Allen & Overy is confronting the must-solve issue of achieving ethnic diversity in City law with a raft of new targets aimed at levelling the playing field by 2025.
The set of targets includes having 15% of partners and 25% of lawyers and support staff identifying as ethnic minority in the next five years.
Ambitiously, given the lack of traction in attracting BAME candidates to the London offices of elite law firms, the targets would also see 35% ethnic minority trainees, including 10% black trainees, each year, as well as equal retention rates, especially for black associates.
The move comes after Clifford Chance (CC) threw down the gauntlet in mid-July with its own set of diversity targets that would see 15% of its UK and US partner promotions and lateral hires from minority ethnic backgrounds by 2025. CC is also aiming for 30% representation for senior associates and senior business professionals by 2025 as a whole, not just hires and promotions.
A&O has also published its ‘ethnicity Stay Gap’, which reveals the worrying trend that black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers leave the firm seven months earlier than their white colleagues and that black lawyers leave two years and five months earlier than their white counterparts.
The report followed analysis by consultant Rare Recruitment, which found that the average BAME lawyer’s tenure at a law firm is around 18 months shorter than that of the average white lawyer. A&O plans to publish the Stay Gap every year.
Jo Dooley, the firm’s head of diversity and inclusion, told Legal Business that ethnic minorities make up 9% of the firm’s partners and around 32% of its trainees, figures that are not a far cry from A&O’s stated goal, with the greatest challenge being around addressing these unfavourable retention statistics.
‘Everything points to the retention issue so that is where we have decided to focus our efforts,’ said Dooley. This gives us a metric to measure whether the work we are doing to rectify it is working or not.’ She added that the attrition of ethnic minority lawyers was more of an issue at junior level.
Ian Field, A&O’s UK diversity and inclusion partner, said: ‘We must all play our part in creating a truly inclusive workplace and for us that starts with accountability. The Stay Gap figure is an uncomfortable truth for us and the legal industry but it gives us an objective way to measure the success of our efforts in this area. We want to be clear that we recognise the problems within our own firm and are committed to tackling them head on.’
With CC and A&O nailing their colours to the mast on what is arguably one of the most controversial but pressing matters facing the legal profession, it seems inevitable that peers must follow suit with similar ambitions or face awkward scrutiny for not doing so.
For more on the challenges to creating ethnic diversity in City law, see our 2019 analysis ‘Ticking boxes – Is City law going beyond the platitudes on ethnic diversity?’