Ahead of our Diversity Matters Ethnic Diversity on the 14th of October, we’re speaking to Senior Tutor Shaid Parveen. Shaid is chair of the ULaw Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Staff Network and she discusses the importance of ethnic diversity across education and the legal sector.
I am a senior tutor and associate professor at The University of Law and am actively involved in the University’s widening participation projects. I am the chair of the University’s BAME Staff Network and the Birmingham Law Society’s, Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage sub-committee.
While it is estimated that 14% of the population in England and Wales are ethnically diverse, when the findings of the 2021 Census are released in 2022, it will show this figure has increased. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that not only is their appropriate ethnically diverse representation across all sectors but that we also recognise the importance of equality and inclusion. If we are going to address institutionalised racism and effect positive change, ethnically diverse staff need to be seen and heard in all sectors and at all levels.
In addition, there is both a moral and economic case for representation. As the governments independent review stated, the economy is losing out on £24 billion because ethnically diverse talent is not being utilised (McGregor Smith Review, 2017).
Social justice is a concept that has been embedded into me through my faith, family, and friends. I have faced both direct and indirect racism but have never allowed such experiences to define me.
I have highlighted the voice of ethnically diverse people and minority groups who do not have the platform/or have a fear speaking out. As a legal advocate, I developed a reputation for being robust and fair and adopt such an approach in my current role. I will raise issues on an informed basis, supported by data and facts and will also make recommendations and/or find solutions. Such an approach has earnt me the trust and respect of colleagues internally and externally and enhanced my reputation as a speaker on such issues.
The proportion of ethnically diverse lawyers according to the SRA website is 21%, which on the face of it looks very positive. However, at times we need to look beyond statistics. A Law Society report in 2021 indicated that ethnically diverse lawyers are still facing barriers which include the ethnicity pay gap, microaggressions and progression. We need a representative and inclusive profession if we are going to be able to compete within the global legal sector and to meet the diverse needs of our clients.
The University’s BAME advocate scheme has been a success in ensuring the voice of ethnically diverse students is beginning to be heard and they are involved in proactive change. For example, the BAME advocates have been involved in the University’s curriculum review, creation of a BAME newsletter, podcasts and assisting a law firm with reviewing their recruitment process. I have undertaken research on integration in the classroom setting and worked collaboratively with ethnic diversity advocates when designing a module and creating an EDI checklist to be used by designers. The scheme recognises and values the contribution of ethnically diverse students. In addition, there has been training of staff and promotion of diversity schemes by the employability section.
There has been some progress to support ethnically diverse employees as the University has recently established a BAME Staff Network and appointed a director of equality and inclusion who is working on developing a strategy across the University. It is essential to adopt an outcome-based approach to measure the success of any initiatives.
I would encourage all ethnically diverse students to question the organisation they intend to study at, as they are making a significant investment in their future and need to hold institutions to account. Ask about the diversity awarding gap, employability outcomes, representation of ethnically diverse members of staff at all levels and how organisations are seeking to address the issues. If diverse students do not get a satisfactory answer to their questions, they should ask themselves whether the institution is right for them.
For students wanting to learn more about ethic diversity representation in the workplace, I would recommend The Law Society’s Race for Inclusion report and their workplace toolkit. I would also recommend reading the Voice article Seen But Not Heard?
My advice for people wanting to discuss improving diversity in their workplace is two -fold. Firstly, have a vision of the changes you want to see and be realistic, as there will be turbulence and you will face resistance along the way. While I know it is easier said than done, remain resilient and take care of your own health and well-being. Maintain faith in your vision and speak to allies about finding solutions. Secondly, be prepared to challenge senior leaders who should be prepared to listen and act, as any change in culture needs to come from the top down. Even if you are not able to do this directly, use your staff support networks, direct management and the head of director of equality and inclusion to communicate any issues you identify.
With the rise in the far right, homophobia, islamophobia, anti-Semitism etc. it has never been more important to increase diversity but also equality and inclusion in the workplace. While I know it is not easy, it is important to speak up. As in the words of Nelson Mandela, “A winner is a dreamer, who never gives up.”
Our next event in the series, Diversity Matters – Ethnic Diversity, is on 14th October at 6pm. For further information and to register your attendance for this free-of-charge event, please check your student email.