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Being LGBT+ in the legal sector: the progress so far

by Catherine Wasilewski | 27 June 2019

As with many sectors, legal firms are recognising the importance of diversity and inclusion and are taking steps to ensure they appeal to a wide and diverse talent pool. In this blog, Catherine Wasilewski, Senior Consultant and legal recruitment expert celebrates Pride Month and takes a look at the steps legal firms are taking to ensure they are inclusive and welcoming to LGBT+ candidates. 

Diversity and inclusion is quite rightly a hot topic across all sectors and I have noticed that there is a particular focus on the legal sector currently. If your LinkedIn feed is anything like my own, you will see countless posts about diversity initiatives and events that legal firms are involved in to actively promote better equality in the sector, which is fantastic to see. Typically law firms have a historic reputation of being home to white, straight privileged males; however, these days the reality is much different.

The latest Annual Statistics Survey (2017) from the Law Society shows that women currently outnumber the number of men that hold practising certificates. The study also revealed an increase in representation from those from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. In honour of Pride Month however, we wanted to focus on looking at what the legal community is doing to represent the LGBT+ community, and what still needs to be done in this area to promote true inclusion across the legal sector.

Legal firms amongst the most inclusive workplaces in the UK

A number of initiatives now exist across the legal community that are encouraging firms to take a look at their attitudes towards their LGBT+ employees and colleagues, and also provide LGBT+ lawyers with specific platforms to network and share ideas. For example, on a firm level, the majority of multi-office firms now have committees dedicated to analysing their approach to diversity and inclusion, with many also having their own internal LGBT+ networks, both of which are great steps forward to ensuring true equality across the sector.

It is also great to see a number of legal firms going above and beyond, and showcasing their commitment to the LGBT+ community externally as well as internally. This year 16 law firms were represented in Stonewall’s annual list of the top LGBT+ inclusive organisation to work for, with numbers 1 and 2 being legal practices for the first time.

At a higher level, the Law Society also has its own dedicated LGBT+ Lawyers Division where LGBT+ lawyers and those in support – referred to as LGBT+ allies – can become members of. This group provides a forum to address challenges and issues LGBT+ lawyers may be facing within the legal sector as well as the opportunity to meet likeminded people within a supportive environment.

Legal firms across the UK are acknowledging the importance of diversity

It is also positive to see that diversity initiatives are not just London focused, as these things can tend to be. Outside of the capital organisations, such as The Law Society, Bar Council and CILEX are representing the LGBT+ legal community at Pride events across the country. Regional initiatives such as LawLink – the diversity network that has recently been set up in Manchester – also exist and will be hugely important moving forward.

There is still work to do

This success however does not mean that the fight against LGBT+ discrimination within law is over – far from it. It is still a conversation that needs to be consistently had, and there are still issues and questions to be raised. For example, I have noticed that the success stories we see are usually about the bigger, national and international firms – those that are under greater scrutiny and have bigger resources – however it is important that those at smaller high street practices are not forgotten about and are given the same support and resources. Smaller firms should look at larger organisations and think about what they can physically do to support LGBT+ lawyers within their firms, and in doing so they will also become a much more attractive option for diverse candidates at all levels.

Inclusion is just as important as diversity

It is also important for legal firms to remember that diversity does not necessarily mean inclusion, and businesses that want to attract a diverse workforce need to ensure they have a truly inclusive culture as well. Diversity and inclusion are separate issues and go hand-in-hand. Even if the number of LGBT+ solicitors continues to rise, whilst this increases diversity, it does not necessarily mean that those individuals will feel secure about how their sexuality may be perceived at work. This is something legal firms need to think about, and adapt to ensure they build a culture where minorities can thrive and that they appeal to a diverse range of candidates. The fight for inclusivity and equal treatment across all sectors is an ongoing struggle, and one that requires constant scrutiny if we are ever to achieve true equality.

If you would like more advice on building an inclusive workplace, you can check out our Employer Resources section.

Alternatively, if you want to discuss your next legal job opportunity and are looking for an LGBT+ friendly employer, take a look at our blog or get in touch with me or the legal recruitment team today to discuss your needs.