A move by one of the UK’s largest companies to request diversity information from its suppliers could set a trend for employers across the country, experts predict.
Global banking giant Barclays is planning to call on its legal advisers to provide diversity statistics on their gender and ethnic make-up, as part of its corporate social responsibility policy in the UK.
The bank will require law firms, including Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance, to supply details of their workforce demographics to ensure diversity levels are “an acceptable standard”.
Barclays is thought to be one of the first private sector companies in the UK to request diversity statistics, although it is increasingly common in the public sector.
Amanda Jones, head of diversity at the Co-operative Group, which operates its own ethical trading policy, said the move would have a knock-on effect for other private sector organisations.
“It’s a positive step, but each firm will have to follow suit in its own way,” she said.
Jeffrey Jupp, a barrister in the commercial and employment group at law firm Seven Bedford Row, said Barclays’ initiative could have a major impact on diversity across the legal profession.
“If such pressures are applied by enough substantial organisations, it could potentially change the culture of law firms,” he said.
But Jupp warned that if the statistics were not put in the context of job position, they would be irrelevant.
“It depends how detailed the diversity information required is and where the women and ethnic minorities are within the organisation’s hierarchy,” he said.
Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, described the initiative as a “bold move”, but said the statistics should not be used in isolation or be over-simplified. “There are a number of ways in which we need to move forward to diversity and this is just one of them,” she said.
Details of the Barclays initiative were revealed by Mark Harding, general counsel at the bank, at a legal conference in New York.
How do you assess diversity in law firms?
Robin Schneider, managing director of Schneider-Ross consultancy, said childcare issues were a major factor. “Many City law firms struggle with putting women in partner roles. The hours City lawyers work are usually outrageous and very few firms have taken the decision of having part-time partners.”
Jeffrey Jupp, a barrister in the commercial and employment group of Seven Bedford Row, agreed. “The long-hours culture in law firms favours people who don’t have childcare responsibilities,” he said.
To see what Ford has done to improve diversity, click here.