How do we as a society ensure #BlackLivesMatter is more than a topical hashtag? In the first of a series of guest editor blogs from Bristol’s BAME communities, TLT’s Rabina Ahmed explores the structural challenges and opportunities for achieving better representation and diversity in our legal firms.
Living in a city known for its top universities, it's frustrating to hear that graduates from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are still struggling to secure top jobs in UK companies and that they are under-represented in key industries.
I don't want to dwell on the data though – because there are some great initiatives happening right here in Bristol helping BAME students to achieve their full potential. We've been particularly inspired by our work with various partners to give these students the confidence and opportunities they need to excel, from talks and workshops to networking events.
UWE has a dedicated 'Equity' programme for BAME students which won the Retention, Support and Student Outcomes award at The Guardian University Awards 2019.
In the legal sphere, we partnered with UWE, The Law Society's Ethnic Minority Lawyers division and a panel of BAME lawyers for our BAME student legal conference in Bristol and saw a full registration list, showing just how much appetite there is for this kind of support.
It was the same story again in London, and you can watch a video with practical tips from our speakers including Imran Khan QC; Lara Oyesanya, UK counsel and director legal for Klarna Bank AB; Dr Tunde Okewale MBE, barrister and founder of the charity Urban Lawyers; and Koser Shaheen, chair of the Ethnic Minority Division Committee (EMDC) of the Law Society.
If there's one key point that resonated with the students and that I'm particularly passionate about, it's that your background matters when applying for a career in industries like the law. While this might once have seemed like a disadvantage for BAME students, a minority ethnic background can actually be a real asset.
Take languages for example – with today's increasingly globalised workforce and business economy, speaking multiple languages is seen as a significant advantage in many jobs.
Familiarity with different cultures and traditions is also increasingly useful in a multi-cultural society, where government and businesses are promoting greater awareness, understanding and integration. Building relationships and doing business across different cultures can become really challenging if you're not familiar with their beliefs and customs.
We've all experienced imposter syndrome at some point in our lives, but if you’re talented then you have just as much right to a career as anyone else. We find that introducing students to peers and mentors who have been there, done that and achieved great things can give them a real confidence boost, whether that's through inspirational talks or informal networking.
The more you do something the better you will become. Confidence is a skill that can be learnt and in turn developed. However you will need to go out of your comfort zone to achieve it. Being well-prepared to sell yourself in an interview can also boost your confidence and prospective employers will appreciate your understanding of the business, the role and what you feel you can bring to the table versus other candidates.
I hope more businesses and professionals will continue to get involved in these kinds of initiatives and that more students will be able to access the people, networks and support they need. Too many people from BAME backgrounds are missing out on the career of their dreams and too many businesses are missing out on this incredible talent.
Rabina Ahmed is a financial services disputes solicitor at law firm TLT