for example in recruitment, promotion and progression.
Jessica Clay is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory department and specialises in legal services regulation, with a focus on regulatory compliance, legal ethics, investigations and public law matters.
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