Guest blog: My year as a Social Mobility Advocate

3 October 2019

 NATASHA SHOTUNDE

Natasha Shotunde

The "I am the Bar" campaign was launched in Summer 2018 to work on social mobility. For me, it has been a wonderful opportunity to change the perception of the Bar and to contribute to the effort of promoting equality and diversity in our profession. 

It started off by each social mobility advocate drafting profiles about themselves. This gave us an opportunity to share our journeys, our struggles and our achievements, in the hope that it would inspire and encourage others from diverse backgrounds to consider the Bar. For me, it did not end there. 

On reading my profile, Counsel Magazine asked me to write an article on imposter syndrome. I looked inward and found the courage to expose myself, my struggles with my mental health and self-esteem and my fears of being ousted from a profession that I felt I did not belong in. I wanted the article to help current barristers who do not fit the stereotypical mould and let them know that they are not alone in their feelings of self-doubt and isolation. I also wanted to share the stories of others. The article was published and I received a tremendous amount of appreciation from people within and outside the legal profession. 

I, alongside others, was asked to write a short piece for The Times ahead of the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference. The night before its publication, I was informed that, sadly, the article was only going to be published in the online edition. The following morning, I received a Facebook message from an acquaintance. That message included a photo of my face and my profile from the "I am the Bar" campaign in a hard copy of The Times on his desk at work. Seeing myself in a national newspaper was the best surprise I received that year and an incredible achievement for social mobility. I promptly went to all newsagents in my area in Tottenham, opened my page in The Times and showed them all that I was in it. It brought tremendous pride to me and my family and I thank the "I am the Bar" campaign for that. 

My contributions do not stop there. I was on a panel with other social mobility advocates at the Pupillage Fair discussing our journeys to the Bar. I was also on the panel of a live stream event entitled "Different Faces of the Bar" with Chris Daw QC, Rachel Spearing and The Secret Barrister. Thanks to Chris Daw QC, I appeared on Channel 5 News discussing social mobility. I was also featured in the campaign's recent social mobility video, and I proudly played it at a talk at Enfield County School for Girls in September. 

I have benefitted from this campaign in so many ways. It has required me to look at myself, my journey and my achievements in an honest and candid way. It has raised my profile within and outside of the profession. It has given me the tools, the access and the resources to work towards creating a truly diverse profession. It has also spurred me on to find people who wanted to join me in creating the Black Barristers' Network which we launched this year. 

However, there is still work that needs to be done within the profession to ensure that our efforts of encouraging those from "non-traditional" backgrounds to the profession are not thwarted. We need to take a hard look at the recruitment of pupils and tenants in our profession. The BSB recently launched damning statistics on access to the profession. Of particular note for me is the fact that of those who obtained a Very Competent on the Bar Professional Training Course and had a first class undergraduate degree, 53% of white students went on to start their first 6 months of pupillage between 2013 and 2017 compared to 27.3% of black and black British students with exactly the same qualifications. A similar trend can be seen for those who, like me, obtained a 2:1. This is a massive problem which needs to be addressed. I am deeply concerned that our efforts in inspiring others to join the profession are being undermined by the recruitment and selection of pupils. 

We also need to do more work on ensuring that the Bar is a profession we can all belong in without feeling harassed, bullied or ostracised within our chambers and within our courts. Efforts to promote equality that can bring about real change, rather than playing lip service to the concept of equality, are required if we are going to have a truly equal and diverse profession. 

I wish the new social mobility advocates all the best and hope they will take advantage of this opportunity and continue the great work that has been started. We have a long way to go but I have faith that things will continue to change for the better.

Natasha Shotunde is a barrister at 5 St Andrew's Hill. She is a member of the Young Barristers' Committee, a Social Mobility Advocate for the Bar Council and has brought barristers together to create the Black Barristers' Network.