Ashurst diversity credentials attacked as firm lets go half its BME trainees

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  • This focus on BME (what a horrendous acronym) is a very poor way of assessing diversity and discrimination. The biggest discrimination (in a variety of forms) in City law is against those from lower class backgrounds and from state schools. This is the source of the problem, not racial prejudice against black or asian people.

    In my time in City law I met a number of 'BME' lawyers but they were all, without any exception that I can recall, privately educated and privileged. How do we know that in the statistics above amongst these 'BME' trainees was, say, the daughter of a wealthy Singaporean banker educated at Marlborough or a black British gent educated at Wellington College? perhaps some of the white trainees could have been working class and educated at a comprehensive?

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  • "Half of those were not offered jobs, while the remaining two exited voluntarily to pursue other opportunities."
    That appears to cover six of the trainees not eight...

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  • 8 out of 30 trainees is just over a quarter of the trainee intake. Given that this is significantly more than the BME percentage of the population, I don't see how it can seriously be argued simply on retention rates alone that Ashurst is not committed to diversity, at least in intention. Maybe it is the case that the retained trainees were simply the best candidates?

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  • You lawyers really are not good with numbers:

    "The firm had a total 30 trainees due to qualify in September 2013, eight of whom came from a BME background. Half of those were not offered jobs, while the remaining two exited voluntarily to pursue other opportunities."

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  • "Tim" is spot on - both as to the root cause of discrimination and the unthinking stereotyping of the BMEs. The source suggests Ashurst needs to review how it retains its talent. Could the truth be more prosaic - the ones let go were - relative to the ones retained - not particularly talented?

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  • You have 30 trainees and eight come from a BME background. Half of the BMEs are not retained and two of the BMEs pursue other opportunities. How many rolls of wallpaper will you require to decorate both the sittting room and the dining room?

    10 marks - (show workings)

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  • This could be coincidence. After all, across the UK top 150 firms and over several years you would expect to see this happen from time to time.

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  • It is senseless to talk in percentages when you are referring to a total group comprised of eight people in a pool of 30. Issues of race and class are nuanced and sensitive; the author is a fool that rushed in where angels fear to tread.

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  • Given that Ashurst hired a pretty high proportion of BME trainees in the first place it would seem a bit strange if they then discriminated when it came time to offering NQ positions (once they've spent so much on hiring/training). I think it unlikely that partners from four different practice areas would all reject a trainee on such arbitrary grounds unless the trainee was sub-par.

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  • The lesson here...check your maths when lawyers are around

    All for challenging firms to think about BME engagement, but need to avoid starting witch hunts based on statistics. It would be pretty hard on those trainees who were not from a BME background if hiring decisions were not purely meritocratic- hopefully Ashurst just hired the best people for the job

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  • I think many commenters are wrong to focus on direct discrimination. Noone is suggesting that Ashurt's qualification process discriminates against BME trainees.

    I think much of the difficulty stems from the office environment. Many city law firms have a very strong old boy network. Even on a more prosaic level, when office chat resolves around Wimbledon and the Oxford/Cambridge boat-race rather than Eastenders that will immediately make people from a less privileged background feel uncomfortable and perform poorly. This issue is difficult to address but is also very important.

    This ties in with people's comments about the issues faced by candidates who do not come from a private school or top grammar background.

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  • I am a "BME" and I feel privileged. Suspect Ashurst did that simply based on ethnic background, mayhaps their English is just not up to the very high standard?

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  • I am not convinced by the assumption that all those trainees from "a less privileged background" (whatever that may mean - no gold leaf on your iced bun, perhaps?) prefer to watch Eastenders of an evening, as opposed to Wimbledon or the rowing. It is exactly those sorts of assumptions, more than any, that succeed in alienating entire sections of society.

    As for the Ashurst NQ statistics, are we not overlooking the possibility that this is merely coincidental?

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  • This story is inane, given the small number of data in questions. But as for anonymous at 11.47, Eastenders and Wimbeldon are shown on the very same TV channel. Watching Eastenders isn't a decision based on class, it's a decision based on whether you want to waste four hours a week watching soap operas instead of something more constructive.

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  • @ Haldeman | 12-Jul-2013 8:51 am

    Having worked the riddle I arrive at 'coincidence' and I show the working below:
    That all 4 trainees not offered an NQ position are BME is very 'coincidental' and of course it's not likely that all the various partners who worked with them were biased. The 'coincidence' might heighten though if it turns out that none of the trainee partners is from the BME group. Perhaps the greatest 'coincidence' of all is when we remember that MOST people prefer what they can identify with.
    I hope my 'working' earns me all 10 marks.

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  • Playing Devil's advocate, if these eight/six/whatever number were not actually the 'weakest' (which is in itself difficult to gage), then I think this is a bit of a catch 22 situation.

    Law firms are pushing for increased diversity at one end of the profession, however the other end of the profession remains quite conservative. That isn't just when it comes to race but also gender, sexual orientation, disability, class background etc.

    Now, I don't think it is a deliberate or even conscious decision being made by the 'old boys' not to promote women, black people, gay people etc. but people tend to promote/invest in those who are like them. If there are not many within the organisation already who are sufficiently similar to you, you probably not going to have an advocate in the court.

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  • It's badly worded but the article doesn't say all BME trainees were not taken on. Presumably the "missing" 2 from the opening paragraphs have been offered NQ positions.

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  • Yes, all let go were BME, not all BME were let go.

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  • I fail to understand how Ashurst can be accused of being discriminatory if 8 out of 30 trainees were BME. If the other trainees were simply better then so be it. It is not fair to point the finger at the firm and expect that a review of the promotion systems is undertaken. It would be interesting to compare the trainee intake stats with other firms.

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  • What is the narrative behind the numbers?

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