On Wednesday Stonewall published its Top 100 Employers 2015, showcasing Britain’s best employers for lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. About 400 organisations, employing over 13 million people, applied to get on the list and the legal sector was so well represented that it earned second place behind local government.
It’s only right that law firms should feature high up a chart like this given that they are the ones guiding people about how to follow equality and diversity laws, but the evidence of their improvement is obvious; back in 2008 just a single firm, Pinsent Masons, managed to sneak into the top 100.
So, over the last few years, the industry has pursued this diversity agenda by introducing their own internal policies and projects, resulting in 2015’s stellar showing and 11 out of 100 on the Stonewall list coming from the legal sector.
Most people employed in the legal PR profession will have at some point encountered a story like this, but are diversity stories ever likely to be an easy sell to the media?
On first glance it would appear not. The following is of course not a comprehensive review, but search engine results for law firms’ activities don’t yield a significant amount of coverage. 9th placed on the Stonewall list, Freshfields has alongside Pinsent Masons, been the busiest in PR terms and the following search; ‘Freshfields diversity’ presents a potted history of its initiatives to tackle racial diversity and move forward the prospects of women in its ranks.
Barker & McKenzie achieved the 6th place on the LGBT list but the firm may have eschewed PR coverage instead opting to use its website as a central repository for information; Barker’s diversity section looks excellent and the firm is able proudly to show of its awards like ‘Best Law Firm for Women’.
Similarly, Simmons & Simmons was given ‘Star Performer’ status by Stonewall, but has almost no media coverage for any initiatives in this area. With a diversity and inclusion section on its website also displaying statements like ‘Best for Flexible Working’, it seems possible Simmons’ efforts could have lent themselves to great coverage about the issues that matter to women in the legal market, but alas; no headlines could be found.
There’s no getting away from the fact that diversity can still be viewed as a tick-box exercise and as such, trying to get journalists to consider it otherwise is a real challenge for PRs. In truth, there’s really only one diversity story that registers clearly on the media radar; clear and indisputable targets for gender, disability, race and class/background equality. If you are lucky enough to be a part of a firm which (like many of those on Stonewall’s list) has targets of its own, then you can expect a fair hearing from the press.
With a strong network of media contacts and in-depth knowledge of professional services, Christina advises a range of businesses and law firms on media and business development initiatives.