The legal sector is making major strides on promoting lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) equality, according to LGB charity Stonewall.
The organisation has provided feedback to the 24 legal sector employers that sought to be part of its top 100 employers list.
Although only four made it into the top 100 – Simmons & Simmons, Pinsent Masons, Herbert Smith and Eversheds (TheLawyer.com, 13 January) – Stonewall, in conjunction with the LGBT network InterLaw, has singled out six other legal organisations for “significant improvements” across nine areas of policy and practice. They are Baker & McKenzie, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Irwin Mitchell, Lovells, SJ Berwin and The Law Society.
David Shields, director of workplace programmes at Stonewall, says: “They’ve all made significant improvements on last year. Some firms doubled their scores. When you have leaders within a sector, it’s easier for others to adopt and adapt that good practice.”
There is a dearth of small firms in the legal sector top 10, however, with the top five made up entirely of firms turning over £200m or more a year. Beyond the top 10-15 legal sector employers, scores reportedly drop off dramatically.
Although it is free to enter the workplace equality index, those that pay to become Stonewall Diversity Champions tend to score better because they receive ongoing advice from the charity, including how to avoid tribunal claims. Training and other initiatives that will help firms improve their scores also have to be paid for. So should the smaller employers give up altogether?
“Some of it has a financial [aspect] to it,” argues Shields. “If you advertise in LGBT media, it entails a price tag. But it’s not necessarily about putting financial resources behind it. Simmons has an excellent supplier diversity programme and really it’s a time resource that’s required more than anything.”
Simmons corporate securities partner Daniel Winterfeldt, who founded the InterLaw LGBT network, agrees: “It’s not about spending money and box-ticking, it’s about
people spending time and energy and about strong leadership.”
But despite the progress, the law still lags behind other sectors, particularly central government and banks.
“It’s exceptional for law firms to be doing anything in terms of specific career development for LGBT staff or to ensure that people who manage others are skilled in terms of managing diversity,” Shields points out.
Simmons is one of the few firms that has taken steps in the latter area, implementing two strands of diversity training – one for managers and one for the rest of the firm. Around 70 per cent of staff have now participated in the scheme.
Winterfeldt says: “It’s about identifying ’in groups’ and ’out groups’ and challenging unconscious decision-making. When new work comes in, who do you decide to give it to? When you decide to promote someone, are you giving it to the best possible person? Good managers step back and ask, ’Am I being fair, clear and transparent? If someone challenges this decision, will I be able to explain my reasoning?’”
Baker & McKenzie improved this year to the point that it now meets at least half the areas required by Stonewall. The firm introduced monitoring for the first time this year at all stages of the HR process, including recruitment, current staff and departing staff.
Head of diversity and corporate social responsibility for the London office Jennifer Barrow says that diversity is one area in which firms are keen to share best practice.
“In diversity, people are willing to collaborate more because the legal sector confronts negative press on the subject,” she comments.
Barrow adds that she sees the Stonewall scheme as “like an end-of year audit”, which can help when considering how to address other diversity strands.
Legal sector role models
Stonewall’s David Shields highlights the following role models within the legal sector:
Daniel Winterfeldt, corporate securities partner, Simmons & Simmons, and founder of the InterLaw forum for LGBT networks: “A major part of the movement forward for the sector has been InterLaw. It helped provide a sector-specific focus.”
Stephen Ward, director of communications, inclusion and corporate responsibility, The Law Society: “The Law Society’s Diversity Charter has been important.”
Carolyn Lee, diversity manager, Herbert Smith: “She has been very instrumental in terms of working with and helping other law firms. Carolyn has played a huge part in the Gay Women’s Network.”
Legal Sector Top 10
1 – Simmons & Simmons
2 – Pinsent Masons
3 – Herbert Smith
4 – Eversheds
5 – Lovells
6 – Freshfields
7 – The Law Society
8 – Irwin Mitchell Solicitors
9 – SJ Berwin
10 – Baker & McKenzie