In 2022, we undertook a survey of our members to understand whether they had experienced bullying, harassment, discrimination, or another form of unwelcome or unacceptable behaviour at the Inn and to help us obtain a clearer picture of the demographics of our membership. This was, in part, prompted by the 2021 Bar Council working lives survey. Its findings on experiences of bullying, harassment and discrimination within the profession were bleak, with 1 in 3 reporting personal experiences in these areas in the past 2 years. We wanted to understand to what extent these experiences were mirrored within the Inn itself and how we could make things better.
We engaged an independent external consultant, the Institute of Employment Studies (IES), to deliver the survey and analyse the results. IES delivered its report earlier this year (you can read the full report here). Since then, our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee has analysed the report and considered the actions to be taken. Their conclusions so far have led to the initial action plan enclosed with this report and will feed into the next iteration of our overall EDI action plan, to be published early in 2024.
We are very grateful to all those who took part in the survey. Although the response rate was relatively low it has still given us valuable information about members’ experiences and diversity profiles. We are especially grateful that so many members took the time to provide detailed comments. While the published report includes only a few of these, we have all the comments and are using them to inform our work.
The results of the survey show that the demographics of our members in practice in England and Wales are consistent with the profession as a whole, suggesting that further work is needed on improving access to the profession and retaining and supporting the progress of women, those from ethnic minority backgrounds, and those from less advantaged backgrounds. We can build on existing work in this respect such as our programme of diversity and inclusion events, our new social mobility prize for undergraduates, and work to improve diversity amongst our Benchers.
While the Inn is only one player in the work to improve the diversity of the profession at all levels, it is our direct responsibility to make sure that everyone is made to feel welcome and treated with respect at the Inn. We were therefore dismayed that 12% of respondents had experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment, discrimination, or another form of unwelcome or unacceptable behaviour while using an Inn service or attending an Inn event in the past five years.
It is unacceptable that so many of our members have had these kinds of experiences in their interactions at the Inn and we need to do more to stamp out this type of behaviour. At the end of last year we published our Code of Conduct for members. We expect all members to adhere to and support this code and we want to know when this does not happen. However, we also need to know about it to be able to act. Information about our complaints policy can be found on our website. Where we receive complaints about the behaviour of individuals we always take action.
While a formal complaint enables us to tackle unacceptable behaviour directly, we appreciate that people may not wish to make a complaint for a variety of reasons. Therefore, we are working on establishing a system for people to raise concerns anonymously. While this will not replace our complaints policy, we hope that providing this route to raising concerns will improve rates of reporting so that we are made aware of issues and can take action.
Thank you again to all those who took part in this survey. The information you provided is helping to shape our continued improvements in diversity and inclusion.
The Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Vos, Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn
Chief Chancery Master Karen Shuman, Chair of the Lincoln’s Inn Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee
Initial Action Plan
These actions will be carried out over the next 12 months.
- Establish a programme of diversity and inclusion training and awareness raising for all Benchers and those who volunteer with the Inn to improve inclusive behaviour and equip them with the tools to challenge non-inclusive behaviour.
- Set up an anonymised reporting mechanism for people to raise concerns, that will sit alongside our existing complaints policy and process. We will also explore other ways to gather more detailed and contemporaneous feedback on EDI issues at the Inn.
- Continue promoting our Code of Conduct regularly and often so that all members are clear about our expected standards of behaviour and how to raise concerns.
- Expand our existing mentoring scheme to all members. Those taking part will be able to request a mentor for a range of issues, including diversity and inclusion issues as well as advice on their careers.
- Introduce a buddy system for new Benchers so they feel more included and comfortable in their new role and so are better able to help us promote the inclusive environment we are striving for.
- Continue our varied range of diversity and inclusion events, ensuring that these events cover as wide a range of topics as possible, and celebrating and highlighting as many cultural and religious festivals and awareness days as possible, so that all our members feel seen, heard, and included.
- Use the survey report to inform our next overarching EDI action plan, as well as incorporating the above points into the plan.