My D&I story
Every month, we ask a member of one of our diversity and inclusion (D&I) networks to share their story. This month, Anna Casey-Woodward talks us through their journey into law and the impact workplace culture can have on authenticity.
A path askew but true: Anna Casey-Woodward's story
The influence of my LGBTQ+ identity on my career is different now than it was when I began my journey in Cornwall.
The culture back then in law firms was as untamed as the Cornish beaches, but far less scenic.
I joined the University of Exeter in 2009. Work experience opportunities were scarce and I was terrified how the lack of exposure to the day-to-day in a legal career would impact me.
The dominant discourse, even now, is that work experience is the only way to be successful, and that if you do not get a training contract, your legal career will be scuppered.
Nothing could have been further from the truth, and I wish I had known this then.
I did finally start work experience but not until some years later amidst my LPC at OXILP (a joint body from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes).
I became a criminal defence paralegal in legal aid and it was there, unfortunately, that I was made redundant.
Although brief, as most good things are, working in this area ignited my passion in law.
I took about a year away from the profession after my redundancy.
I took the time to reflect and gave a lot of cognition to myself, my values and my future. I considered what was important to me and how I could work towards it.
Then came my gradual epiphany: I did indeed want to be a solicitor.
With my passion reignited, I started applying to local law firms, spending hours poring over and perfecting my applications.
I was willing to do anything – answering the phones, making coffee, tidying desks. It didn't matter.
In March 2014, I joined a high street firm as a typist.
Before Christmas the same year, the firm offered me a training contract, which I accepted. Merry Christmas to me.
My journey from them until now has been a jumble of experiences. Some parts of it have been wonderfully unexpected and some woefully so.
There have been many times throughout my career where I have experienced homophobia and transphobia.
Times I have taken back my authenticity at work to avoid the exclusion and discrimination. Others when my mental health has suffered deeply.
I'm grateful to be in a firm now with more support for the LGBTQ+ community, but I feel saddened that an unaccepting and unsupportive culture is still prevalent, even in the most progressive parts of the country.
I see how much of a difference being authentic has had on my work.
I wish all of my fellow LGBTQ+ colleagues could feel the same.
To anyone struggling to find their way: what you learn from working out your place in the legal world will make you a better candidate for the job you want.
Paths are not meant to be straightforward and there's nothing wrong with stumbling – that's when you learn.
I’m Rhian Hooton, a medical negligence associate at Irwin Mitchell and junior vice president of Cardiff Law Society.
I've lived with Crohn’s disease throughout my legal career, and long before it, but it was only after life-changing stoma surgery that I chose to identify as disabled.
I was reluctant at first to talk about the true impact of my disability at work and ask for reasonable adjustments, as many are, but things got so much better for me once I did.
Reasonable adjustments have been invaluable to me in fulfilling my potential, so I would really urge all employers to invest and embed them into the workplace.
A bespoke way of working has allowed me to work without limitation and made me feel noticed, trusted and understood.
We need to see more of this and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach which we know just doesn’t work.
I hope that I can encourage my disabled colleagues to talk about what they need and the ways they can be best supported in the workplace.
I know these conversations can be daunting, so if you are finding it difficult, it can help to focus your attention on the impact of your disability and your needs rather than talking about the disability itself.
And overall, remember that you absolutely deserve and are entitled to support.
One of my most memorable reads is Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed. My brother gifted it to me when I was in hospital having stoma surgery.
It taught me the importance of diversity in innovation. Full of wow moments and will be on my bookshelf for years to come.