Another brick in the (Stone)wall

Is the profession doing enough to encourage true diversity, asks Pinsent Masons partner David Isaac

The results of Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index this year make interesting reading for the profession.

With law firms making up 10 per cent of the organisations in this year’s index – a greater proportion than ever – it is clear that we attach significant value to being in the top 100. Significant effort and resources are expended on winning a position in the Index, and Stonewall’s “points mean prizes” approach drives real change by rewarding positive initiatives for LGBT people at work.

The benchmark for inclusion in the index is rightly increasing year on year. This meant that in the case of my own firm, Pinsent Masons, we were disappointed to learn that by losing just one point against last year’s score we dropped several places in the index.

We will undoubtedly be re-doubling our efforts for next year’s challenge, but like other organisations making submissions, we know that organisational pride is far less important than the real progress that the Index drives for millions of LGBT employees in the UK workplace.

While it is important to celebrate the progress that law firms have made in recognising the contribution of LGBT people, I believe that there is still a lot more to be done to drive diversity – including LGBT diversity – in the legal profession.

For example, are we doing enough to reflect the diversity of our clients and broader society beyond the relatively narrow confines of a small number of law firms in the City of London?  

This March, Pinsent Masons is hosting an LGBT event in our Glasgow office with PWC. The reaction to the plans from staff, clients and contacts has been overwhelmingly positive, and feedback so far suggests that there is a huge appetite for similar events outside the English capital. Yet how many events like this take place outside London?

We also know how important senior role models are in inspiring others and driving change within organisations.  

We now have one openly gay CEO of an FTSE 100 company, but to my personal knowledge there are still no openly gay managing or senior partners of legal practices. The reality is that there are still lots of lesbian and gay partners in law firms who are still not “out”.  

We also need to encourage members of the bar to follow the example of law firms. As a minimum, more chambers should become Stonewall Diversity Champions and seek to secure a place in the Workplace index.

Even though there is still much to be done to achieve full LGBT equality in the legal profession, nonetheless the gay community has been relatively successful in securing increased attention for our cause.  

It is important to remember that LGBT issues are just one part of a wider diversity picture. There is rightly an increased focus now on gender issues amongst law firms, but there is still a great deal to do to promote black and minority ethnic lawyers and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds – a topic that Diane Abbott MP will be speaking to our staff about later this month.  

The Law Society has done much to generate policy and stimulate change in these areas but lawyers and law firms now need to take further action to ensure that the contributions of large numbers of  talented people are recognised. We therefore need to renew our resolve – in my opinion implementing quotas where relevant – to ensure that things are different in future.   

At a moment when there is a huge appetite for change from clients, from a growing number of lawyers and from society at large, we have a real opportunity to push for even greater progress.  As the Stonewall Workplace Index demonstrates, we can never be complacent. Let’s celebrate what we have achieved so far – but let’s keep the momentum going.

David Isaac is a partner at Pinsent Masons. He chairs the firm’s Diversity  Steering Committee. He was Chair of Stonewall from 2003 to 2012 and was awarded a CBE for services to equality and diversity in 2011.