Words by Francesca Stocker.
In April, I attended the Ability Event hosted by Aspiring Solicitors and Reed Smith. The event was designed to promote diversity and inclusion within the legal profession, with a particular focus on disability and mental health. The event included a series of panel talks: solicitors and trainees talked about their own experiences with disability in the workplace, whether it was a visual impairment or wheelchair use, and how their workplace welcomed and accommodated them.
There was an additional segment focused on mental health and how to cope with the pressures of everyday life, as well as within the legal profession.
As students competing for jobs, our application focus is largely about catering to each individual employer and making ourselves seem as employable as possible. The experiences shared at the Ability Event reminded me that it is also important for the prospective employer to impress you. If an employer is not willing to accommodate you, help you fit into the work environment or views you as a cost burden, then it might be worth reconsidering whether you want to work in that kind of intolerant environment. When you are researching future employers, look beyond the diversity awards posted on their website and actually ask the HR team how they help employees feel comfortable at work or how mental health is dealt with.
Where disabilities and mental health are concerned, I think there is often a tendency to think of ourselves as the burden. However, hearing the trainees and solicitors talk, you could clearly tell they were confident individuals, who were not defined by their disability. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event to attend, with so much positivity and confidence being shared. I would like to pass on what I learnt with more people, so below are 3 pieces of advice I took away from the event;
- Avoid referring to yourself in the negative and try to showcase yourself and your skills in a positive light. There is no need to sell yourself short.
- On application forms, ensure you mention any mitigating circumstances or disabilities, so that the employer can make adjustments for application tests or assessment centre days.
- When researching employers, think about the type of environment you want to work in and what the employer provides to best support its employers.
Remember to check out Aspiring Solicitors, which is a great company focused on diversity and inclusion within the legal profession. Also get in touch with the Law Diversity & Inclusion team for support and information.