LGBT representation in the legal profession.  What has changed and what needs to change?

  • 21/01/2020

It’s February which means it’s LGBT History Month!  Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee member Daniel Matchett has done a great article below which discusses being out in the legal profession.  There are also a few events going on which you can attend.  Follow this link to see what’s going on at the People’s History Museum on Saturday 8 February!

As many readers will know, February marks the annual LGBT History Month, a period in which we reflect on progress in the LGBT movement to date and the progress still to be made. Over the years, LGBT people have fought for acceptance and inclusivity in society and in the workplace.  As a result of those efforts, we have reached a point today where efforts to promote inclusivity no longer feel like a fight against the tide but a unified effort of the LGBT community and its allies.  Yet that is not to say that we can allow complacency to set in.  At a time when national Law Society survey data suggests that a majority of respondents are open about their sexuality in their personal lives but only a minority of respondents are ‘widely out’ in the workplace, we can neither relent in our efforts nor forget the importance of this mission.

We will all be aware of the stereotype that the law is traditionally a profession populated by middle-aged, middle class, heterosexual white men.  I will not pass comment on the extent to which that characterisation is or has ever been accurate.  However, what is undeniably true is that the profession has not always been as inclusive as it should be.  As an example, consider how difficult it might have been for an LGBT colleague to be open about their sexuality within the workplace and within wider life in the late 1980s, a period in which official government policy was that homosexuality was a ‘pretended family relationship’.

I am fortunate to have only known the legal profession in more enlightened and welcoming times.  I joined a large firm where I was able to see a large number of LGBT role models at all levels of seniority and where the support and representation of LGBT staff is made a priority alongside the interests of colleagues from a wide variety of other backgrounds.  I know from my work with various groups addressing LGBT and wider diversity and inclusion issues that this is not only the case at my own firm.  The majority of firms now have measures in place to ensure that such issues are addressed appropriately, whether that is on a formal or more informal basis.  I am well aware, however, that not every LGBT member of our profession has been fortunate enough to share this experience.

For that reason, I am particularly pleased to sit on the recently-formed Manchester Law Society Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  I hope that this committee will be successful in championing diversity within the legal profession in our city, not just for LGBT colleagues but for everybody.  I am particularly pleased to learn that Manchester Law Society will be visible at this year’s Manchester Pride parade by hosting a brunch event and stand on the steps of the Midland Hotel (further details to be released in due course, with ticket profits going to local LGBT charity Friends of Dorothy).

I am also excited by the work being done by other groups within Manchester.  As an example, I have had the pleasure of helping to establish Out of Office, a regular networking event for LGBT professionals and allies from across all professions in Greater Manchester (@out_mcr).  Innovative groups such as these, run by the profession to promote the interests of those within the profession, are ultimately the best tool at our disposal.

As LGBT History Month is amongst other things a period of celebration, it seems appropriate to end on a positive note and to highlight the benefits to us all of ensuring that LGBT and other diversity issues are pursued with energy and determination.  Quite apart from the obvious point of principle which necessitates true inclusion and diversity in all walks of life, there is in fact a positive business case which should not be forgotten.  After all, contented colleagues are productive colleagues.  Alongside that, it is important to bear in mind that it is not only our profession which is increasingly diverse: so are our clients.  As a result, any firm which fails to take the steps necessary to promote an inclusive and diverse environment will find itself recruiting from a reduced talent pool, failing to maximise productivity and profit, and reducing its appeal to an increasingly diverse client market with increasingly diverse needs and demands.  For this reason if no other, we should use LGBT History Month as an opportunity to reflect on our profession and our own individual and collective efforts to ensure that ours is a profession which truly reflects and embraces the contributions of every community within our vibrant and diverse city.  Let us hope that when it comes time to reflect again during LGTB History Month 2021, we will be able to say that we have taken another step forward.

Daniel Matchett

Manchester Law Society Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee Member