The Power of Inclusion: Widening Access to Careers Across The City
Our first Power of Inclusion workshop of the year took place this week, hosted at the London offices of international law firm Ashurst.
Guests heard insightful speeches from Dan Robertson, Director of VERCIDA Consulting and chair of the Power of Inclusion Senior Leadership Forum, Sarah Churchman OBE, Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer at PwC UK and Lord Mayor of the City of London 2021/2022 and Chair of Progress Together Vincent Keaveny, on everything from poverty as a determinant of social mobility to the ways that companies like PwC are attracting students without the funds to go to university.
Round table discussions, encouraging participants to share stories on how they are tackling social mobility during a cost of living crisis, prompted questions about balancing role modelling and tokenism, using KPIs to help keep progress on track and supporting young people to access opportunities like internships through actions such as paying them in advance. It was fantastic to see attendees from top companies across The City including Baker McKenzie, Allen & Overy and CBRE; we even had the top three companies in last year’s social mobility employer index, Grant Thornton UK, KPMG and Browne Jacobson, sitting at the same table!
While we gather further insights from ‘Workshop One: Social Mobility & the Cost of Living Crisis’ to share on our Power of Inclusion Hub, we asked Ella Blakesley, Ashurst’s Senior Social Impact Manager to tell us how their Access Ashurst Programme is widening access to careers in law across the City and beyond.
Widening access to careers in law: Ashurst's Access Ashurst programme
By Ella Blakesley: Senior Social Impact Manager, Ashurst
I started working in Ashurst's London Office in July 2015 and manage Ashurst's Social Impact programme for Europe, the Middle East and United States. I absolutely love my job and am proud of the collective work that Ashurst does for people facing marginalisation and disadvantage across our global offices.
I absolutely love my job and am proud of the collective work that Ashurst does for people facing marginalisation and disadvantage across our global offices
A longstanding passion for me (and Ashurst) is our focus on supporting young people from low socio-economic backgrounds in their education and career journeys, with a particular focus on young people aspiring to enter the legal profession. Our Access Ashurst programme has been running for over 10 years and provides secondary school students with access to a programme of paid work experience, skills workshops and mentoring support. One of the aims of the programme is to act as a talent pipeline for our Early Careers programmes and in September 2021 and 2022, we welcomed two programme alumni to our London office as Solicitor Apprentices.
A longstanding passion for me (and Ashurst) is our focus on supporting young people from low socio-economic backgrounds in their education and career journeys
Over the past 6 years our Access Ashurst programme has evolved in order to reach our goal of creating a talent pipeline for our Early Careers programmes. See below for some of the challenges that we have faced along the way:
Impact of socio-economic background: Our Access Ashurst students have huge potential and natural talent, but lack access to professional role models in their family which can put them at a disadvantage when navigating law firms' recruitment processes. For example – the level of detail and research required at application form stage. A lack of confidence and feelings of 'imposter syndrome' are also common barriers that many of our students face – challenges which take time to overcome.
Our Access Ashurst students have huge potential and natural talent, but lack access to professional role models in their family which can put them at a disadvantage
Competitive recruitment processes: The competitive nature of our Early Careers programmes means that only a small percentage of applicants are offered roles at the firm. Candidates are required to perform to a very high standard across multiple assessments.
Keeping in touch with alumni: Students can be hard to keep in touch with and this is made worse by the time lag between when students complete the Access Ashurst programme and when they then go onto apply for an Early Careers opportunity (e.g. vacation scheme/training contract)!
Overcoming these challenges
2015: Establishment of partnership with education charity Teach First and partner school in Harlow, Essex.
2016: Introduction of partnership with the Social Mobility Business Partnership (SMBP) to further the support provided to Access Ashurst students.
2017: Broadening of partnership with Teach First to target schools across London, increasing student recruitment pool. Introduction of system to track Access Ashurst alumni and their progress after completing the programme.
2019: Increased collaboration between the Social Impact and Early Careers team. Promotion of Access Ashurst on our website, via social media channels and through wide range of social mobility partners (including Teach First), allowing us to reach students across the UK, further increasing our student recruitment pool. Introduction of formal recruitment process, utilising Early Career's Applicant Tracking System and Rare's Contextual Recruitment software. Introduction of competitive telephone interview process. Establishment of partnership with Brightside Mentoring to expand support for students and their connection with Ashurst after completing the programme and help us to keep in touch with students in the years to come.
2020: Introduction of gamified assessments in partnership with Criteria and removal of GCSE grade requirements.
2021: Recruitment of first Access Ashurst Alum as a Solicitor Apprentice.
2022: Recruitment of our second Access Ashurst Alum as a Solicitor Apprentice. 2022: Launch of our virtual Access Law programme to further support Access Ashurst students throughout Year 13 and reach a new cohort of students across the whole of the UK.
2022: Introduction of paid work experience for Access Ashurst students.
2022: Launch of partnership with Unifrog to target schools based within commutable distance of London in social mobility cold spots.
Where possible avoid working with one partner school or organisation as this limits the reach of your programme
Collaboration between the Social Impact/CSR and Early Careers Teams is essential. Both teams need to see the mutual benefits of collaboration.
Advertise your programme as widely as possible and ideally via your organisation's website. Where possible avoid working with one partner school or organisation as this limits the reach of your programme.
Provide a greater level of support to a smaller cohort of students as this is more likely to yield positive results. It’s not about the numbers but the individual impact!
Remember it can take time for change to yield the results you are looking for - patience is required!
Find out more about Access Ashurst Programme here
Sign up to the next Power of Inclusion Workshop on 5th July 2023 here