LGBT+ equality in the legal workspace

LGBT+ equality in the legal workspace

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:

  • unconscious and conscious bias
  • limited recruitment processes—for example only selecting candidates from the small pool of Oxbridge graduates at the bigger, magic circle firms
  • the ‘glass ceiling’ effect and the struggle to climb the legal professional ladder

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:

  • following the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) which prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to nine ‘protected characteristics’ one of which is sexual orientation. The EqA 2010 provides grounding to ensure recruitment processes are carried out fairly and free from discrimination and bias (whether conscious or unconscious) so that the successful candidate is chosen on merit
  • raising awareness of unconscious bias—whereby firms have started to address unconscious bias in their recruitment levels by introducing training for all staff, particularly those involved in the recruitment process
  • mentor and networking—showcasing those of similar backgrounds who are higher up the employment chain to inspire those entering the legal profession
    • widening the recruitment pool—to ensure new talent is found from a wider talent pool, firms are creating further opportunities through sponsorships or alliances with organisations, such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, the Sutton Trust and Rare Recruitment
    • knowing your requirements and monitoring diversity—some firms have set quotas for diversity, however these aren’t enforced by law. LexisNexis has outlined an Equality and diversity (E&D)—overview, on regulatory requirements for E&D and diversity monitoring, diversity monitoring and data protection, protected characteristics, among other things

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    About the author:

    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.