In 2010, the body responsible for regulating UK lawyers, the Legal Services Board commissioned a qualitative study of barriers to women and black and ethnic minorities in the profession. At the moment, there's a hot discussion going on about the report, prompted by an interview of a justice of the English Supreme Court, Lord Sumption (real name), who is a self-reported advocate for gender equality. Among Lord Sumption's cautions as reported in "Rush for gender equality with top judges 'could have appalling consequences for justice'," is the following:
We have got to be very careful not to do things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the cards are stacked against them. If we do that we will find that male candidates don’t apply in the right numbers. 85 per cent of newly appointed judges in France are women because the men stay away. 85 per cent women is just as bad as 85 per cent men.
In the UK, diversity statistics are published annually by the judiciary. Here are 2015's. Until reading Lord Sumption's comments I would have thought that the bad news is that racial, ethnic, and gender barriers to success in the legal profession appear to be universal and nobody's come up with a good answer yet. But Lord Sumption's remarks suggest that there are some effective steps available that could make a big difference right away, but that we shouldn't implement them too fast. It's okay, in fact, if it takes 50 more years to reach equality. As far as I can tell, that's a new perspective injected into the diversity conversation. No wonder it's generating so much commentary.
For a quick and punchy read on the subject, try Lawyer2B's "Diversity and the profession: a reply to Lord Sumption."
Video: A trailer for Silk, a BBC TV series with a female barrister protagonist. If you're a fan of English courtroom drama, don't wait to see it.