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How To Convert Positive Energy Into Positive Change

My name is Jamie Sherman. I joined BCLP four years ago and I now work as an Associate in the Transport & Asset Finance team. When I joined the firm in 2015, I was out to my friends and family but on starting work, as many people do, I went back into the closet and wasn't comfortable talking about my sexuality in the office. The firm at that time had just appointed a new managing partner, Lisa Mayhew, who on taking the role championed a major push for diversity, putting in place female partnership targets and the five strands of BCLP's diversity agenda, and appointing a new head of D&I who would go on to make a number of material changes to the business.


One of the strands of diversity which the firm wanted to support was LGBTQ+, and a number of partners came out in support of the community. The beginnings of an allies programme took shape, and posters popped up in kitchens about being yourself in the workplace.


Against that backdrop, a few months into my first seat I decided, half consciously and half unthinkingly, that I wanted to stop hiding my identity at work. One evening, working late my supervisor asked me if I had plans that evening. Instead of the usual fumbling around for a generic answer, I decided to tell her it was my boyfriend's birthday and I was taking him out. It felt like a big deal because I’d built it up in my head, but she reacted as if I'd just mentioned a girlfriend – exactly the kind of reaction I would hope for now. After that it became much easier to talk about being gay at work, and I felt liberated to be able to be myself.


Today, four years later, the firm has come on leaps and bounds in terms of its diverse make up and inclusive culture. The office is awash with initiatives aimed at improving opportunities for people with disabilities, minority ethnicities and less privilege than others. It's fundamentally changed the core culture of the business - there's now a real buzz around D&I, as if it's something that everyone can get behind and benefit from, rather than a chore which we need to do to avoid trouble.


The challenge for us now, as I see it, is to work out how to convert that positive energy into positive change. The law industry still struggles massively with racial diversity. Ethnic minority groups are drastically underrepresented. And despite recent changes, female lawyers still tend to have their careers stunted by taking parental leave. There is still work to do, and at BCLP we need to be leading the charge, setting the bar for the industry to follow in pushing for true inclusivity.


So how do we do that?


Well, we're busy working on a number of ways to change the landscape and make our firm one which values people for their difference.


Earlier this year, we launched an LGBTQ+ network called Wave. We set it up with Deloitte, Google, AIG, Barclays and BNY Mellon, with the aim of helping LGBTQ+ junior professionals to network, improve the culture in their workplaces and reach their career potential regardless of their romantic attraction or gender identities. Wave now has a membership of over 1,000 junior professionals across the city's industries and acts as a meeting point for those looking to build their networks, do business and learn something new. We've hosted Phyll Opoku Gyimah, the head of UK Black Pride, Claire Harvey, a British Paralympian and countless other fantastic speakers. We run a mentoring programme, support LGBTQ+ charities and educate people on complex issues such as intersectionality and relationship and sex education in schools. Wave is one way that BCLP is changing the game and setting a new standard in inclusivity.


We’re also pushing for racial diversity with our award-wining initiative for aspiring black lawyers, Race for Change, and we're inviting students from less privileged backgrounds into our offices through our Career Kick Start programme. We're pushing every day to reach more people and level the playing field. 


Another challenge we face is how to connect the strands of diversity. How do we help not just ethnic minorities, disabled people or women, but people who identify as all three? On that front we're looking to adopt an intersectional approach, pushing the boundaries beyond conventional D&I strategies and seeing a person in the round with all their differences and challenges in play together.


We're also looking to work beyond London. The capital is a large, affluent, diverse and liberal city, and the challenges for diverse people are undoubtedly greater beyond its borders. For that reason we've launched a global LGBTQ+ group with over 600 allies, pushing for change where it's most difficult, in places like Moscow, Singapore and Dubai. We also provide support to regional law firms looking to improve their diversity, to help improve the landscape across the UK in places where these issues don't make the front pages of the local papers. We see ourselves as a beacon for D&I which we want to spread out way beyond the liberal circles in City firms.


BCLP is a brilliant place to work, as supportive as it is ambitious. It's a firm that allows you to thrive regardless of your background. The cliché is worth stating in that here you can bring your whole self to work, whether you want to be at the desk all night or you need to work flexibly to provide childcare. The firm cultivates your intellectual skills with complex work, and challenges you to develop a commercial approach to the practice of law, while supporting you to be yourself.


If you'd like to learn more, feel free to email me.


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