Black History Month - Our hopes for the future

As part of our celebration of Black History Month, we heard from a number of people about their hopes and aspirations for the future in the fight against racism and discrimination against the black community.

During the last few months we have witnessed the world rise up against racial inequality. For myself personally this brought up feelings of sadness, anger and frustration at the deep racial injustices that still occur in our local communities. Others are only now beginning to understand the systemic and institutional racism, and the role that bias and privilege has played in perpetuating racism. As I look to the future and further along the path to ending racism and discrimination, I hope for this to be reflected in more representation in decision making roles, the career trajectory of black people to be the same as their white counterparts, and for me not to have to teach my children that they need to work twice as hard as their white friends and family in order to achieve success! Justina Omotayo, Business Development Manager
My hope is that in the near future the firm has its first black partner and that after this, it occurs with enough frequency that it is no longer remarkable. I also hope that below partner level there will be more black fee-earners. 2020 has been a turning point and bodes well for the future. I am optimistic. Loye Oyedotun, Corporate Associate
I’m hopeful that we’ll get to a point where we don’t need to have a Black History Month at all. We can’t get there until the past and present contributions of black people are fully acknowledged and celebrated as a matter of course, whether that’s in our education system, the media, the legal profession, the workplace or society at large. We have a lot of work to do, but 2020 certainly feels like a turning point for all of us to think about how we recognise the struggles and achievements of the black community in our personal and professional lives Emma Haywood, IP/IT Associate
2020 is the year of reckoning, change must happen and there’s no place for discrimination or racism. I’m hopeful we can live in a prosperous society, where opportunities and resources are allocated fairly and everyone is treated with courtesy and respect. Whilst we have a long way to go, I’m delighted Slaughter and May are signatories to the Race Fairness Commitment, with significant improvements to career prospects of BAME employees, I’d like to see more representation in leadership roles in the near future. Elana Wicks, Business Development Programme Manager
The events of the past year have forced into the limelight important, much needed conversations about race in our society, communities, workplaces and friendships. This has resulted in greater engagement and awareness of the black experience across these spheres. However, it is clear is that there is no silver bullet that will create more equity.

I hope that this becomes a defining moment that can move us forward. We need to harness this awareness and turn it into concrete actions at the individual and collective level. I hope that everyone at the firm realises the impact that they can have as individuals and will remain committed to be engaged, curious and willing to learn about race and ethnicity, inside and outside of the workplace. This includes having honest conversations with those immediately around us to call out racism and discrimination and teaching young people and children about what being anti-racist means.

On a collective level, our partner working group on race and ethnicity is driving the firm’s action plan to accelerate progress on black representation and to create a lasting, tangible impact in the way that we work. From a sectorial perspective we know that there are disparities in career outcomes for black lawyers and we need to start tackling these collective issues with collaborative solutions to increase the representation of black lawyers within the profession.
Uzma Hamid-Dizier, Head of Responsible Business and Inclusion
I hope that when we look back on this strange year, one of the positives we will take from it is that the legal industry has made a step change towards ensuring that members of the black community get access to the opportunities they deserve. Fairness and trust are at the heart of what we do as lawyers and I believe that law firms can play an important role in terms of ensuring there is fairness and trust in terms of access to opportunities. And that we will all benefit from the excellence, energy and enjoyment which come with thriving, diverse teams. Although there is a lot more to do, it is great to see progress being made, including signing the Race Fairness Commitment and pledging to do more to foster BAME talent across the firm in a letter to the Sunday Times. Claire Jeffs, Co-Chair of the Competition Group
The recent focus on racial injustice is making people sit up and ask themselves whether the apparent progress in business over recent years towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace has been, in hindsight, too superficial, cosmetic and one-dimensional. Perhaps we have to recognise that the low-hanging fruit has almost gone and that the time has arrived for us to embrace deeper change.

My hope is that we are ready now in society for a mature conversation in which we can freely examine inequality in all its forms. And so, as we confront the evils of racial injustice, we can look to be ambitious and to take forward the broader fight against social disadvantage. I don’t think we will ever truly defeat racism until we address the structural economic barriers to advancement. It’s troubling to me that professional services firms are in many ways as elitist now as they were when I started out. To a large extent, this reflects the distortions we see in wider society but the firms have a big role to play as we strive for progress. We now have a chance to turn our backs on the perpetuation of privilege and show leadership in ensuring that people with talent and capacity for hard work can get on regardless of background.
Andy Ryde, Head of Corporate
The views shared below are mine and I cannot profess to speak for every black person or person of colour but I hope that this gives a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by some members of our community. Just remember that although we live in the same world, we don’t always exist in the same space because we don’t all exist in the same skin.

While difficult to articulate and accept, I have always said that the real sign of progress will be the day we have the occasional Black leader who is not always exceptional, who has not had to take on significantly more than others to get to the top of their industry and who is allowed to make mistakes and fail, without that ending their career. While many leaders are exceptional today, leaders from minority groups (whether that be, for example, those from the Black community or other ethnic minorities, women, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds or members of the LGBTQ+ community) often face a higher bar than those from the majority group. Levelling this bar, is key to making real progress.

I am also hopeful that we move away from “performative allyship”, allyship done for recognition and reward, to true allyship in which allies listen to and learn from the experiences of the Black community because they believe in the cause and want to work with that community to create a more equal society. There are many members of the Black community and their allies already doing an excellent job and the hope is that one day everyone will realise that we all have a role to play in ending race inequality.
Kyle Roachford, Officer and Chair of the RAF's BAME Network and speaker at our Black History Month panel discussion