Daniel Winterfeldt is a partner at Reed Smith and founder and co-chair of the InterLaw Diversity Forum
As an LGBT lawyer working in the City, I felt isolated. With no role models, I struggled with setting long-term career goals; I did not think an openly LGBT lawyer had a real future working in the City. In 2008, I set out to change this, not just for myself but for others also.
The InterLaw Diversity Forum was formed to encourage LGBT diversity and inclusion in the legal industry, and it was originally intended as an inter-organisational forum for all LGBT personnel in the sector. Since then, the forum has expanded to encompass all strands of diversity and inclusion including BAME and soon we will launch its Disability Network. Our focus is on cultural change in the workplace and ‘multiple identities’.
Today, the Forum has more than 3,000 members from over 70 law firms and 45 corporates and financial institutions. In addition to its monthly LGBT and BAME meetings, the InterLaw Diversity Forum engages in charitable work, conducts research into the legal profession, and manages its successful projects: the Apollo Project with the Financial Times, and the Purple Reign project. Not to forget, our annual Winter Carnival event in support of the Albert Kennedy Trust and Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline.
The Apollo Project began in 2014 – inspired by the recommendations of the InterLaw Diversity Forum’s Career Progression Report – and the Financial Times soon became our media partner. Each year, alongside the project co-lead Liz Grant OBE, Director, Fantail Business Development, we run a prestigious competition to seek out and judge models of best practice from organisations that are driving cultural change, all with the goal of providing effective, practical solutions for other organisations looking for guidance in this area.
Purple Reign concentrates on the importance of role models within the LGBT community. It celebrates the success of LGBT professionals and recognises the support of straight allies. This project captures the images and stories of inspiring role models drawn from the fields of law, business, activism, the arts, government, and sports. Through their profiles, written by acclaimed writer, activist and Stonewall founding-member Lisa Power, we explore their multiple identities across all strands of diversity and inclusion.
By bringing individuals together, we’ve achieved some great successes for the legal sector as a whole. Prior to 2008, no London law firm had entered the Stonewall Work Equality Index (WEI) Top 100 Employers for LGBT Employees, placing the legal sector far behind its City peers, and most importantly, its clients. In particular, JP Morgan had asked the London legal community to address LGBT issues and to create an environment where employees could reach their full potential irrespective of sexual orientation.
Today, the legal sector’s performance in the index is far improved; in 2017, 14 law firms were recognised in the Top 100 Employers, and the legal sector was the top-ranking sector overall. Stonewall stated: “A major part of the movement forward for the [legal] sector has been the InterLaw Diversity Forum. It helped provide a sector-specific focus”. Our successful track record has encouraged us to expand beyond LGBT and to advance equality in the legal profession as a whole.
This year, we are looking forward to updating our Career Progression Report, which we first published in 2012 with the support of the Law Society and the Bar Council. The original report surveyed almost 2,000 respondents from all strands of diversity and inclusion in the UK legal sector. The goal of the report was to identify the barriers facing these diverse groups and to provide recommendations to address and ultimately solve these issues.
The 2017 update, which we are working on with our co-lead Dr. Lisa Webley, Professor of Empirical Legal Studies, University of Westminster, will focus on assessing what progress has been made in the UK legal sector since the original report with over 1,300 respondents. At a later stage it will report on data collected in the United States and Europe.
The successes we have achieved, would not have been possible without our diverse range of patrons supporting our work towards equality in the legal sector and meritocratic workplaces: Baroness Patricia Scotland PC QC, Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations; Helen Grant MP; Dr. Sandie Okoro, senior vice-president and general counsel for the World Bank Group; Dame Fiona Woolf DBE, partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, Alderman and Former Lord Mayor of the City of London; Dan Fitz, group general counsel and company secretary at BT; Carol Hui, group general counsel and company secretary at Heathrow Airport Holdings; Professor Trevor Williams, chief economist at Lloyds Banking Group; and Catrin Griffiths, editor of The Lawyer.
After almost nine years we realise that we have even more work to do until we achieve our goals in the legal sector, but we are gratified by the progress we’ve seen. Progress is not merely an issue of winning over hearts and minds of individuals, but also of convincing firms that diversity and inclusion represents a firm business case which will increase their bottom line while recruiting, retaining, and attracting the best talent.