five hundred magazine > Diversity and inclusion > Don’t be afraid of ‘coming out’

Don’t be afraid of ‘coming out’

As part of Pride Season, Daniel Gerring, head of pensions at Travers Smith and a founding members of The Law Society LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee, shares his thoughts on the progress of inclusion in the legal profession

How would you rate the legal profession on LGBT+ inclusion? What more needs to be done?

We have made enormous strides on rights for and attitudes towards LGBT+ people over recent years and I feel incredibly lucky to be living in the UK at this time. But challenges remain. A random sample might include:

  • outright (and ongoing) disdain from some people of faith (and I say this as a committed Christian myself);
  • queries about my sense of humour (or not) when I tackle out of order banter;
  • inaccurate assumptions – about all manner of things; and
  • open aggression, even from members of my own profession, including by way of online comments on articles such as this.

Also, what many people don’t realise is that coming out isn’t a ‘one off’ occasion. When I meet new colleagues or clients, it is natural to get asked questions about my non-work life, from neutral questions such as ‘what did you do over the weekend?’, through to more loaded ones about the occupation of my fictional wife. This means I, along with the vast majority of LGBT+ people, have to make considered decisions on a daily basis of whether to ‘come out’ or not.

I think this is especially difficult for LGBT+ people entering the workplace for the first time. Many LGBT+ people come out at university, but a staggering 60% go back into the closet when they start their careers. I believe employers and the profession have a responsibility for creating workplaces where everyone can be themselves. Not only is this morally the right thing to do, but evidence demonstrates that this makes commercial sense too.

Being open and authentic at work means you’ll be more productive, loyal to your employer, and better able to serve your clients. I have found that being open with my clients about my sexual orientation has almost always resulted in better and more open working relationships.

I am hugely positive about the outlook for the industry. Indeed, Stonewall’s list of Top 100 Employers indicates that the legal profession is, in many ways, leading the pack. We should, however, not be complacent about remaining challenges. The Law Society’s LGBT+ Lawyers Committee are committed to delivering initiatives aimed at supporting LGBT+ solicitors nationwide, targeting those who often still feel marginalised and isolated.

I also think the issue of intersectionality remains central. LGBT+ people of colour, those from working class backgrounds, or those with disabilities may experience compounded challenges and inequality. As a profession, we should actively seek their voices and work to support them.

In addition, there is much more work to be done in ensuring that diverse voices from within the LGBT+ community, including those who identify as trans and non-binary, are heard and represented in the profession. Happily, we are up for the challenge.

How can law firms create more LGBT+ inclusive workplaces?

The vast majority of major law firms will have LGBT+ inclusive policies and procedures. The best ones will be translating these into tangible actions. Doing the right thing is vastly more powerful and just saying it. This will vary across different firms, but at Travers Smith we have done this in a number of ways; from delivering training session on LGBT+ inclusive language to implementing an innovative mentoring programme for LGBT+ students in partnership with the charity Just Like Us. Staff and partner engagement is crucial – creating an LGBT+ inclusive workplace is not solely the responsibility of LGBT+ people. To engage with non-LGBT+ people working at the firm, we rolled out a Rainbow Laces campaign to encourage our various sports teams to ‘lace up for equality’ and signal their support for LGBT+ inclusion. The laces, and the initiative itself, have proved especially popular and have been embraced not only by colleagues, but also by many of their friends and families, as well as children in their own local sports clubs, teams and schools. A simple, yet effective way of engaging with a broad audience and in raising awareness of LGBT+ matters.

There are plenty of other examples of good practice on the LGBT+ Lawyers Division website and LinkedIn page.

You mentioned the trans community earlier. What progress has been made there in regards inclusivity?

Great progress has been made across the UK in terms of LGB inclusion. However, many laws and systems which were amended or implemented have not recognised or accommodated trans communities – particularly relating to health and social care, marriage, families and gender recognition.

Barriers to full inclusion, and a lack of awareness of the lived experiences of trans people can lead to verbal, physical, and psychological abuse, as well as discrimination in many walks of life. For example, almost half (48%) of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once; 84% have thought about it. Two in five (41%) trans people have been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years. Some 62% have experienced harassment from strangers in public places.

A report published by Stonewall indicated that two in five trans people (41%) and three in ten non-binary people (31%) have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. Even more worryingly, Stonewall’s research on trans inclusion in schools shows that four in five young trans people have self-harmed, and nearly half of have attempted to take their own life.

We are also seeing an increasing number of people identifying as trans, and feeling more comfortable in expressing themselves in ways other than simply male or female. A recent University of Oxford survey showed that 22% of undergraduate students identify as LGB or T. At firm event last year for LGBT+ students, over a quarter of identified as trans. To ensure we remain an attractive employer, and are able to effectively engage with an emerging generation, we need to be inclusive in our approach to gender identity.

Like any approach to creating a more inclusive culture, being trans inclusive involves examining policies and practices across a number of areas. In consultation with trans inclusion experts, and members of the trans community, we recently reviewed the trans inclusive nature of all our workplace policies, including dress code and use of toilet facilities, and drafted a series of good practice guides and manager toolkits on supporting trans staff and partners.

To help raise awareness of trans inclusion, and of issues which can face trans people working in the legal sector, we have also held a series of firm-wide events and seminars, including some in partnership with The Law Society’s LGBT+ Division to ensure we are reaching as wide and diverse an audience as possible.

For those interested in engaging with The Law Society on LGBT+ inclusion, membership of the LGBT+ Lawyers Division is free and open to all solicitors and their allies. You can read more by clicking the link below