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Stonewall: creating change

17 May 2016

As part of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (#IDAHOT), Duncan Wood outlines some top tips to help law firms ensure that they are inclusive places to work.

Last month, delegates from the Law Society attended the annual Stonewall Workplace Conference in central London. This event had over 800 people from the UK's leading employers in attendance, sharing ideas about how to make workplaces more inclusive for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi and trans) staff. This blog post summarises some of the key learning points of the day that any law firm - regardless of their progress on embedding inclusion and diversity in the workplace - should be aware of.

1. Persistence and hard work over time can create real change - as shown when M15 was named Stonewall's top employer for 2016. 

GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan made a rare public appearance at the conference to apologise for M15's historical prejudice towards gay people, which included a ban on employment that continued into the 1990s. He said that GCHQ supported the charity in 'defending and promoting tolerance and acceptance without exception'.

2. Establishing a clear business case for a diverse and inclusive workplace is imperative. There are many commercial and strategic advantages to LGBT inclusion - you will be a more attractive proposition to do business with, and attract and retain more talent. Inclusion supports innovation, productivity, collaboration, and retention.

3. People perform better when they can be themselves - when staff are not expending energy hiding who they are, and can bring their whole selves to work, they can get on with the job, and give their best.

4. You only get as much as you put in. To do something really impactful for diversity and inclusion requires work, effort and communication with colleagues. It just isn't enough for the CEO to be in the right place at the right time, saying the right things about diversity - token gestures won't cut it.

5. An LGBT network group can add huge amounts to a business' drivers. 

If you are thinking of starting a group in your own organisation, avoid a hierarchical structure if possible. Empower people by letting them lead by their interests and strengths - it's more likely to keep people committed to the group.

Be as loud and visible as you can - continuously communicate what the group is doing, and shout about your achievements. Make sure you have a group representative at every staff induction.

Create clear policies that encourage staff to contribute to your group - is it formally agreed that people can dedicate a certain amount of hours per week / month?

6. The support of 'senior champions' is vital and can make a positive impact across the business, sending a strong signal of commitment and buy-in from the top. 

Identifying the right person to approach as your senior champion requires careful consideration. Make sure it's someone who can take the role seriously - will they appreciate the value, purpose and importance of the business case for diversity, and how it enhances the workplace environment?  Make clear what is expected of them: ask them for short and simple actions. 

7. Reverse mentoring is a great way to engage with senior management generally on LGBT issues and can help to embed equality into business goals and objectives. Reverse mentoring is when older executives are paired with and mentored by younger employees.

8. Speaker Inga Beale (CEO of Lloyd's of London) pointed out that LGBT people 'don’t always want to be the showpiece' - it's important to nurture a culture of overall acceptance and diversity in your workplace. It comes down to valuing people, and really demonstrating that you mean it. Constantly challenge anything that doesn't enhance diversity in the workplace.

The Law Society is a Stonewall diversity champion

March with us at the London Pride parade, 25 June 

Join our LGBT Lawyers Division LinkedIn group

Join in the conversation on Twitter using #IDAHOT

Tags: equality | diversity and inclusion

About the author

Duncan Wood is an editor working across websites, newsletters and magazines for the Law Society Communities. He has worked in print and digital media for over 10 years.

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