I am responsible for the provision of business support functions in Sidley’s network of international offices outside the US, working closely with management in the US and also local Office Managing Partners. Unlike many of my LGBTQ+ colleagues, I did not come out as a gay man until relatively late in life, at the age of 53 in 2015. If I am honest, my not coming out prior to that time was largely unrelated to my career or due to the fear of any unwelcome repercussions at Sidley – but for more personal, family reasons. However, once I made the (sometimes difficult) decision to come out to my family, I was keen to do the same at work.
I won’t pretend that coming out at work did not feel like another hurdle to overcome. It was not that I had witnessed any homophobic behaviour or attitudes at Sidley, or that I don’t work alongside some successful, out and happy people. However, I was telling colleagues of 15 years who had always regarded me as a straight man that I wasn’t who they perhaps thought I was. Or at least that is how I perceived it at the time.
I am delighted to say that my coming out at work was an extremely positive experience. The partnership, my peers and those I interact with have always been incredibly supportive and respectful of my decision to be an openly gay man. There were a handful of what one might describe as rather more awkward conversations with colleagues, but certainly far fewer than I ever imagined. More often than not I was actually quite overwhelmed with the words of kindness, support and encouragement that were sent my way, sometimes from people I had not necessarily expected to be quite so vocal.
Some might say that coming out when in a relatively senior position is easier, or somehow safer, than doing so when more junior. I don’t have experience of the latter but I suspect neither is without its concerns or challenges. But I would encourage anyone, at whatever stage of their career, to be honest at work about who they are. Unless one is superhuman it is entirely natural and understandable to feel some anxiety about telling people at work something that is actually quite personal, but I would like to think that one should feel relatively at ease in doing so.
It’s a very personal choice, but I believe that to not really, truly be yourself at work is potentially damaging to one’s own mental wellbeing, certainly in the longer term. All law firms quite rightly talk about the wellbeing of their partners and employees as something that is of paramount importance. It should be. Ensuring we create an environment where everyone feels comfortable at work and that they can be themselves is an important element of looking after our people. It’s a mantra I hear quite often in my office and one that, for obvious personal reasons, resonates with me.
I am of the firm belief that the legal profession has made significant progress to date in creating inclusive environments that encourage openness, transparency and inclusion for people who – for whatever reason – are considered to be diverse. Thankfully, the entire landscape around diversity, equity and inclusion is certainly very different to when I began my career. Each year, I am aware of increasing interest in these subjects from potential recruits, existing personnel in different departments and teams across different offices, and from clients. This naturally results in a much more commonplace dialogue around the firm related to diversity and inclusion. The quality of that dialogue is increasingly challenging, interesting and driving continued change
Obviously we must not rest on our laurels. Inclusion continues to be high on the agenda for my firm and great strides have been made in so many of Sidley’s offices around the globe to ensure we create an inclusive workplace. That said, there is always more that can be done. I am delighted to witness the firm’s annual celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride become more far-reaching every year. Importantly, it is truly inclusive, and not just for those who identify as LGBTQ+ but welcoming of allies, both internally and from our clients, to celebrate with us. From distinguished external guest speakers, hearing from senior LGBTQ+ partners, to fun events like drag bingo and this year, rainbow flag face masks, Sidley’s global LGBTQ+ affinity group runs a fantastic programme. It ensures that everyone feels part of this important celebration of LGBTQ+ rights and freedom, not something enjoyed the world over.
I would like to think that this very active and inclusive celebration may also be a helpful signal, giving comfort, to anyone considering coming out.
Jason Glover is director of international operations at Sidley Austin