I know my last blog post was quite alarming, making it difficult to digest for some, and perhaps nothing new - a story told time and time again with very little change.
If these feelings of doom and gloom are not used for actionable practical steps to progress diversity and inclusion, many continue to feel as though they do not belong at the Bar.
We should no longer accept checkboxes of diversity but changed behaviour of actionable measures that will increase inclusion. As stated in my last blog post, as a black woman, many of us want our success to be based on our merits and for it not to be hindered by various stereotypes and unconscious biases.
This requires 'real' work on diversity and inclusion. It calls for an introspection of what biases we hold about each other, as well as challenging us to reflect and understand the root causes of these biases. This tends to be uncomfortable as it highlights the privileges that non-BAME people have in society.
The reason why I class this as 'real' work is because it goes to the heart as to why making strides in diversity and inclusion is difficult.
I have highlighted some of the reasons why fostering inclusive environments is challenging and what we can do, as individuals to circumvent this:
In order to improve inclusion, you need allies. Having a conversation around diversity and inclusion MUST include white people as they predominately occupy these spaces. Failure to do so does little to cultivate the inclusive environment that we so desire. Invite your white colleague to a talk about racial diversity, ask a black or minority ethnic colleague about how you can get involved in promoting diversity and inclusion and create employee resource groups in your chambers. Start where you are.
Cultivating spaces that allows forgiveness and honest conversations around the root causes of the lack of inclusion requires vulnerability. Real change starts with 'real' conversations with people who do not think like us or look like us, aside from mundane conversations about the weather or case law.
"You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, you cannot have both" Brene Brown.
Polarisation has become a trend, where people are so fiercely defensive of their positions with no intention of resolution or change in the slightest. It is futile and depleting. As barristers we have been trained this way and so it just becomes second nature to defend and not to back down, which is often seen as a weakness. I challenge you to do something to foster inclusion that requires courage. After all, no experience is ever wasted.
A threat to your own seat at the table
This follows on from vulnerability and fear that is deep-seated within each and every one of us. Society has been built on comparison, merit and competition which is interwoven in defining our own self-worth. There is space for everyone to succeed and grow. For some diversity and inclusion may mean that they need to give up their seat at the table, their power and their influence. This is simply incorrect. A study by the Harvard Business Review show that companies that are more diverse are more profitable.
So, what does this all mean? It means that real inclusion starts with each and every one of us. How are you speaking with your colleague? Are you listening to respond or to understand? Speak to someone who doesn't look like you or hold the same perspectives as you. Once we all have more empathy and humility in understanding one another without feeling threatened or fearful, only then will we foster real and sustainable environments of inclusion.
Karen Safo is a Barrister at Law and human rights activist with several years in the international development sector. Her main interest is in Commercial Law, Public International Law and International Human Rights Law.