16 February 2024

Diversity: The way we were

What is diversity? Despite a multiplicity of available definitions, there is no straightforward answer to this apparently simple question. Indeed, the 5.6 billion results provided by a quick Google search of the word shows that diversity ranks midway between comparable searches for the word God (6.6 billion) and religion (4.6 billion).

This neat bisection is appropriate since the meaning of diversity has gone well beyond simply rejecting any form of discrimination and embracing the benefits that a more diverse workforce can deliver. It has become something of a twenty-first century religion with myriad interpretations, millions of devoted followers, and yet no uniform or unifying consensus as to its precise meaning.

Not that law firms are, or should be, particularly concerned with any philosophical or etymological analysis of the word, now commonly expanded to the broader Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI). But almost without exception, big law firms are extremely concerned to support, recruit and actively promote, according to what they perceive to be general DEI principles and values. And to be seen to do so in a very public way. Collectively, they wear their diversity badges with enthusiasm and parade their diversity data with pride. For the majority of firms, this long overdue commitment is entirely genuine. But for a minority, there may be an element of virtue signalling, driven by a combination of peer pressure and a desire to avoid adverse media comment.

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