Back in March members of the Ardent team attended an event to mark International Women’s Day. One of the discussion points that resonated most strongly was the importance of role models for professional progression. Attendees at the event cited specific examples and the positive impact on their career. The debate has continued in a number of industry articles, with the Roll on Friday survey noting that female lawyers crave realistic senior role models.

The value of role models

Marian Wright Edelman, US civil rights lawyer and activist wrote in 2015 that “it’s hard to be what you can’t see”. Writing for the Children’s Defense Fund, she was advocating for more diversity in educational text books. She said “Children of color need to be able to see themselves in the books they read… For some children it is the first time they have seen books with characters who look like them and share some of the struggles in their lives. Our goal is to help children fall in love with reading, and they respond.”

The same principle applies to so many other aspects of our society, from our film and television viewing to sports stars, politicians to senior professionals at work. In any movement looking to make change, having suitable role models is seen as highly important.

Having senior people of diverse gender, race, age, sexuality and other characteristics ensures visibility. This encourages more junior staff to aspire to senior roles and gives more opportunities to more people in the workplace. Employers gain access to a wider talent pool. Put simply, having visible role models from across the spectrum is good business.

Just how diverse is the legal profession?

A recent survey of diversity in law firms carried out for the SRA in 2021 shows a slow but steady increase in diversity among all lawyers. The survey looked at 8 diversity characteristics: age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, social mobility, caring responsibilities, religion and disability.

The headline findings were that there was an increase in the proportion of women in the profession. 52% of lawyers in England and 57% of Welsh lawyers are women. However, the seniority gap between female partners and solicitors remains significant. There remains a significant under-representation of disabled lawyers compared to the UK workforce. There is also a significant difference in the proportion of lawyers from a ‘privileged’ background compared to the UK population.

How is Ardent supporting role models in the industry?

As recruiters we work with candidates from across the profession. But we are really conscious of the power of visible role models to encourage the next generation of lawyers, from new entrants to senior partner. We would like to encourage those who are leading the way.

In the coming months we want to raise the profile of individuals who sit outside of the traditional model for the profession. We’d like to interview you for this website and share your story, so others can see and be inspired by your journey.

If you fit the brief and would like to talk to us about your experience, please get in touch.