There is a rather big word that our friends in the Diversity & Inclusivity (D&I) teams have in their lexicon which is “intersectionality”. I am not sure anyone really understands what it means. Is it about gender, sexuality, race, religion, social class and/or disabilities?  It is supposed to acknowledge all the differences between us which could prejudice or disadvantage a person. Some see it as a burden. Others as an unfair advantage. To some, I know it is often assumed that ticking a lot of boxes is a good thing, akin to a super power. Others worry that it can hold them back. Social mobility can often get forgotten in this debate too.  But from one who knows the inside story of my story, it just makes for a long list of questions to be answered.

  • Who is she? Northern? Indian?
  • Why doesn’t she have kids?
  • Why does she not speak Hindi or Bengali?
  • Does she have a father?

The answers to these questions stem in part because of my adoption back in the early 70s. My mother tragically died while giving birth to me. She suffered a pulmonary embolism leaving behind me, three much older kids and my dad. It was a rather difficult time then for a young female baby in a rural setting without a mum. I was first adopted in Kolkata and then brought over to a village outside Barnsley where I was then adopted again. So, it would not be wrong to conclude that a chunk of my early months was spent in a court room.

The impact of being adopted by a loving single female, who also happened to be a Methodist missionary was life changing.  My mum and nan brought me up which was a bit unusual back then.  It also carved out a curious and rather quirky character.   I was surrounded by a heap of love and kindness, but I just wanted to be normal.

The only possible downside of this ambition to be normal is that I absorbed very little Asian or Indian culture.  As a youngster, I made a terrible Indian in the 80s.  I really did not take kindly to being called a “Paki” by the other kids in primary school (or to the egg and cabbage curries that were created for me, for that matter).  As a five-year-old I just could not understand why the other kids could not get it right or why curry at home tasted so bad compared to Roast Beef and Yorkshire puddings.  I was from Barnsley as far as I could tell and possibly Indian by birth.  The insult that was intended went over my head at that age.  As friends have later said to me, you really are the most English person we know?

I wasn’t much closer to those kids that looked like me back then.  I have vivid memories of trips to shops run by Asian families in Bradford where I would hide, just in case someone was going to take me back to where I came from.  That phrase “go back to where you came from” was something to be avoided and survival instincts as a child led me to assume that it was far better to be normal and fit in as much as you can so they wouldn’t send me back.

Thankfully some of the fear eventually left me, helped in part by getting into a diverse Quaker school aged 11.  But I still had a strong desire to be like the other kids.

The upshot is that I do have an understanding that being around “different” isn’t easy for everyone.  Prejudice can spring up anywhere and not everyone wants everyone else to know everything about them.

My friends and teachers at that time shaped how I saw my place in the world and my potential.   Access to the Sunday Times (we never got a newspaper at home) meant I started to read about something each week called the Guinness Trial in the late 80s.  I then began to wonder what fun it must be to be a barrister or solicitor on such fraud cases.  Life choices are made on how we feel about our place in the world and being a solicitor seemed like the more realistic option.  Becoming a barrister never seemed like a possibility for a person like me back then.

Fast forward a few decades and I now work as partner at boutique disputes firm Keidan Harrison LLP, having now worked in the law for almost 25 years.  It has been a bit of a hard slog at times, but I just cannot imagine doing anything else.

I now face a rather different stage of life.  Being an old sage.  The wisdom and experience of my generation of female lawyers may be evaporating, but hopefully is not lost altogether.  Having spent too many years as a young lawyer in the early ’00s being the only non-white female person in the room, I am now often the oldest woman in the room.  I still count how many people like me are in the room.

I guess I should address the rainbow elephant in the room. As it is Pride, which always fills me with happiness for what has been achieved but also reminds me of the struggles still ahead.   What really puts a smile on my face is that my having a wife is the least interesting thing you will read today.  I am not someone who is comfortable on the Pride soap box as I am fully aware that everyone has their own individual story to tell.  Until the mid-10s, I am not sure I was that comfortable to share too much about myself with anyone.  I am proud to see a new generation of diverse lawyers emerging who are comfortable to share their lives with colleagues and line managers.

I am happy that we can have the current debate about identity and it is important to listen to all views.  There is still so much to be done elsewhere and working out what is important is vital.  The welcome that our community receives inside law firms in London is far better now.  I hope all those firms who support Pride in places like London and New York but with offices in those kinds of locations slightly less hospitable to the LGBT community will help open up the debate in a sensible way when the political and commercial undercurrents of displaying rainbows is less comfortable.  I love that law firms like to trumpet support for big causes such as Pride Month and Social Mobility, but the inside experience matters far more.

While box ticking is all very well, highlighting a firm’s room for improvement is much more useful. So I would encourage firms to report their progress.  I would challenge firms to note in the minutes of their partner/management meetings the diversity of the attendees.  How often are there only two female partners sat around the table or to look at it another way, how often are white men the minority? Don’t keep your failures in the closet… just be honest, if you don’t tick boxes.

The recent ban on rainbow watches in one Far East jurisdiction did make me wonder if all our progress could all be taken away one day.  How can anyone feel threatened by a rainbow watch?  I then discovered that there are all sorts of meanings attached to what a rainbow means; for some it is the wrath of God, but for me it means there is hope.

Dipti Hunter is a committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Association and a partner at Keidan Harrison