Muslim students “uncomfortable” with law firm drinking culture

Muslim students: Hard to engage with social events

Muslim students on vacation schemes at City law firms say the “drinking culture” makes it hard for them to take part in social events because of their religion, according to a new report.

Recruitment company Rare also found that Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates made up 6.1% of vacation scheme applicants but only 3.9% received offers – a lower proportion than those from White or Black backgrounds.

Naomi Kellman, head of research at Rare and author of the report, said the aspiring solicitors she interviewed spoke “at length” about the drinking culture at law firms “and the ways in which this made it hard for them to engage with work social events”.

They expressed “particular concern” about being asked to attend work events in pubs, bars and other venues with a focus on selling alcohol.

“For many Muslims, their faith requires them to avoid alcohol and places that exist with the main purpose of selling alcohol.

“Interviewees spoke about going along to events despite their discomfort, because they knew they had to do so if they didn’t want to be at a disadvantage.”

They often referred to leaving events early “due to being uncomfortable”, feeling that this “likely disadvantaged them when it came to their chances of converting their vacation scheme into a training contract”.

Ms Kellman said social gatherings in law firm offices or a non-alcohol focused venue were “seen as much more inclusive, even if alcohol was being served as an option for people who wish to drink it”.

The report Included? The experience of British Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in City Law was based partly on in-depth interviews with 10 vacation scheme and training contract candidates, six of Pakistani and four of Bangladeshi heritage.

This was combined with data from Rare’s applicant tracking system, which analysed over 28,000 vacation scheme applications to 10 law firms and found that Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates made up 6.1% of applicants but only 3.9% of those chosen.

The success rate for Bangladeshi and Pakistani candidates applying to vacation schemes was 1.8%, compared to 2.8% for White candidates, and 2.5% for Black candidates.

Applications for training contracts followed a similar pattern, with Pakistani and Bangladeshi applicants making up 7% of the pool, but 3.5% of offers. Their success rate was only 1.2%, compared to 2.8% for White and 2.1% for Black candidates.

Eight out of 10 interviewees mentioned praying at work as a challenge during vacation schemes and training contracts, though they “almost always” had access to prayer rooms.

“Despite this, they still felt anxious about the impact that leaving their desk to pray during the working day might have on their chances of converting their vacation scheme into a training contract or qualifying at the end of their training contract.”

Some interviewees “found it challenging” to ask to be excused from vacation scheme sessions so they could pray, “as they were concerned about how this would be perceived”. Their concern was “felt more acutely during vacation schemes in the winter months”, when prayer times were closer together.

While law firm often provided halal food options, “this was inconsistent in a number of cases and was not always factored into the restaurants selected for vacation scheme meals”.

The report highlighted a lack of Bangladeshi and Pakistani role models at firms, with that, along with “the challenges of relating to people, and the pressure to assimilate and change one’s identity” coming in when both the topics of socioeconomic status and religion were discussed.

Ms Kellman commented: “Our research reveals significant issues in current practices, particularly around cultural and religious inclusivity, that create an uneven playing field for these candidates.

“By confronting and dismantling these obstacles, law firms can transform their workplaces into truly inclusive environments that embrace diversity, and better reflect both the society they operate in and the clients they serve.”

She recommended that law firms diversify social events “to include activities that do not centre on alcohol”, encourage open communication about religious practices, provide mentorship programmes to connect candidates with senior lawyers from similar backgrounds and ensure Muslim networks are “active and visible”.

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