On a cold November morning at Queen Mary University, in the first of two lectures, 7BR’s Elaine Banton broke the chill with an inspiring speech on equality and diversity at the Bar.
Elaine is a compelling barrister, active in the field of equality and diversity with over two decades’ experience in employment and discrimination law, making her ideally suited to speak on the topic.
Elaine’s audience were one hundred candidates from the brand new Bridging the Bar Academy; tested, talented students aspiring to become barristers, but facing barriers linked to race, ethnicity, gender, disability, caring responsibilities and/or socio-economic background. Elaine’s goal was to equip them as future barristers, with the knowledge and resilience necessary to both appreciate and tackle the challenges facing the Bar in respect of equality and diversity in areas such as access, culture change, retention and progression.
During the lecture, Elaine explained the extent to which different groups are still under-represented in pupillage, as tenants, as silks and among the judiciary. She highlighted where progress was being made, but also where significant improvement is required. Elaine shared success stories, support initiatives and a range of organisations designed to bolster candidates facing prejudice. More information is available here and here.
Elaine invited her audience to share their own experiences. Candidates reported having disguised their sexuality and learning difficulties to avoid prejudice, but also how not disclosing certain protected characteristics had held others back. Progressive schemes such as reverse mentoring were discussed, as were the benefits of increased diversity in chambers. Meanwhile, some progress which tends to be less well advertised was also described, including the ease with which clerks have made adjustments in chambers, for example, whilst working with barristers with mental health concerns.
A range of suggestions to stimulate further progress were made. For example, candidates wanted to see the opportunities and support available shared at undergraduate lectures, and the ability to circumvent blind marking where interview panels may need to know about a disability in order to make effective reasonable adjustments. This could be accommodated with a separate question on the form.
Bridging the Bar was founded by 7BR barrister Mass Ndow-Njie, and the Academy runs some sessions from our premises. To learn more about the Academy, click here.
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