Paulette Mastin: UK Legal Employers Can Do More to Advance the Careers of Lawyers of Color

Topics: Attorneys of Color, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Leadership & Retention, Talent Development, United Kingdom

black heritage month

Paulette Mastin, Counsel at Linklaters within the Capital Markets practice, started her career with an investment bank but found her calling to the law when she was assisted on a House of Lords case involving derivative contracts that her employer had entered into with local authorities.

After completing her post-graduate legal studies, she secured a training contract at Linklaters and with a great deal of perseverance, achieved her goal of becoming a city lawyer in London. Her practice area involves advising financial institutions, corporate trustees, and multinationals on a wide spectrum of capital market transactions, as well as structured finance products, infrastructure and project financing, and Islamic finance.

Motivated by the Naysayers

In the early stages of her career, Mastin said she had to deal with a few cynics about the possibility of her success in London. In particular, one person advised her to avoid the law because she would struggle to make it as a city lawyer because “One, I’m a woman and two, I’m black.” When she heard this, Mastin doubled down on her determination. “Frankly, if I’m told I can’t do something that I’ve set my heart on, or that it’s beyond me, I tend to strive to turn that narrative on its head, and just really work towards being the best that I could be.” She attributes her drive to her parents, who immigrated to the U.K., and instilled in her a strong work ethic, a sense of gratitude, and a commitment to giving back.

Linklater’s Paulette Mastin

Mastin also has received some of the best network and career support through her involvement in the Black Solicitors’ Network (BSN), which she joined in 2005. After a few years, she became a founding member of the London City Branch of BSN in 2008; and since 2017, she has served as the national leader of the BSN. The group in London focuses on the issues affecting black corporate and commercial lawyers practicing in and around London and Canary Wharf and provides networking, mentoring, and career developmental opportunities. The London City group started out with 30 to 40 members and has grown to 400 over the last decade.

Challenges Impacting BAME Lawyers

As a leader within the BSN network and from her own experience, Mastin said she is well-versed in the structural challenges that black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers face in the U.K. Some of those challenges include:

  • Bias — Throughout the entire employee lifecycle, bias, whether it’s unconscious or not, adversely impacts the careers of BAME lawyers. “Bias informs our actions, the way we build and reinforce systems of marginalization and indeed what we value in business,” Mastin says. “Fundamentally, it hinders progress for all people, but in particular, the progression of ethnic minority talent.” Linklaters has introduced a number of initiatives to tackle bias, she adds, including unconscious bias training at all levels on how to understand and identify our unconscious bias and how that bias affects us and others every day. More importantly, the training helps people adjust their behavior and mindset to counter this bias.
  • Lack of career sponsorship — Mastin explains that lawyers of color in general lack career support and development by mentors and sponsors. “Progression in this field, in this business, relies heavily on sponsorship, and I would say that this is lacking when it comes to lawyers of color.”
  • Lack of visible role models — Equally disturbing, Mastin indicates that the lack of visible role models in senior positions — especially those who can provide a roadmap for advancement through observation by BAME lawyers — pushes “really, talented ethnic minority lawyers to check out of this field because of the perception of a lack of career progression.” Ultimately, this exodus impacts the pipeline of ethnic minorities lawyers from which to promote, she explains.

Address the Achievement Gap

Linklaters is exploring a variety of initiatives to create greater access to senior lawyers for their minority ethnic talent and provide structural ways for managers and powerful influencers at the firm to gain insights into the lived experiences of lawyers of color:

  • Focused developmental initiatives for BAME talent — The firm has launched a development program called INspire, and “a unique feature of this program is that it brings together participants with their line managers and partners, enabling dialogue across demographic differences,” Mastin says. Participants have the opportunity to challenge leadership practices and learn new techniques to achieve high-quality feedback. “The aim is to help the firm retain and progress talent from minority ethnic backgrounds because we know that retention and promotion needs to be a key area of focus for the firm if we are to achieve our ambition of being a diverse and inclusive culture,” she adds. Mastin emphasized that INspire is not about “fixing” our minority ethnic employess population or providing remedial action; instead, it is designed to be a career accelerator and an opportunity for the firm to learn more about race and ethnicity in the workplace
  • Reverse mentoring — Another initiative by Linklaters is its Diverse Voices reverse mentoring program. “It actually helps senior mentees to identify tangible actions that they can take to ensure a more inclusive environment,” she explains. A key benefit for the diverse mentors has been confidence-building because they are able to interact with and provide honest feedback to senior leaders.

Legal Employers Solutions

In Mastin’s view, more intentional focus is needed by legal employers to create equal access to opportunities for lawyers of color and to mitigate the biases they face. She recommendations four areas of immediate focus:

  • Publicly declare targets for BAME representation — Mastin advises legal employers to establish targets at each stage of the employee lifecycle — recruitment, retention, promotion, and compensation — and report on that as a measure of diversity success.
  • Reward inclusive leadership — Mastin recommends for legal employers to make ethnic diversity a key business focus, calling out bias and micro-exclusions when they arise. In turn, this empowers minority ethnic networks as change agents.
  • Foster an inclusive culture — Employers need to invest in broader learning opportunities to teach all employees the critical importance of creating a culture of belonging, Mastin explains. The key benefit of this investment is “an inclusive working environment or culture where individuals feel valued, respected, and engaged, and have the opportunity to thrive and excel regardless of their background or identity,” she adds.
  • Elevate more BAME role models — Early-career BAME legal talent can check out because of a lack of role models. Therefore, it is important to create more opportunities for lawyers of color to gain visibility among senior and influential leaders, she says, adding that initiatives like Linklaters reverse mentoring and Inspire programs are a meaningful step towards achieving this goal.