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UsToo? – Addressing bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession

16 May 2019

Earlier this week, the International Bar Association published its report on bullying and harassment in the legal profession. The message is clear – as a profession we are not meeting the highest standards of conduct which are integral to our positions as bastions of the law. We must change within the profession, and take responsibility for driving wider societal change.

The report took into account data from 6,980 respondents from 135 countries and presents statistics which make a persuasive case for the legal profession to implement its recommendations. One in three female respondents and one in 14 male respondents have been sexually harassed in the workplace. These experiences cannot be dismissed as a thing of the past either: 33% of the reported bullying, and 25% of the sexual harassment occurred within the last year.

Launching the report, Dame Laura Cox spoke about the profession’s twin problems of complacency and a lack of reporting. The report’s research shows that 75% of those who have experienced sexual harassment and 57% of those who have experienced bullying did not report it.

In respect of the UK, the report itself concludes that whilst most firms have anti-bullying and harassment policies in place staff confidence in the people responsible for monitoring compliance with the policies is below the international average. There is however, a positive correlation between training and staff feeling empowered to reported cases of bullying and harassment.

The report makes 10 recommendations. These are:

  1. Raise awareness
  2. Revise and implement policies and standards
  3. Introduce regular, customised training
  4. Increase dialogue and best-practice sharing
  5. Take ownership
  6. Gather data and improve transparency
  7. Explore flexible reporting models
  8. Engage with younger members of the profession
  9. Appreciate the wider context
  10. Maintain momentum

Here at Lewis Silkin we agree that as a profession we must take responsibility for setting best practice as well as supporting our wider community with their efforts to implement change. We have already taken steps both internally and externally to tackle these issues. Through our #aLastingChange campaign we have:

  • Held roundtable discussions with our clients and contacts to explore ways of achieving long term change
  • Collaborated with The Old Vic to develop and implement a Guardians programme through which members of staff can be trained to act as sounding boards for those who are considering raising issues such as bullying and harassment, and assisted other organisations in implementing their own programmes
  • Providing training to raise awareness about unconscious bias and equality and diversity among leadership teams, HR departments, managers and the wider workforce
  • Conducted speak up sessions to ensure people know how and when to intervene
  • Drafted policies and procedures including, relating to equality and diversity and bullying and harassment

Further details of how we can help can be found here.

Internally, as well as having conducted a listening exercise and implementing a number of the report’s recommendations, we are the first law firm to have signed up to the Guardians programme. We would like to invite other firms to do the same. The IBA’s report recommends more dialogue and best practice sharing, so we are happy to invite members of the HR and leadership teams at other law firms to come and hear more about the Guardians programme and explore the themes arising from the report at an event on 27 June 2019 at our London office. Click here for further details.

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A Lasting Change

Welcome to #aLastingChange, a useful resource for ideas, collaboration, information, legal insight and opinions on how we can create a long-lasting improvement in women’s experience of work and overall make the working environment a better place for everyone.

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