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Stonewall reported that more than a third of LGBT staff they surveyed have hidden they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination. To mark LGBT+ history month this February we look at the importance of sexual orientation acceptance in the legal workspace and how, as an employer, you can take steps to preventing discrimination.
The importance of a diverse workforce
Diversity, whether that be race, ethnicity or sexual orientation can help build a workforce that can thrive through sharing different cultures and experiences. As discussed in The diversity series—BAME diversity in the legal profession, there are many benefits to having a diverse working culture. These benefits are not only for the individual, but can also be good for business too—with the McKinsey study “Why Diversity Matters highlighting more diverse companies were 35% more likely to gain financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
However, as highlighted by Kevin Poulter, partner at London firm Child &Child and member of the Law Society’s LGBT Divisions, having the freedom to be open and honest about your true self at work—particularly in the legal profession where you work in such close proximity and often at times of high stress—allows staff to “fully commit to their work, rather than spending time keeping a check on themselves”. This in turn creates a more relaxed workspace and will help aid in productivity.
Positive attitude changes
Though the profession has not always been so diverse, things are changing. The Law Society’s 2015 Practising Certificate Holder Survey, noted that 2.6% of PC holders were estimated to be either gay, lesbians, bisexual or other, and this number was only set to increase.
The charity Stonewall has constantly encouraged people to bring their whole selves to the workplace, with campaigns such as: Some People Are Gay, Get Over It, No Bystanders and Rainbow Laces. These campaigns in turn have helped to change and shape public and professional perception of the better.
With increased awareness, the number of LGBT role models in seniority levels are more apparent, as suggested by Daniel Matchett, solicitor at Irwin Mitchell. He noted that from his experience in firms the “support and representation of LGBT staff is made a priority alongside the interests of colleagues from a variety of backgrounds”.
Breaking down the old-fashioned perception
The profession itself is going through a shift from traditional old-fashioned stereotypes, as technology, changing attitudes and the younger generation remold the profession. However, there is still more to be done in terms of diversity.
It appears across all aspects of diversity the same barriers arise, to name but a few:
So, what can be done to tackle these issues?
There are many initiatives already in practice to tackle these issues, which can also be adopted in your firm. For example:
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Hannah is one of the Future of Law blog’s digital and technical editors. She graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in History and Politics and previously freelanced for News UK, before working as a senior news editor for LexisNexis.
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