Seven out of 10 professionals experience “discriminatory behaviour”

EDI: Progress stalling

More than seven out of 10 professionals have experienced “discriminatory or exclusionary behaviour in the workplace” in the past five years, a major study of professionals across the UK, including lawyers, has found.

However, researchers said there was “an overriding feeling” that progress was stalling on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), with over a fifth of professionals believing it received “too much focus” compared to other issues.

Researchers from the Young Foundation, a not-for-profit research organisation, gathered responses from over 7,290 professionals across the UK on behalf of 12 professional membership and regulatory bodies. This included over 600 chartered legal executives regulated by CILEx Regulation.

Asked whether their profession was doing “all it can” to address EDI issues, only 39% of the lawyers agreed, while 28% disagreed, with a further third either neutral or not sure.

In the report Beyond Buzzwords, researchers found that 70% of professionals had experienced at least one barrier when joining their profession.

The top barriers were affordability of training or qualifications and “a lack of networks” with people already working in the profession. These were followed by a lack of role models or mentors, and worries about “fitting in” when belonging to a minority.

When it came to “enablers of access”, top by a long way was “support and encouragement from family and friends”, followed by coaching or mentoring from someone in the profession.

A large majority of professionals, 72%, said they had “personally experienced” discriminatory or exclusionary behaviour at work since 2019, with those with “marginalised characteristics” much more likely to report it.

The most common forms this took were “feeling undervalued compared to colleagues of equal competence”, being “unfairly spoken over or not listened to in meetings” or “colleagues taking sole credit for shared efforts”.

The consequences of this discrimination or exclusion was most often changing jobs, followed by “mental health conditions” or not pursuing opportunities like promotions or training.

A similar proportion of professionals, 73%, said they had experienced barriers to progression in their careers. However, on the positive side, exactly the same proportion agreed that “I feel like I belong in the profession”.

Despite this, almost half of professionals, 44%, said they had left or considered leaving a current employer because of EDI concerns.

Researchers said that while most professionals were supportive of the principles of EDI, there was “widespread scepticism” about the capacity of EDI initiatives to deliver meaningful change.

“The overriding feeling is that progress seems to be stalling as there has been a failure to convert words into action.

“Because of these concerns, disillusionment is growing and support for action on EDI seems to be flagging. Around one-fifth (22%) of professionals surveyed believe EDI receives too much focus compared to other issues within their profession.

“At the extreme, there is a backlash against the EDI agenda from a few professionals who feel efforts have ‘gone too far’.”

Among the report’s recommendations for professional membership and regulatory bodies were to put EDI at the heart of what it meant to be a professional by committing to reframing it as “non-negotiable” and integral to all decision-making, and ensuring members were not granted with the highest levels of chartership or accreditation without core competencies around EDI.

Lead researcher Alice Bell commented: “For many years, the professions have shown real commitment in taking action on EDI. Yet we need to drive greater change, with organisations pushing forward higher standards.

“The findings highlight the critical role of professional and regulatory bodies as agents of change. The organisations driving this research together represent more than 750,000 UK workers, and they possess the influence, expertise and networks to raise standards and drive progress on EDI through training, guidelines and support for members.”

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