In our latest 60-second interview, TLT partner Noline Matemera talks to The Lawyer about her experience as a black woman in the legal profession and how firms should respond to the heightened focus on racial diversity.
How should law firms respond to the heightened focus on racial diversity?
Head on is the simple answer. The events of the last few weeks have brought this issue into the spotlight once more. I believe now is the time for law firms to firmly grasp the nettle and ask the hard and uncomfortable questions to truly understand why statistics on racial diversity in the profession paint the picture they do.
What keeps me hopeful though, is we have more in common than apart as individuals. It’s important to focus on the individual, the role they can play and the contribution they can make rather than how they are different. At the heart of this is honest dialogue on issues such as how we recruit; how we manage talent dissipation and ultimately, how we promote and progress individuals through to partnership and other senior leadership positions in our firms.
What has been your experience as a black woman in the legal profession?
When I started out in the profession, I realised fairly quickly that invariably, I was the only black person in the room and sometimes also the only woman. As my career progressed, I became so accustomed to this, I ceased to be aware of it.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, a trainee in my firm told me that one of the reasons they decided to apply was because they saw another black person at the firm’s Open Day that I fully appreciated the power and impact of representation. Representation matters. Representation can be achieved through clear, concrete measurable targets and metrics on racial diversity woven into firms’ systems and processes.
What is the one thing that you believe is central to driving racial diversity?
As a financial services lawyer, one of the phrases to recently enter the regulatory lexicon is ‘conduct and culture’. I believe conduct and culture sit at the heart of driving this change. Conduct and supporting the right behaviours such as speaking out and calling out issues is everyone’s responsibility but the tone from the top is key.
Senior leadership’s actions – and not words in brochures – determine what a firm is about, what it is known for, its values and effectively its culture. Integrating racial diversity into senior management’s strategic objectives will go a long way to facilitate a culture in law firms that is open, inclusive and more accurately reflects society today.
How is TLT progressing its racial diversity agenda?
Whilst interest and focus on racial diversity has clearly risen up the firm’s agenda and it has adopted the right trajectory, there remains work to be done. We have approached this work across a number of fronts, but of note was the bold decision taken this year to voluntarily disclose our Ethnicity Pay Gap for the first time. This is an important milestone towards greater transparency on remuneration. It doesn’t automatically solve the problem, but it’s a positive step in the right direction.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
On any given Sunday, you will find me delivering Sunday school lessons at my local church. I thoroughly enjoy teaching young children and watching them process a concept until the eureka moment of understanding. I suspect I am also envious of the freshness of thought and how everything is new and exciting. I probably would be a primary school teacher if I wasn’t a lawyer.