Legal services sector: Good progress on LGBT+ equality and visibility but still much more to do

A landmark survey into the experiences of LGBT+ lawyers and LGBT+ equality in the profession, conducted by the Law Society of England and Wales, has identified significant progress – but more is needed.

“In the last decade, there has been a sea-change in the attitudes to LGBT+ equality and visibility in the profession with a higher proportion of respondents reporting positive, rather than negative, experiences in the workplace, as a result of their LGBT+ identity,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“The majority of respondents said they were able to be their authentic selves, working in organisations with inclusive cultures, alongside support from colleagues and senior staff.

“We spoke to both LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ respondents, who consider themselves allies in their workplace, to gain more insight into our profession and to get a greater understanding of the experiences of LGBT+ lawyers.”

Key findings

Experiences in the workplace tended to be positive, rather than negative:

  • 97% of LGBT+ respondents felt able to be themselves in their workplace – either sometimes (44%) or always (53%)
  • 56% of gay men were most likely to report ‘always’ being able to be themselves at work, a slightly higher proportion than for lesbian/gay women at 52% and 44% for bisexual respondents
  • 37% reported positive, rather than negative (11%), impacts on their wellbeing
  • 82% of respondents were out to colleagues at work, compared to 38% out to clients

Lack of visible LGBT+ role models:

  • 52% of LGBT+ respondents said a pressing issue is a lack of LGBT+ role models at work
  • this issue was found in private practice (17%), in-house (20%) and for local or national government (19%)

Workplace issues:

  • coming out to clients was a pressing issue for 42% of respondents and microaggressions were reported by 34% of respondents
  • 53% of bisexual respondents said microaggressions are a pressing issue, compared to 35% of lesbian/gay women and 26% of gay men

Supportive working environment:

  • a higher proportion of respondents reported a visible commitment by senior managers to lesbian, gay and bisexual equality than to supporting trans staff – 73% compared to 43%
  • 91% said they had supportive colleagues or allies. 47% said they had a lot of allies and 44% said they had a few allies

Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia:

  • 37% of LGBT+ respondents had experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in their workplace
  • 37% of lesbian/gay women, 36% of gay men and 32% of bisexual lawyers had experienced these negative behaviours
  • three out of five trans respondents had experienced transphobia in their workplaces, citing that this treatment – both verbal abuse and physical behaviours – had a longer-term impact on their career progression and mental health

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “Our research gives much-needed insight into the experiences of our LGBT+ colleagues – including experiences of coming out, microaggressions and the disclosure decisions our members must make at work in order to feel fully themselves.

“However, there is still work to be done. Three out of six trans individuals reported senior management support for trans equality, and 14 out of 23 pansexual, polysexual and queer respondents had senior managers who supported trans equality.

“Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia often went unreported, with a lack in confidence that the issue would be resolved effectively or that these behaviours were not serious enough to report.

“A lack of visible LGBT+ role models is also a pressing issue. Visible role models can help create a sense of belonging, as well as inspiring and motivating us to reach our goals, showing us what’s possible, enabling us to share and learn from their challenges and successes.

“This research comes at a pivotal time, as the profession looks to return to the office via flexible or hybrid working models and we begin to take strides to get back to ‘normal’ after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Notes to editors

All statistics in this press release are taken from our report, Pride in the Law: Results of the 2021 LGBT+ solicitors’ survey.

The Law Society’s LGBT+ survey took place from 1 February 2021 to 28 February 2021.

The survey was commissioned by our LGBT+ Lawyers Division to update our insights on LGBT+ equality in the legal profession and capture the experiences of LGBT+ lawyers.

The survey was open through LGBT+ History month to LGBT+ legal professionals and non-LGBT+ colleagues who consider themselves allies (separate questions were asked of them). 617 legal professionals responded to the survey, with 62% identifying as LGBT+.

In our 2019 practising certificate holders survey, 5% of solicitors defined themselves as being either lesbian, gay or bisexual, a higher proportion than the 3% reported in the general population of England and Wales.

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s diversity data tool, 2% of solicitors are transgender.

The Leeds Law Society and the Law Society of England and Wales are hosting a virtual diversity and inclusion conference from 14 to 30 September.

Find out more

The LGBTQ+ webinar is closed to press.

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS