Deborah McCormack: Genuinely inclusive workplace culture a goal worth attaining
Another area where we are working hard to replicate our Stonewall success is social mobility. Taking a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion in its broadest sense, we use a number of strategies to engage early talent from the widest possible pool.
Social Mobility Employer Index statistics from 2018 highlight that despite some progress, work remains to be done in the professional services sector to attract, recruit and retain talent from less privileged backgrounds. The Index reports wide disparities in recruitment practices, with 50 per cent of government department hires coming from Russell Group universities. In professional services firms, it’s 60 per cent, while law firms recruit around 80 per cent of graduates from the Russell Group. Pinsent Masons works hard to buck that trend and our most recent trainee cohort comprised 32 per cent non-Russell group graduates, a figure we are committed to increasing.
Our adoption of a Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) is part of this. The CRS, provided by Rare, helps us select graduates for legal traineeships and vacation placements. The CRS delivers two outputs to employers – flags to measure disadvantage and a Performance Index (PI) to measure against peers attending the same school and undertaking exams at the same time.
Instead of simply assessing academic attainment, the CRS helps us better understand the background against which candidates achieve success. For example, using an applicant postcode, it can identify that the candidate lived in a disadvantaged area and/or attended an under-performing school.
Other factors the CRS identifies include: being in local authority care; having to work more than 16 hours per week while completing studies; caring responsibilities for a parent or sibling; refugee status and/or if they are the first person in their family to study at university.
The life circumstances in which some pupils and students find themselves can significantly impact academic achievement. With a contextual approach, we are considering applications from all candidates fairly, regardless of socio-economic background. Providing a level playing field for candidates does not equate to lowering the attainment bar. It simply allows fuller consideration of candidates with a greater understanding of the individual.
The CRS is only part of our application and assessment process. Once a candidate is shortlisted and invited to our assessment centre, they undertake the same in-depth interview and other rigorous tests, ensuring everyone is recruited fairly, objectively and consistently.
Integrating the CRS into the recruitment process for future legal and Business Operations apprentices in England is our next step. At a time when university fees put access to a career in law, accountancy or IT out of reach for many, professional apprenticeships can be a great way to ‘earn as you learn’.
We also partner with diversity organisations, including the Social Mobility Foundation and Impressive People, and support educational programmes like Street Law. Collaboration with partners who work closely with candidates from less advantaged backgrounds enables us to increase awareness of careers within our firm and wider profession. It can be as simple as providing clear guidance on how to access what’s available and encouraging candidates to have the self-belief and confidence to apply.
As a founding member of PRIME, an alliance of 60 UK law firms, Pinsent Masons is also committed to widening access to the profession through provision of high-quality work experience to candidates from less advantaged backgrounds. Through PRIME, almost 750 students are placed with law firms annually. Every Pinsent Masons PRIME student is fully supported with a comprehensive programme to help them get the most from their experience.
To be a truly inclusive business (and profession), we have a responsibility to understand and embrace all aspects of diversity. By doing so we build a multi-faceted, innovative and dynamic workforce, representative of our communities and the clients we represent. The benefits of diverse talent are widely recognised – better decision-making, appropriate risk assessment and increased profitability are the holy grail of business. By adopting an inclusive approach to recruiting and enabling talent, we underpin the future success of our own business, and that of our clients. That has to be the right thing to do.
Deborah McCormack is Head of Early Talent, Pinsent Masons LLP