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More than half of the solicitors and paralegals believe their career and promotion prospects are inferior to those of non-disabled colleagues, according to research published late last week.
The report, “Legally Disabled? The career experiences of disabled people working in the legal profession”, was published by Cardiff Business School, which surveyed 288 lawyers (of which 241 were solicitors or paralegals and 47 were barristers) in the UK.
“It is also significant that disabled people are reluctant to move to another role or organisation for promotion for fear of losing agreed adjustments. This suggests disabled people are failing to advance not because of their talents, but because they anticipate discrimination. Our study suggests these ‘fears’ are often well-founded,” said the report.
Some 40% of those surveyed either never or only sometimes tell their employer or prospective employer they are disabled.
Cardiff Business School recommended that, in addition to being the first profession to introduce disability pay gap reporting, the profession should introduce a ‘disability passport’ scheme.
Telecoms company British Telecom was one of the first organisations to introduce a disability passport scheme, which ensures agreed adjustments are appropriately recorded and transferable when someone moves around within the firm.
The report also found that a significant proportion of disabled people have experienced forms of disability-related ill-treatment, bullying, or discrimination, with 60% of solicitors and paralegals experiencing ill-treatment in the workplace.
Of these, 80% believe the ill-treatment was related to disability. Among barristers, the figures were 45% and 71% respectively.
Common experiences of ill-treatment included “ridiculing or demeaning language” (40% solicitors/paralegals; 60% barristers), “exclusion or victimisation” (47% solicitors/ paralegals). More than half (53%) of solicitors and paralegals and 35% of barristers classified their experiences as discrimination.
However, 37% of the solicitors and paralegals surveyed said they “never” reported ill-treatment. The number was even higher among barristers, with more than half (54%) saying they never reported.
“Examples of ill-treatment suggest the legal profession has a long way to go to address poor behaviour and those on the receiving end of the ill-treatment need to feel confident that they can report it,” said the report.
According to the research, while there were some “extreme instances” of ill-treatment, ‘unconscious bias’ was more prevalent.
A zero-tolerance policy was recommended to address the ill-treatment and bullying of disabled people in the workplace.
But the business school noted that this policy must be “underpinned by a more developed understanding” of the ill-treatment that disabled people often experience in their day-to-day living and its impact on them.
“Disabled people are often the ‘forgotten’ group in disability and inclusion initiatives, exacerbating their isolation. The profession must work closely with disabled people’s groups to actively identify and address ill-treatment and isolation,” it added.
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