Georgette Adonis-Roberts, international legal counsel at Euro Exim Bank, explains the ways that the legal sector can promote race and ethnic diversity through providing opportunity, allowing representation and truly understanding the need for diversity.

Has your ethnicity posed an additional challenge to entering and navigating the legal sector?

As a black female St. Lucian race and gender did not initially pose limitations in attaining my goal of pursuing a legal career as I grew up witnessing many role models who were trailblazing the way in my country.

Georgette Adonis-Roberts
Georgette Adonis-Roberts

However, after reading the law and subsequently settling in the UK, my ethnicity has definitely posed additional challenges. I am both a minority by virtue of being a black female and my diversity is further amplified by being non-British. Each of these pose their own unique set of challenges.

As an ethnic minority, developing my character in these settings proved perplexing as misconceptions and unconscious bias often occurred. By being told I needed to work twice as hard, to witnessing the craft of raising visibility, an imminent intrinsic disconnect between authenticity and expectation was unconsciously being formed.

With these challenges, I needed to ask myself some very fundamental questions and among the most important personal choices I needed to make was accepting complete responsibility of my life and making a conscious effort to create my own opportunities. This meant developing my skills and expertise by going beyond my comfort zone and seeking support from lawyers who are successfully working in ways and had values that resonated with me.

To have meaningful success in the legal sector, it is vitally important that you are confident in your ability and functioning in accordance with your purpose. As you embrace who you are and let it shape your professional identity you will give others the motivation to do the same.

Following the spike in momentum of the black lives matter movement, we’re seeing an increase in meaningful dialogue surrounding diversity and inclusion taking place. What impact do you think this will have on the legal sector?

For the past 10 years there has been countless dialogue around diversity and inclusion, however systemic racism and inequality is still rife in the legal sector.  The legal sector, has for years, been embedded in an archaic societal system of beliefs and ideologies and has historically been comprised of a homogenous class. These are some factors that have caused black lawyers to be severely underrepresented in the judiciary and senior echelons and have barred the opportunity to effect meaningful change.

It is easy to accept the status quo but change however small is progress and it has been these progressive changes that have allowed us to have seats at the table and lobbied the passing of legislation in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Race Relations Acts 1976 (repealed now consolidated with the Equality Act 2010).

Lawyers by their profession are stewards of the law, justice and equality. It is imperative that whilst we are advocating for our clients, we are also advocating for ourselves. It’s an unconditional priority that we endorse diversity and inclusion in the profession, it is then we will be able to tackle the institutional racism that has been empowering outright injustice, racial prejudice and the lack of respect towards some lives.

We must continue to use platforms to drive meaningful change, support equality and share our experiences on how we have managed to pivot these challenges in the legal sector and ultimately become a positive statistic and representative of the BAME divergence.

In your opinion, how can law firms and/or in-house departments promote race and ethnic diversity?

Various factors such as the size, resources and budget of the institution will determine the scale of promotion however, meaningful impact can be made through initiatives such as giving opportunity, allowing representation and truly understanding the need for diversity.

The onus is on companies and their leaders to create inclusive, unbiased and diverse work environments and policies by starting open conversations about race in their institutions, actively listening to what is being said and being prepared to take action.  Racism is an extremely difficult topic to discuss and if you are unfamiliar with its perils it may be difficult to broach the topic for fear of saying the wrong thing. However, silence can only seek to exacerbate discrimination, it is by having those uncomfortable conversations that persons may be able to empathise and understand the true issues of racial and ethnic bias, negative stereotypes and privilege.  Championing diversity within their pool of talent, cultivating a culture of education around the topic and appreciating the positive impact that diversity will have on the business – as diverse teams can be more productive, attract a wider client base and improve client retention. Similarly, allowing persons to bring their true self to work and celebrating diversity and nationality, will make the business a company of choice and ultimately recruit the best talent, reduce attrition and improve performance in its teams.

Yet, underlyingly, this should not be a perfunctory or a symbolic effort to be inclusive. Although tokenism can reversely work favourably to the extent that it shows representation, inclusion is more important through the demonstration and commitment to actively develop, support and progress diverse talent. However, for any meaningful change we need to look at impact and not just statistics and we all should play our part.

What is the best part of working both in the UK and St Lucia?

Prior to settling in the UK, I practised in St. Lucia after being called to the utter Bar of the Inner Temple. The jurisprudence of St. Lucia is different to the UK as it is a fused legal profession however, English common law forms the basis of its legal system.

Being an International Lawyer has really provided a well-rounded facet to my practice and the type of lawyer that I am today. Working for an International Bank has exposed me to several benefits most notably working with different nationalities, servicing diverse clients and advising in cross-border transactions whilst broadening my network. For companies operating across international borders, legal, regulatory and cultural challenges are often faced. I have been able to use my cultural affinity and ethnicity to add value to my organisation, having both lived and studied in each jurisdiction.

Above all, the best part is being able to escape the cold British winter, staying connected to my family and being able to motivate aspiring lawyers in St. Lucia.

Have you found a new hobby during lockdown?

The pandemic has caused us all to variably deviate from our normal active working routines. For me, I have found great pleasure in honing my culinary skills by baking and trying new recipes and between my husband and me, I am unsure who enjoys it more. However, should my legal career not work out I may have discovered a contingent plan to fall back on.