Lawyers from ethnic communities have identified racism and bias as major barriers to career progression in a report published this week on the impact of Covid-19.

Thomson Reuters, the Association of Corporate Counsel Foundation and the Association for Law Firm Diversity Professionals wanted to conduct an in-depth study of how the pandemic has affected lawyers from underrepresented communities. The majority of the 406 respondents were from the US and UK. 

The biggest perceived barriers to progress for lawyers from ethnic communities were flat structures and lack of introduction to key clients, as well as racism, prejudice and bias. In the US, 68% of black lawyers said racial injustice had an impact on their personal development and progression. The report highlighted a significant awareness gap between those with diversity, equality and inclusion responsibilities and those without on their firms’ efforts to break down structural barriers.

Asked about their biggest concerns on the impact of the pandemic on increasing diversity within their firm, several black and Asian lawyers cited inconsistency between what their firm said and did, and access to professional development opportunities.

The report lists key steps to retaining lawyers amid the particular challenges of the pandemic, such as reducing the perceived divide between communication and action on diversity as a business imperative. 

On helping lawyers from underrepresented groups advance in their careers, the report says: 'Research shows that more innovative and flexible solutions to structural barriers are needed to retain and increase the career advancement of lawyers from underrepresented groups. Additionally, creating opportunities to hear directly from members of these groups about the challenges they are experiencing allows all stakeholders to explore solutions together, and can foster an environment of greater inclusion and engagement, which in turn, will also drive retention and advancement.

'Listening to and centering the voices of lawyers and colleagues from underrepresented communities and acting on their feedback are must-do actions, even when it causes discomfort, in order to disrupt the status quo. Indeed, when uneasiness arrives, that means change is in progress because staying comfortable equates to staying in your current state.'