Who won Women And Diversity in Law Awards - and why - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion categories

Details of the winning entries in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion section of the awards

Everything you need to know about this year's winners

The Women and Diversity in Law Awards, which took place in London on March 21, highlighted the strides the legal profession is making to improve diversity through a range of workplace and community initiatives. 

Here is a rundown of the winners and those who made the shortlist in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion section of the awards, which were hosted by prominent diversity campaigner Baroness Floella Benjamin, who made her name as a presenter of BBC children’s programme Play School making her one of the first black television presenters in the UK.

Social Mobility Initiative of the Year - Sponsored by Byfield Reputation Counsel
Winner: BARBRI
Shortlist: Allen & Overy; Big Voice London; Client Talk; Flex Legal; In-House Legal Solutions; Keating Chambers; Paul Hastings

Legal education business BARBRI scooped the Social Mobility award for its efforts to improve socio-economic diversity in law. The BARBRI Bridges initiative is designed to help students who are at a disadvantage because of financial restraints. In the first 12 months of the scheme, BARBRI pledged £125,000 through a series of scholarships, discounts and wider support. It plans to raise the funding available to £250,000 a year. BARBRI’s broader education programme helps prepare candidates for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), with its students achieving a 77% average pass rate for the SCE1 exam compared to the industry average of 53%. BARBRI has sought to build partnerships that can influence change and meet the SQE’s diversity and inclusion goals. “Action, money, a joined up approach and results,” one judge noted.

Race Equality Initiative of the Year
Winner: Keller Postman UK
Shortlist: Reed Smith (Highly Commended); Extense; Mills & Reeve

Boutique litigation firm Keller Postman UK won the Race Equality award for its work through its newly established Achieving and Celebrating Ethnicity and Diversity (ACED) committee, which seeks to raise awareness of diversity, equality and inclusion issues in the industry. The concept was created by Akilah Jeffers, who joined the firm as an associate in 2021. ACED organises events across the firm’s UK office network that help shine a spotlight on the challenges women and ethnic minority lawyers face. Jeffers also launched a bi-monthly firmwide newsletter to highlight diversity issues and profile women and BAME employees at the firm. The firm has also established other diversity related committees, including a women’s committee, a disabled committee and an LGBTQ+ committee and provides outreach and mentoring programmes. “The outcome of these initiatives demonstrates that DE&I is not just confined to big law firms with large budgets,” a judge commented.

Click here to read about the winners in the Outstanding Women Practitioners section of the awards and here to read the Outstanding Women Leaders section

Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiative of the Year
Winner: RPC
Shortlist: Mills & Reeve (Highly Commended); Fragomen; Harbottle & Lewis; Harrison Drury Solicitors; Higgs; International Bar Association; In/Fertility in the City; Manders Law

RPC took home the Mental Health and Wellbeing award for its efforts to safeguard its employees from self-harm. In addition to providing an on-site psychologist and mental health first aiders, the firm also adopted R;pple Suicide Prevention’s digital tool that pops up on screen if someone is searching for harmful content online and provides them with coping strategies and links to mental health services and helplines. RPC was the first UK law firm to install R;pple across all corporate devices (which it launched to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day) and is part of its strategy for using technology for good. RPC lawyers are also encouraged to share the app with schools and universities in their communities, which can access it for free. “An exceptional and incredibly impactful initiative,” one judge said.

LGBT+ Initiative of the Year
Winner: 4 Pump Court
Shortlist: Fragomen; Mills & Reeve

Commercial barristers chambers 4 Pump Court won the LGBT+ award for its work promoting sexual inclusivity and sending the message that the commercial bar is open to all. As part of those efforts, it held a student moot competition for aspiring lawyers from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, with teams invited from the four Inns of Court. The event helped spread the importance of Pride month and provided a learning experience for contestants. All participants were offered one-day mini-pupillages while the finalists received two-day pupillages. The Pride Moot event will be held annually, with different supporting law firms each year (the debut event was supported by DWF and Simmons & Simmons). “Chambers are not well known for their approach to D&I, so this initiative is to be applauded,” a judge commented.

Gender Equality Initiative of the Year
Winner: Reed Smith
Shortlist: Her Bar (Highly Commended); AlixPartners (Highly Commended); A City Law Firm; Brown Rudnick; International Bar Association; In/Fertility in the City; TLT

Reed Smith picked up the Gender Equality award for its efforts to create a work environment where women have equal opportunity to succeed. Since the pandemic, the firm has introduced several female-focused initiatives, including The Family Network to help balance work with personal responsibilities and the Women’s Initiative Network of Reed Smith (WINRS) to provide development support, training and mentoring. The firm was also a founding member of the Reignite Academy, which helps lawyers who have taken a career break return to the profession. Reed Smith’s most recent partner promotion round saw women make up 50% of the cohort, now representing 26% of the firm’s equity partnership. A judge noted: “Very impressive and focused with clear objectives and clear outcomes and impact.”

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Faith Initiative of the Year
Winner: Clifford Chance
Shortlist: RPC (Highly Commended)

Clifford Chance was handed the Faith award for its campaign to raise awareness of Ramadan across the firm and to share the lived experience of Muslims who observe the month-long religious event. The initiative was designed to help people be supportive of their Muslim colleagues and to better understand the demands on those taking part, such as fasting and the impact that has on energy levels. The initiative also sparked discussion about having multi-faith meditation spaces in Clifford Chance offices around the world and what the firm can do to create a more inclusive workplace by supporting different faiths in observing their own religious festivals. “A great multi-jurisdiction change programme,” one judge said.

Environmental Sustainability Initiative of the Year
Winner: CMS
Shortlist: TLT (Highly Commended); Reed & Mackay

CMS was awarded the Environmental Sustainability prize for its partnership with education charity Young Citizens to create a climate-focused study programme that outlines how the law can be used to drive change. The programme was designed to fill a gap in the UK’s education system by developing students’ understanding and critical thinking around climate change issues. The programme is designed so that teachers can use it flexibly in lesson times and with year groups they think would benefit most. More than 25,000 young people have accessed the programme since it was launched to coincide with COP26 in late 2021. The firm’s responsible business team is continuing to work with Young Citizens to update the programme materials as the legal landscape evolves, while it is also developing a similar programme on biodiversity. “This is a striking example of how collaboration can be so impactful,” noted a judge.

Disability Initiative of the Year
Winner: Fieldfisher
Shortlist: Clifford Chance; Mills & Reeve

Fieldfisher won the Disability award for its work to include disability in the wider conversation around diversity. The firm’s ‘Discover’ network is designed to bring attention to and address the challenges that disabled people face in the legal industry by focusing on four key pillars: education, support, policy change and outreach. The network seeks to engage disabled, neurodivergent and non-disabled people across the firm to create dialogue and drive disability inclusive change. Fieldfisher is one of the first law firms to introduce a disability leave policy, adding to its existing neurodiversity policy. The firm also has long-term pro bono partnerships with disabled people’s organisations and creates opportunities for aspiring disabled lawyers.

Age and Life Stage Initiative of the Year
Winner: In/Fertility in the City
Shortlist: Carey Olsen

In/Fertility in the City won the Age and Life Stage award for its efforts to improve support for infertility issues in the workplace. The initiative first started with in-person panel events and has since developed into a podcast that explores issues around infertility and what organisations can do to better understand these challenges. Since launching In/Fertility in the City, several law firms have implemented fertility and pregnancy loss policies and are changing how they respond to employees struggling with fertility issues, such as providing paid and unpaid leave for those undergoing fertility treatment, as well as providing funding for treatment. “Excellent initiative tackling issues that could not have been previously discussed openly,” a judge said.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programme of the Year
Winner: Browne Jacobson 
Shortlist: Big Voice London (Highly Commended); Bird & Bird; Burford Capital; Carey Olsen; CMS; Dentons; Neurodiversity in Law; Ronald Fletcher Baker LLP; Vorboss Limited

UK firm Browne Jacobson was recognised for having the best Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programme, which focuses on improving social mobility in the legal profession. The programme is designed to challenge misconceptions that a law career is for a privileged few and provide support to level the playing field for people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those without connections in the legal profession. The firm’s online career insight events attracted almost 25,000 students from more than 2,000 schools around the UK. The firm provided 80 paid work placements, with 85% of the spots offered to candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, the firm has removed its minimum entry requirement of a 2:1 degree and an ABB at A-level to receive a legal training contract. “It’s so refreshing to see a national law firm not just pay lip service – they are trying to help the whole legal profession and not just themselves,” a judge enthused.

Mentor of the Year
Winner: Julian McCombe, Euporos Consulting 
Shortlist: Emma Haywood, Babylon Health (Highly Commended); Alexandra Anderson, RPC; Claire Broadbelt, Greenberg Traurig; Elaine Banton, 7BR Chambers; Kathryn Garbett, Greenberg Traurig; Lisa Ardley-Price, NatWest; Mair Williams, Latham & Watkins; Sara Carnegie, International Bar Association; Whitney Joseph, Mayer Brown

Euporos Consulting’s Julian McCombe has been providing coaching and mentoring services in the legal sector for the past quarter of a century, having abandoned his career at the Bar due to the homophobia he experienced during pupillage. That discrimination inspired McCombe to put diversity at the heart of his mentoring work to empower individuals regardless of their backgrounds. He runs free clinics for lawyers considering silk applications and is responsible for mentoring more than half of successful female silk applicants in the 2021-22 appointments competition (25 of the 45 appointed). As a psychologist, McCombe’s focus is on building the confidence and aspirations of his mentees. “Outstanding commitment to the profession and women in the law,” a judge commented.

DE&I Champion of the Year in a Specialist Role
Winner: Sunita Harley, Collective Insight
Shortlist: Justin Farrance, Allen & Overy (Highly Commended); Alice Brighouse, Matrix Chambers; Claire Rason, Client Talk; Jane Burton, Disabled Solicitors Network; Julian McCombe, Euporos Consulting; Millie Hawes, Fieldfisher; Sadia Salam, Sadia Salam Coaching; Sara Carnegie, International Bar Association; Yvette Croucher, Paul Hastings

Sunita Harley founded her consultancy Collective Insight to help law firms with coaching, inclusion and professional development. As co-chair of the Cultural Diversity Network, she champions diversity and inclusion across the industry, introducing firms to networks such as Collab and NOTICED. In her role as inclusion consultant at Taylor Wessing, she led the firm’s involvement in the 10,000 Black Interns programme and helped raise the profile of the firm’s race and ethnicity strategy, which has boosted participation in its Cultural Diversity Mentoring Programme. “Sunita’s colleagues often comment on the impact she makes when championing diversity and inclusion – race, ethnicity and gender in particular,” a judge said.

DE&I Champion of the Year in a Legal Role
Winner: SunHee Park, Adsum Technologies
Shortlist: Bernadette Gooding, Vodafone (Highly Commended); Grace Woolford, Browne Jacobson (Highly Commended); Akilah Jeffers, Keller Postman; Chinwe Odimba-Chapman, Clifford Chance; Elaine Banton, 7BR Chambers; Holly d'Anger, Carey Olsen; Raj Naik, Fragomen; Samir Manek, Mishcon de Reya; Shannett Thompson, Kingsley Napley

UK fintech Adsum Technologies’ general counsel SunHee Park founded the East Asian Lawyers Organisation (EALO) in 2019 as a safe space for East Asians and a reminder to the world that East Asians exist, given the lack of East Asian visibility in the UK. EALO hosts monthly meetings for those in the community where they maintain a diverse agenda, including talks from guests about their career journeys and discussing books by East Asian writers. It also provides a forum where the East Asian legal community can discuss the issues and challenges they face as a minority in a majority culture. “Good working championing a community that can often be overlooked in this area,” a judge commented.

Supplier of the Year
Winner: MD Communications
Shortlist: Arbitra International; BARBRI; Client Talk; Collective Insight

MD Communications provides PR and communications advice to the legal and professional services sectors, helping firms build brands that can attract and retain a diverse workforce. The boutique consultancy created a webinar series around wellbeing in the workplace, focusing on topics including vulnerability and resilience. Following that work, MD Communications founder Melissa Davies was invited to be a founding member of the IBA’s global wellbeing taskforce. Davies is also co-founder of the Parents Promise, which is seeking to drive change around HR policies to better support separated parents. “Committed to DE&I in various categories and in more than word only,” one judge noted.

Not for Profit Organisation of the Year
Winner: Big Voice London
Shortlist: International Bar Association; Neurodiversity in Law; The 93% Club

Big Voice London is a social mobility charity aimed at students aged between 15 and 18 who are attending non-fee-paying schools in England and Wales. The charity seeks to engage young people in the law and legal policy, inspire them to pursue legal careers and improve the diversity of the profession. It offers various interactive projects (including a summer school in association with Linklaters) and provides guidance and mentoring around career paths and routes into law. Since it was founded in 2011, it has helped more than 2,500 students, with many going on to study law at university. “Clearly an impactful programme which has changed the lives of many,” a judge enthused.

Responsible Business of the Year
Winner: Matrix Chambers
Shortlist: Ashurst (Highly Commended); In-House Legal Solutions; Paddle & Cocks; Raedas; Reed & Mackay; Ronald Fletcher Baker; TLT

London, Geneva and Brussels-based barristers set Matrix Chambers is committed to taking immediate and ongoing action to tackle the impact of climate change as part of its social responsibility goals. The set has made six key environmental pledges, which include reaching net zero for its Scope 1 and 2 emissions and reduce Scope 3 emissions as much as possible by the end of 2025. Matrix was the first chambers to publish its carbon footprint and green strategy, switching to 100% renewable energy, introducing a waste and recycling scheme and has a meat-free policy on site. It also has a number of DE&I targets, with women making up 50% of staff and more than half of senior managers. “A pioneer amongst barristers chambers on responsible business,” said a judge.

Responsible Leader of the Year
Winner: Sarah Clarke KC, Serjeants’ Inn
Shortlist: Arun Birla, Paul Hastings; Elizabeth Anscombe, Raedas; Jane Burton, Disabled Solicitors Network; Maria Connolly, TLT; Rachel Pears, RPC; Rakeebah Rahim, Ronald Fletcher Baker; Richard David Port, George Green; Siobhan Owers, Fragomen; Zoe Ashcroft, Winston & Strawn

Serjeants’ Inn barrister Sarah Clarke is director of the South Eastern Circuit Advanced International Advocacy Course, or known simply as the ‘Keble Course’ – one of the most respected advocacy courses worldwide. That is part of her commitment to improving access to the profession and helping the needs of the vulnerable in court. She also provides mentoring and other support initiatives for those seeking to access or progress in the profession, such as negotiating subsidised work placements and arranging shadowing. The Keble Course also supports women returning to the profession after periods of absence, all motivated by her strong belief in fairness, equality and diversity. “She has made a real difference on a national level,” a judge commented.

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