Standard Chartered’s GC Okoro sets up diversity taskforce with quartet of legal advisers

A&O, Eversheds Sutherland, Simmons and Sullivan will join bank in seeking ways of “improving opportunities for minority talent”

Standard Chartered has set up a taskforce with four of its legal advisers to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the UK.

Allen & Overy (A&O), Eversheds Sutherland, Simmons & Simmons and Sullivan & Cromwell – members of the bank’s global legal panel – are fielding representatives on the taskforce, which is the brainchild of the UK-based bank’s group general counsel, Sandie Okoro.

The taskforce will “focus on improving opportunities for minority talent and aligns with our overall approach to diversity and building a culture of inclusion at Standard Chartered”, the bank said in a statement. 

Okoro, who joined the bank last year from the GC role at the World Bank, said: “We want to expand this culture of inclusion to the legal profession, by partnering with our law firms, to understand what barriers exist that deter minority talent from entering and succeeding in the legal profession and take collective action to drive change.

“Through this diversity and inclusion legal taskforce we will work together to create an equitable platform for all bright minds to enter the profession and be valued for their unique perspectives.”

Okoro has been recognised for her work to improve diversity and was included among the top 10 most influential Black Britons in The Powerlist 2023, alongside other leading business figures.

A&O restructuring partner Kathleen Wong, who specialises in emerging markets work, said: “We’ve been taking action to open up our own firm and the legal profession to new talent from all backgrounds for many years. We believe that by collaborating we can make an even bigger impact in reaching a wider and more diverse audience and we are delighted to be doing that with Standard Chartered Bank.”

Simmons disputes and investigations partner Nick Benwell, who will be one of the firm’s three representatives, added: “Diversity, equity and inclusion remain among the most significant issues for the legal profession. It is an area where law firms and clients continuously look for the most effective ways forward to improve access, and it’s by working together across firms and with our clients that we can make the most significant difference.”

The need for law firms to continue to focus on D&I is borne out by research repeatedly showing that barriers remain to entering and progressing in the legal profession for certain groups. A report published late last year and supported by law firms including Hogan Lovells and Linklaters found that just 90 of more than 13,000 partners at major law firms in England and Wales were Black – equivalent to 0.69%, despite Black people making up 3.3% of the population.  

Another report the City of London Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce published last year underscored the challenges facing those from a working class background. It found that most (64%) of senior leaders in the finance and professional services sector were from a family with a professional background, again a markedly higher proportion than the general UK population (37%).

The report noted that even when a working class person was Oxbridge educated and had the same qualifications and skills, they still didn’t benefit from sponsorships or from being deemed to “fit”, leading to missed advancement opportunities and roles. 

Law firms are attempting to tackle this lack of diversity in a number of ways, including quotas for their partnerships, sponsorship schemes and hiring D&I leaders. 

Earlier this year TLT and Simmons also announced they were partnering with Barclays to launch a joint training contract that would see trainees split their time evenly between in-house and private practice at the firms, with the scheme intended to widen access to the legal sector. 

Meantime in the summer, A&O and Eversheds were among the law firms spearheading a new initiative to recruit and develop solicitor apprentices. More than 50 law firms in total signed up to the scheme, including Simmons.

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