How to make sexuality a non-issue

In 2005, when gay rights campaign group Stonewall published its first Workplace Equality Index, six firms in the top 100 asked to remain anonymous, concerned about the implications of being associated with the list.

Opinion 1

Matthew Rowbotham, LGB group chair, Pinsent Masons

In 2005, when gay rights campaign group Stonewall published its first Workplace Equality Index, six firms in the top 100 asked to remain anonymous, concerned about the implications of being associated with the list. Just a couple of years later there is a great deal of competition to get on the list, which is indicative of the change in attitude.

Like many of my lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) peers, I have not experienced any significant problems regarding my sexual orientation. However, also like many of my peers, I have felt the temptation to follow the path of least resistance – keep your head down, do not make waves, choose who gets to know and who gets the edited version of your weekend or your Christmas break. Ultimately, though, it is an unproductive mindset.

The aim of all firms should be to make sexuality a non-issue. LGB groups are (perhaps paradoxically) just one way to do that. Our LGB group is open to all colleagues, whether or not they identify themselves as LGB. It acts as a confidential sounding board for people who want someone to talk to and helps the firm by advising on policy, organising social events and meetings and having periodic conference calls together.

The legal profession has come a long way over the years, but there is still plenty to work on. Last year, for example, Stonewall reported that only two law firms gathered comprehensive diversity statistics to inform their thinking on the needs of their staff. Yet, as a representative of one of those firms, I can say that the overwhelming majority of Pinsent Masons’ staff willingly respond positively to the diversity section of our annual staff survey.

Also, like many clients when they are inviting firms to present formally, we ask our potential suppliers to confirm that they have diversity policies that are aligned to our culture and values, and we share best practice with our clients and fellow professional service providers.

This sort of approach is increasingly being adopted within the profession. If the next 10 years see as much change as the past 10, we will be well on the way to greater and wider acceptance of the importance of an inclusive approach in the workplace.

Opinion 2

By Adrian Barlow, head of property, Pinsent Masons

It isn’t just that captains of industry and the public sector increasingly want to know that those who serve it share, and genuinely practise, the beliefs and cultures of their own organisations, but that there is an internal benefit as well: if people feel valued, included and supported in the workplace, whatever their personal circumstances, then they will be more motivated and focused to succeed.

This applies equally to whether you are a gay person as it does to whether you are an employee on maternity leave who is ignored – each needs support and consideration from their employer. A caring business is often a successful one.

Research has been carried out among the listed companies that have values programmes and embrace inclusivity and foster caring cultures and those that do not; the former organisations are the ones that tend to be more successful. I know senior managers at FTSE100 companies who would go further and say that there is a direct link between an organisation’s values, its culture and the products it sells.

But you have to drive cultural change for organisational ’buy-in’ – this cannot just be a few people banging a drum, but the alignment of an organisation to work together to be a better place.