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Pride Month: Interlaw Diversity Forum recommendations are key in the aspiration of equality and diversity for all

New report recommendations can help us all make LGBT+ role models more visible and foster a truly inclusive work environment for all

The publication of the Interlaw Diversity Forum LGBT+ Factsheet acts as a reminder of what progress has been made by law firms in this area but also how much more is still required, particularly from an intersectionality perspective, to ensure true equality and diversity across everyone working in the legal sector.  Peter Forshaw, Weightmans Partner and the firm's LGBTQ+ lead explains how this will take time but we all have a role to play, regardless of how any of us identify, to ensure that such progress happens as quickly and fairly as possible..

The Interlaw Diversity Forum Factsheet is a summary of key findings from the 2021 report, Career Progression the Legal Sector - and crucially includes recommendations on how the legal sector can improve its approach to diversity and inclusion. It is useful to be reminded in the Factsheet of the strong equality legislation we now enjoy in this country and heartening to see that the LGBTQ+ community (who comprise 6,000 solicitors or 4% of the total profession) break down elitist barriers on social mobility, with those who identify as gay or lesbian being less likely to have attended fee paying schools and less likely to have attended Oxford or Cambridge in comparison to straight men and women.  However these positives are still outnumbered by the more concerning headlines throughout the report:-

  • Stonewall research  - Nearly one in five LGBTQ+ solicitors have been subjected to negative conduct or comments in work, and approx. one third hide their LGBTQ+ identity at work for fear of discrimination.  Is it in part because of this that the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to be supportive of a firm’s policy for flexibility and agility which might minimise the time they have to work alongside colleagues or risk being subjected to unwanted comments?
  • Equal Pay - gay men earn approximately half of their straight counterparts, but both still earn significantly more than straight or lesbian women;
  • Disability - unlike the previous research in 2018, straight disabled lawyers were more likely to request accommodations for their disability than LGBTQ+ disabled lawyers, perhaps suggesting a growing overall wariness by LGBTQ+ lawyers to seek support or draw attention to themselves.  
  • Discrimination – LGBTQ+ lawyers were less likely to suggest that the workplace was free from discrimination than their straight colleagues – suggesting perceptions or experiences of direct discrimination from individual or small groups of colleagues rather than overall institutionalised prejudice;
  • Job security/satisfaction  - Bi lawyers reported the lowest job security ratings versus much higher job security ratings for gay and lesbian staff, whilst lesbians reported the lowest level of job satisfaction, usually linked to their experiences of discrimination, and organisational unfairness.
  • Commitment vs reality  - bi individuals were less likely to endorse that their organisation lives up to its public commitment in this space and expressed lower satisfaction with their organisation’s equality and diversity practices when compared to straight staff or indeed others in the LGBTQ+ community.

As with any protected characteristic it is alarming to see such disparities and inequalities amongst different staff members in the legal profession in 2021.  And whilst firms may pride themselves on their diversity, this research acts as a stark reminder that a workplace generally, and indeed the LGBTQ+ community in particular, is a broad church of interests and identifies.  Acceptance and diversity for one part of the LGBTQ+ community may not be felt or enjoyed, certainly to the same degree, by another cross-section of members.   

It is for these reasons why the recommendations of the Report are key in the aspiration of equality and diversity for all including:-

  • Listening, learning and amplifying LGBTQ+ voices;
  • Developing programmes and policies to nurture and develop LGBTQ+ talent and foster an LGBTQ+ inclusive environment;
  • Supporting transgender and non binary employees in particular, for example through specific policies, and gender neutral language, whilst not forgetting the learnings dictating additional care too for the support of bi employees;
  • Ensuring that your Board and senior staff lead by example with authentic behaviour and actions, not just words which have been written for them;
  • Focusing on inclusive leadership and recruitment, with HR and others taking an active role in holding people to account, making it clear what will not be tolerated and ensuring that the net for talent is spread as wide as possible through channels perhaps not traditionally explored.

Constant communication and discussion on diversity-related experiences and initiatives is key to a successful, progressive and inclusive workplace. Through talk comes awareness, understanding, cultural change and action - discussion feeds ambition which in turn delivers positive change. Through its nationwide network of Diversity Champions, its allies network, its regular communications on diversity issues to raise staff awareness, the sharing of LGBTQ+ experiences, the introduction of staff pronouns, and gender-neutral, facilities, Directors aligned to Diversity strands, active support for organisations like Stonewall and Global Butterflies, the introduction of a Trans policy and diversity bystander and other training, we at Weightmans agree with the recommendations of the Diversity Forum and strive to provide the recommended platform for LGBTQ+ colleagues and clients to share their journeys, make LGBT+ role models more visible and foster a truly inclusive work environment for all. 

By Peter Forshaw, Partner and lead for LGBTQ+ at national law firm Weightmans LLP

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