In my 24 years as a lawyer I have always been open about my sexual orientation at work. In the early days this wasn’t the easiest path to tread. There were very few out lawyers who one could look up to as role models. Things have definitely improved.  I now have a wide pool of queer peers and allies who I regularly call on for guidance and advice. I am also extremely fortunate to work at firm that places EDI at the heart of what we do, and where we boast an active LGBTQ+ network, championed by a group of talented lawyers who are proudly visible in the workplace.

What does it take to be a great lawyer?

As well as being technically excellent, building relationships is also key. To develop strong and meaningful relationships the most important feature is trust. Being honest about who I am and what matters to me has helped me to develop stronger relationships with both my colleagues and clients. I appreciate being out at work isn’t possible for everyone, but for me, choosing to do so, has allowed me to set the tone for the environment I work in and in so doing has helped me to breed loyalty and connection in my professional relationships.

Speak up, and speak up again

I recently attended a residential leadership course in Cambridge. At the final night dinner the participants reflected on the many things they had learnt. One shared that when I introduced myself to a room of strangers by talking about my wife and son it made such an impression on him that he decided when introducing himself to say he had just moved in with his “boyfriend” rather than “partner”. He explained he would not have done this otherwise. To my mind, nothing I said was earth-shattering or profound, but sometimes as LGBTQ+ leaders it is easy to forget the impact of our words and actions. That is why I encourage those who are out at work to make the effort to keep speaking up about their lives, because sometimes that can make an important difference.

Next-gen leaders

There is nothing that gives me greater pride than seeing the next wave of LGBTQ+ lawyers succeed and thrive in their roles.  I urge all senior lawyers to tap into their insights and energy. One of the most meaningful ways in which I have learnt to be a better leader is through the reverse mentoring I have received from junior colleagues. They have the ability to see things in a way I do not.  Their lived experiences are different from my own. All too often we hear older lawyers talk about the younger members of the profession disparagingly for not doing things in the way “they used to do”. Change is good; through their challenge they are helping to future-proof our profession. Cherish and listen to that talent pool, especially those who are LGBT+ to ensure you take account of all views and perspectives.

Business imperative

There is now swathes of empirical data to show that diversity within an organisation helps it to be more successful and resilient. For over a decade in my role as my firm’s both Head of EDI, and Chair of our LGBTQ+ & Allies network, I made very clear that EDI was not a ‘nice to have’ but that there was a business imperative for seeking a more diverse workforce. I implore all Senior Leaders to educate themselves about the benefits of a diverse workforce and then set their own goals to achieve it.

Melinka Berridge is a partner at Kingsley Napley