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‘Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice’
Ms Justice Eileen Roberts of the High Court Pic: ALG

09 Mar 2023 / law society Print

‘Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice’

An International Women’s Day event at the Law Society on 8 March also marked the launch of centenary commemorations for the admission of the first women to the Roll of Solicitors in Ireland.

Speakers on the theme, ‘Reflecting on the past 100 years – navigating the next 100’, included Ms Justice Eileen Roberts of the High Court, Law Society Law School Ambassador Jade Bakare, and Law Society President Maura Derivan.

Being the first

Dentons’ real-estate associate Jade Bakare said she preferred not to identify as a first-generation child of African immigrants, but that was her reality.

“Being the first in a family to attend university inevitably came with its challenges. I had nothing to compare it to, no mentor, and no point of reference. So, like the Irish do, I just got on with it,” she said.

“I knew I had a battle in front of me when I realised, not only that I was the only Black person in my entire law class of 400 but, in fact, the only person of colour in the faculty of law.

“I just didn’t belong, but thankfully a group of art students adopted me, and I did just fine,” she continued.

“I wish I could say it has been easy sailing from there. Being the only person who looks like me in a firm is difficult ­– and still is. Unless a partner takes the time to mentor you, you can forget it,” she continued.

Difficult situations

Jade described difficult situations with which she has dealt, without protest: “Truthfully, the last thing you want is to be labelled as difficult or problematic. As a woman, I already deal with pervasive stereotypes, including, but not limited to, my work abilities, gender pay gap, issues with career advancements, maternity leave and its complications, and work-life balance.

“The last thing I want to worry about is the colour of my skin. It is not true that I must work twice as hard as my Irish colleagues. I must work three times as hard – once for my career, twice as a woman and three times as a Black person,” she stated.

However, there is now substantial growth in the numbers of people in similar circumstances choosing to study law, she continued.

“It is imperative that the generations after me are better afforded the opportunities to build their careers in a space where their treatment is not based on a pecking order of how dark their skin is, how thick their accent is, or whatever society has deemed ‘less than’,” she said.


Diversity has become a buzzword but is often relegated to nothing more than a marketing tool, she noted.

“We saw how quickly the world could adapt to change when forced during COVID. We too can adapt our mindsets and work together to make diversity and inclusion more than a box-ticking exercise. After all, a diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions and outcomes,” she said.

While the rate of emigration among young Irish people is high, what remains undocumented is the rate of people of colour emigrating simply because they will not be given a fair chance at advancing in their career, she stated.

“To my knowledge, there are no Black senior associates or partners in the top-20 firms. That is a telling fact,” Jade said.

Innovation demands diversity

“It is impossible to have firms who want to be innovative and not have diversity in their workforce – it just does not work,” she said.

“Imagine how advanced our precedents would be if we extended our knowledge bank and adopted concepts from all over the globe,” she pondered.

“Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, I urge you to put out the message that you embrace, and not just tolerate diversity,” she concluded.

‘Huge dividends’

Ms Justice Eileen Roberts, a solicitor who now sits on the High Court, said that having a supportive husband sharing the family workload was a critical factor enabling her to continue her career while bringing up two children.

The judge said that it can be difficult to maintain client loyalty nowadays, and also challenging for women to rebuild their practice on return from maternity leave.

Women need support in this, but if offered, it will pay huge dividends, she said.

Ms Justice Roberts described reducing her working week, in order to keep going, but also becoming an equity partner shortly afterwards.

ALG took the “unusual and progressive step” of amending their partnership deed to allow this to happen. Roberts became a four-day-a-week equity partner and, subsequently, head of the litigation practice, and eventually chair of the firm.

Overwhelmed and exhausted

“If that sounds like a smooth career path, I want to assure you that, during that period, I often felt overwhelmed and was always exhausted,” she revealed.

“I drafted more than one resignation letter,” she added, but her boss refused to open the one that she gave him.

“He was right, I felt better on the Monday. But that is how tight the margins are when you’re trying to balance everything,” she said.

In small things, employer support can make a big difference, she added, and women should get whatever help they can in order to keep going.

The most difficult aspect is to have balance and maintain boundaries, the High Court judge said. That challenge is even more difficult today, as email reaches us at all times, she added.

“Be flexible, patient and realistic,” she advised the attendees. “Your career will not travel in a straight line – and the most difficult times can often be when one is learning the most.”

If they haven't already, firms and in-house and public sector legal teams may pledge their names to the Law Society Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Charter and avail of useful diversity and inclusion resources. 


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