The month of June is the Pride month, 30 days dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ communities all around the world.
As legal professionals, Optimus Law, the specialist immigration law firm, spends a large part of its time advising people how they can overcome injustice. It is therefore pleasing to see the legal profession as a whole practice what it preaches, with 15 law firms making up the Stonewall Top 100 Employers List, 2020 showing that they are fighting the injustices previously faced by LGBT people seriously and are treating the improvement of inclusion practices and policies as a top priority.
It is worth remembering that huge steps forward have been made in recent years. As a profession, it is fair to state that the legal sector is becoming increasingly diverse – something to be proud of. However, the profession has not always been as diverse as what we are seeing today.
Up until relatively recently, there was a view that the average lawyer was a middle-aged, middle class, heterosexual white male. This might be a misleading stereotype nowadays, but why did it exist at all? The history of LGBT representation within the legal profession to a large extent mirrors that within wider society. Homosexuality may have been decriminalised in 1967, but other laws such as the ban on ‘promoting’ homosexuality in schools (Section 28), introduced in 1988 were not overturned until 2003.
However, as we moved into the new Millennium, giant steps forward for the LGBT community were made. In 2000 gay and bisexual people could be in the armed forces, in 2002 gay people could adopt children and in 2004 civil partnerships extended relationship rights, before gay marriage finally became legal in 2013.
And now, with the legal sector making a substantial contribution to the top 100 companies list, it is worth looking in detail at what, exactly, they are doing to promote equality.
The Stonewall Top 100 Employers list is compiled from the Workplace Equality Index – the UK’s leading benchmarking tool for LGBT inclusion in the workplace. Organisations that enter the Index – including the 15 law firms making the top 100 list – submit evidence detailing their LGBT practice across ten areas:
- Policies and benefits: how the organisation audits, develops and communicates LGBT-inclusive policies and employee benefits
- The employee lifecycle: how the organisation engages all employees on LGBT inclusion, from attraction and recruitment to retention, development and exit
- LGBT employee network groups: how the activity of the organisation’s network group contributes to LGBT inclusion in the organisation and beyond
- Allies and role models: how the organisation empowers allies and role models to create change
- Senior leadership: how the organisation engages and empowers senior leaders to create LGBT-inclusive workplaces
- Monitoring: how the organisation collects and analyses data to improve the experiences of LGBT employees
- Procurement: how the organisation engages their supply chain on LGBT inclusion
- Community engagement: how the organisation demonstrates commitment to LGBT equality and creates change in the wider community
- Clients, customers and service users: how the organisation engages and consults clients, customers, service users and partners around LGBT inclusion
- Additional work: what additional, innovative work the organisation carries out to advance LGBT inclusion
These 10 points are detailed and cover a lot of ground – evidence that the legal sector is taking a holistic view of its entire equality drive.
This is something we, as a profession, should be intensely proud of. Over the years, LGBT people have fought for acceptance and inclusivity in society, but we are still seeing substantial numbers of hate crimes against gay men and women, and many still face discrimination in their daily lives. Therefore, as a professional sector, the weight we can throw against such problems counts for a lot – and we should be proud of what we are achieving together.