Coming out: my journey as a junior lawyer
To mark LGBT+ History Month, Justin Farrance, trainee at Allen & Overy and one of our Social Mobility Ambassadors, shares his personal experience of coming out at work, including the challenges he faced and overcame, and the positive impact to his personal and professional life. He also offers some tips to employers in providing better support and allyship to their junior staff that identify as LGBT+.
My personal experience with ‘coming out’ was by no means an easy process and it took me a long time to embrace being gay.
I attended an all-boys state school which meant, like many, I frequently heard homophobic, biphobic and transphobic slurs in casual conversation.
I witnessed ‘out’ students being shamed for being their authentic selves, ostracised from friendship groups and made to feel unwelcome on a daily basis.
When I eventually came to terms with my own sexuality, these memories quite frankly scared me and held me back from sharing my sexuality with friends.
For a long time, I felt it would be easier to hide my identity and conform to everyone’s expectations but inside I knew that it wouldn’t be sustainable.
So, I made the decision to come out whilst at university. It was a mixed experience that resulted in a few lost friends, but the process quickly taught me what and who was important to me.
I’ll always be grateful to the people that encouraged me to be my authentic self and live proudly as a gay man.
When it came to applying to law firms for training contract roles, I met very few members of the LGBTQ+ community who I could relate to and I often felt like the odd one out at firm visits and events.
At the time, I was also advised by people in the corporate world that it would be best to hide my sexuality if I wanted to progress and ‘fit in’ at a City law firm. It made me apprehensive about whether law was right for me but I’m very glad I decided not to listen to that advice.
When interviewing at Allen & Overy, I decided to bring up my sexuality during an open conversation about the firm’s internal initiatives.
I felt it was important to have an honest dialogue so I could decide if the culture would encourage me to bring my true self to work and I was informed about A&Out and all the other initiatives at the firm.
I eventually had the chance to meet members of A&Out and was also introduced to Diversity Role Models at a ‘lunch and learn’ session.
I have gone on to volunteer with them in schools across London to prevent bullying of LGBTQ+ youths and facilitate inclusive classroom-based workshops.
Being ‘out’ at work
As a trainee, I rotate departments every six months and join a brand-new team each time, so I’m always meeting new people.
In my earlier rotations, I used to really consider how I could let my new supervisor know that I’m gay to avoid any awkwardness when my boyfriend does eventually come up in conversation.
However, after my first few rotations I realised that this wasn’t an issue, it wasn’t something I needed to hide at A&O and I could have open conversations with my supervisor and colleagues.
The reality is, having spent a year at the firm, there hasn’t been a day where I’ve felt that being part of an underrepresented community has held me back or that I’m seen as different. If anything, I’m encouraged to be open and feel comfortable sharing my experiences.
As someone starting out in their career, I’ve been made to feel that everyone’s diversity is their strength and that we each should and must have a seat at the table.
I’m encouraged to have a voice and am able to offer my opinion during committee meetings, I’ve worked closely with the graduate recruitment team to support future trainees during the application and on-boarding process and have been encouraged to pursue my passion for increased representation in law.
I understand that I am in a very fortunate position to have had access to role models and that the leadership in my firm are incredibly supportive of LGBTQ+ initiatives.
There is always more that any firm and the wider industry could do to amplify the voices of the lived experiences of the entire community, but my daily experience is that the difficult conversations are being encouraged and we are slowly but surely making positive change.
Advice to employers: how to support your new and junior staff
Networks and mentoring
It’s daunting for new recruits to speak up. Implementing a mentoring scheme for junior colleagues is an effective way to support diverse talent.
If you don’t have an active LGBTQ+ network or mentoring initiative, (re)launch one and encourage allies to join.
Whilst senior representation is crucial, encouraging and inviting junior colleagues to participate and share their unique perspectives is just as important. If your network committee doesn’t permit junior colleagues to join, why not?
Encourage allies to participate and support LGBTQ+ events or initiatives. It can be useful to offer educational material or presentations to support colleagues in being better allies.
Calling out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language within the workplace should be everyone’s responsibility.
Diversity is intersectional. Promoting collaboration between different diversity networks is key to the effectiveness of all of them.
Reaching out to other firms, chambers or clients within the legal profession is equally important to continue the wider conversation and create an inclusive environment where junior LGBTQ+ colleagues feel supported.
Inclusion allies – guidance on how you and your organisation can be allies