Pertinent data and psychological safety: the two key ingredients that Samir Manek believes are essential to driving racial equity.
As an Empower 100 Future Leader, UK Social Mobility Award Rising Star Finalist, advisory board member to the HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy taskforce on socio-economic diversity, and solicitor at Mishcon de Reya, we caught up with Samir Manek to learn more about the work being done in this space.
What does creating an anti-racist culture mean to you?
It means shaping attitudes and structures that enable a diversity of thought to flourish. Encouraging this is a passion that runs alongside my career as a regulatory legal adviser.
“Diversity of thought is crucial because it has the potential to create competitive advantage for businesses and positive spillover effects for society.”
To facilitate this, I have been promoting psychological safety, inclusion and diversity in a sustainable, outcomes-orientated way to the people and organisations I speak with.
This is a matter close to my heart. I was the first generation in my family to attend university and work in professional financial services—lots of firsts and lots of challenges to be navigated.
At Rare, Allen & Overy, the FCA and now Mishcon de Reya, I have offered thought leadership on progressive recruitment, retention and progression.
What do you think should be the key focus areas when trying to create an anti-racist culture?
Constructively challenging existing approaches, helping to implement new processes and acting as a role model by mentoring senior leaders and junior employees have all been key focus areas when trying to facilitate change.
At Mishcon de Reya, I sit on the Race Equity and Social Mobility Committees. In 2021, the firm was ranked in the Social Mobility Foundation Index and 58% of its trainee solicitors came from diverse backgrounds. This is great and there are more pertinent areas to explore. For example, when socio-economic background intersects with other characteristics, such as ethnicity, does this potentially create a double disadvantage? How can this be worked with?
“Focusing on the collection of pertinent data and tracking the retention and progression of diverse staff is essential; this is what organisations may like to consider more deeply.”
What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting to think about how to tackle racial equity?
I would ask them to think about the ‘why’. Why does the organisation want to do this work?
For example, does the organisation see the potential competitive advantage and societal importance of doing work? If so, the ‘why’ will shape the way. Each organisation is culturally unique and their culture will determine the best way to achieve this important goal.
Once this is achieved, joining an organisation like Progress Together will likely be a helpful next step. Progress Together creates a space for information sharing, community, advocacy and cutting-edge measurement thinking.
Can you expand on how to effectively build a diverse organisation?
Organisations on this journey often ask me, “hiring more diverse people will solve this problem, right?”. To an extent, yes, it will. But this is often followed by the question, "Our diverse candidates leave after a few years. Why?
As a first step among others, we need to devote attention to psychological safety. Inclusiveness and psychological safety cannot be declared into existence. They emerge from us as individuals, providing safety to our colleagues, day after day, as well as seeking and receiving the same in return.
The answer is often multi-faceted and from my experience, inclusion and psychological safety are key.
Focusing on the collection of pertinent data, tracking retention and progression of diverse staff and thinking carefully about what this story is telling you is imperative. Equally important is focusing on diversity as being less about statistics and more about attitude, an attitude that is an outcome arising from inclusiveness and psychological safety.
How do you work with organisations and groups to advance racial equity in the workplace?
I sit on the advisory board for the HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy task force to boost socio-economic diversity in UK financial and professional services. Over 100 organisations are involved in this work. I help shape attitudes and structures to facilitate UK plc's competitiveness.
The taskforce launched alongside research from the Bridge Group. The research found that employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds took 25% longer to progress through grades and that this ‘progression gap’ cannot be explained by performance. So, what does this story tell us? What about the intersection between socio-economic diversity and other characteristics such as ethnicity?
“Focusing on the collection of pertinent data, tracking retention and progression of diverse staff and thinking carefully about what this story is telling you is imperative. But, equally important is psychological safety”
I also regularly speak publicly on this space. For example, in June 2021, I spoke on the topic of "Diversity and Beyond" at an event hosted by Baroness Nicky Morgan to over 200 attendees.
What have you found most rewarding about your work in this space?
Whilst I am delighted that my work in this space has been deemed worthy of global recognition, the biggest reward for me is the outcome of the work.
That reward is shaping attitudes and structures to level the playing field and avoid heart-breaking situations like Azeem Rafiq’s. Azeem’s story hit the headlines, and I interviewed him in June 2022. Azeem formerly played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) and represented England. He spoke up and out on the heart-breaking behaviour he faced whilst at YCCC. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee described him as “a young man who had his dreams shattered by institutional racism, bullying and abuse”. This powerfully illustrates the importance of this work. It's about people.
ABOUT MISCHON DE REYA:
Mishcon de Reya is an International law firm established in 1937, with a mission to be the law firm that enables their clients - and their people - to shape the world’s possibilities.
Driven by an entrepreneurial, tenacious and socially conscious spirit: they embraced change to stay relevant and shape the future.
From their offices in London and Singapore, they still counsel clients worldwide with the same vision, dedication and passion they set out with. Continuing to fight for freedoms, settle disputes, protect assets and grow businesses.
However, they believe that lawyers must move from the age of instruction to the period of anticipation: to be proactive, harness the law’s potential and unlock possibilities others do not see, and champion diversity, innovation and sustainability.
They believe that business has never been so personal.