Diversity: how to demonstrate it

Silk application back to basics: how to understand, demonstrate and derive joy from the diversity competence

Anyone who is familiar with the QC application process will know that there is a section in the application form called ‘Diversity’. I was aware of this prior to applying, but have to confess that I did not take it seriously. I had assumed that I would be waved through the diversity part, simply on account of being an ethnic minority and having the name ‘Sarabjit Singh’. I had thought that the diversity section would be a tick box exercise and my interviewers would wave me through as soon as they saw me; something that other barristers might need to worry about but not something that I had to lose any sleep over.

I soon discovered, however, that I was very wrong. The diversity ‘competency’ is not a tick box exercise and cannot be ignored by any applicant. In fact, once I realised that just being me wouldn’t be enough, I had no idea what to say. I didn’t have the first clue what the application guidance expected me to do when it said that I had to ‘demonstrate’ an ‘excellent understanding of diversity’. How does anyone do that? And what even was this concept of ‘diversity’ that I was expected to understand and demonstrate? What at first had seemed to be the easiest part of the form now seemed to be the hardest. Eventually I worked out what to do by asking lots of people lots of questions and thinking and reflecting for many hours. Now I am going to tell you what to do to save you all that time.

“The great thing about the diversity competency is that it forces those at the senior junior end to think about problems that exist and do something about them”

What diversity means for Silk

‘Diversity’ in the context of the QC application form means the differences between individuals. When people speak of the need for diversity at the Bar, what they mean is the need for the Bar to reflect those differences, eg in gender, race and class, by being representative of society as a whole, so that no one group in society is over or under represented. This is desirable because, amongst other things, it ensures public confidence in the Bar and that the Bar selects from a full talent pool. ‘Diversity’ for the purposes of the QC application form also means that barristers must show an awareness of potential differences in the expectations and needs of the different groups in society who they may encounter in their working lives.

... And who to satisfy the competency

Once it is understood what ‘diversity’ means, how can an applicant ‘demonstrate’ an understanding of it and otherwise satisfy the competency? There are two main things that need to be demonstrated:

  • The first is an awareness of diversity, an example of which could be showing sensitivity and adaptation to the needs of vulnerable clients or clients from a particular cultural background, or being aware of and challenging discriminatory practices.
  • The second is showing pro-active steps you have taken to encourage diversity and equality of opportunity, which would themselves evidence an understanding of diversity.

Examples of encouraging diversity include setting up mini-pupillage or similar schemes in chambers for underrepresented groups, giving talks about the Bar in state schools, getting involved in social mobility initiatives and mentoring.

A particular problem for the Bar is the large drop-out rate for women of 15+ years’ call, which results in a gender imbalance at the senior end, so any steps taken to encourage the retention of female tenants (particularly after maternity leave) would be good examples of encouraging diversity.

Rewards of encouraging diversity

If you are thinking of applying for silk, you may already be able to think of numerous examples of your admirable efforts in this regard. If not, get working now to show that you understand and encourage diversity. The great thing about the competency is that it forces those at the senior junior end of the Bar who want to apply for silk to think about the problems that exist in respect of diversity and it makes them do something about them. For lots of us, doing something about them also happens to be a fun and rewarding experience that we continue as silks. Even those of us who began thinking that all they needed to do was be called Sarabjit Singh.

Where to start?

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Sarabjit Singh

Sarabjit Singh was called in 2001, appointed silk in 2018 and practises in tax, public law and clinical negligence from the chambers of Richard Booth QC at 1 Crown Office Row