Change starts at home, writes Cambridge lawyer

Saffa Mir

Hewitsons lawyer, author and charity founder Saffa Mir has urged UK workplaces to move away from dropping buzzwords without meaningful action behind them and provide tangible support to social justice causes.

Saffa Mir is a lawyer at city firm Hewitsons, where she works in the charities, education and social enterprise team. Saffa has a keen interest in the sector and is a founding trustee of the Ihsan for Children Foundation, a charity she set up which aims to provide education and support to refugee children around the world.

In October 2020, she became a published author in a book called ‘I Refuse to Condemn: Resisting racism in times of national security’, which is available from Waterstones.

Saffa writes:

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, how do we ensure that our workplaces are not fixating on easy wins and are pushing for creating change?

The COVID-19 pandemic that swept over the world in 2020 will mean that it was a year that many of us will want to put behind us. However, what we won’t and shouldn’t leave behind are the conversations had and the movements started about social justice issues.

Over in the USA, we saw the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25. This led to a series of protests and demonstrations taking place across the world, including here in the UK. The success of the movement in the UK saw the Black Lives Matter UK organisation raise £1.2 million, which it recently began to distribute to 14 black-interest groups.

One social justice issue which was exacerbated by COVID-19 was the poverty which exists on our doorstep here in the UK. We saw Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford lead the way in fighting for the continuation of free school meals throughout school holidays.

There were also conversations held about the digital poverty divide, the idea that some children are locked out of education due to lack of broadband, laptops and sufficient spaces to study, in comparison to their more affluent peers.

So, what can and should workplaces be doing to support these causes? One easy way to support these causes is by actively engaging and supporting charitable work. As an example, my employer recently launched a fundraising campaign to fund the charity Business2Schools, which provides IT devices to schools which are in need.

I myself am a trustee of a charity that I co-founded, Ihsan for Children Foundation, which provides education and resources to refugee children. Like many law firms, many of my colleagues are also trustees of charities and governors of schools.

Supporting charities, whether financially or as a trustee, are certainly good examples of providing support to much needed causes and a great way to bring employees together in creating positive action.

However, what workplaces need to think about is internally assessing their own practices. Taking the example of equality, diversity and inclusion, workplaces must move away from simply dropping these as buzzwords into conversations, referring to out of date polices or releasing statements in support of topical issues, without any meaningful action behind them. What we need to see is practical examples of what workplaces are doing behind the public display of support that they show.

Using Hewitsons as an example, we recently formed a diversity and inclusion committee and one of the first things the committee agreed to is that whilst we will continue to support our local community and increase the work we do in making the legal sector more accessible to all, we will at the same time analyse where the firm stands internally, in its approach to diversity and inclusion.

This means being honest with ourselves and asking the uncomfortable questions as to whether the workplace is currently a safe space for all. When looking inwards, we have to assess where we currently are, for example, by carrying out an audit of current practices, thinking about where we want to be and then set setting plans in motion on how to get there.

What is extremely important in developing inclusive organisations is ensuring that the senior leadership buys into the cause. Therefore, sometimes it may mean that the first course of action is convincing those at the top of the organisation before you proceed to plan for change.

Whilst anyone in the organisation can lead the fight to make the workplace inclusive, the reality for many workplaces is that change does not happen until those at the top of the organisation are as committed as those who have personal vested interests are, as is the case with my employer.

Looking ahead, whilst social justice issues will continue to exist inside the workplace for as long as they exist outside the workplace, we must begin somewhere and if your workplace has the capacity and appetite to tackle social justice issues head on, then this is something that they should not shy away from.



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