The Law Society has put equal opportunities and diversity issues right at the top of its agenda for its forthcoming year. The new board, established during last year's reform programme, has taken on equal opportunities and diversity as key objectives for the year. In fact, the whole council debated the issue at a major conference last week, following a presentation by Lord Herman Ouseley, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.
The council has committed itself to making sure that diversity issues are reflected in every aspect of the society's work. These new issues will be addressed in all its work with the profession, from entry, through the implications of rule setting, to the mapping of complaints and how they are handled, and in issues of law reform. There was call for the society to take a major role in pressing the Government for a single equality bill following work already begun in Northern Ireland.
The society has already made a start on its new approach to issues of equality and diversity. Some weeks ago, it advertised for the post of equalities manager. This is a new post in the human resources department, signalling that the society is taking equal opportunities in employment very seriously.
The society has also signed up to a voluntary equal pay review heralded by the Department of Education and Skills and will rigorously review all of its procedures and pay structures to ensure compliance with good practice. This will include a review of working patterns and working hours, as well as proper support for staff at all levels of the organisation. The Macpherson audit that has recently been put underway at the society has demonstrated an increasing number of staff from ethnic minorities in more senior posts, with 10 per cent of managers now from ethnic minority groups.
|“The council has committed itself to making sure that diversity issues are reflected in every aspect of the society work”|
More broadly, and in terms of the key corporate objectives for the society, each objective will be monitored against diversity targets. Each manager will be expected to report on diversity issues and each subsidiary board, established in the modern governance arrangements developed in last year's reform programme, will be expected to account to the board and to the council for the delivery of the work they superintend on behalf of the council.
Never before has the society taken this issue so seriously and it will shortly be advertising for a further post to help ensure that its law reform work in particular has appropriate policy expertise. The existing equal opportunities committee's role will be reviewed, especially in relation to law reform. In addition, the president has identified himself as champion on equality and diversity issues for the society, supported and advised on a regular basis by Lord Ouseley. A sub-group of the board has been established to monitor progress. The group comprising the president, vice-president, chief executive and the director of law reform and representation will take a special role in supervising the direction of equality issues in all aspects of the society's work.
This is an organisation which is not just going to talk about equality – it is going to do something about it. It will not be short-term action and the results will not be immediate – significant and long-lasting change never is. At a time when economic, social and political equality matters more than ever, it is vital that the society and the profession addresses questions of gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and the status of minority cultures both in the profession and among those whom the profession serves. Equality matters. It matters to the profession and it matters to society. Working towards greater equality of opportunity is a major plank for the continuing the society's reform.
Janet Paraskeva, chief executive, the Law Society