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Lewis Silkin on Championing Diversity in the workplace

No doubt Lewis Silkin is a tight-knit group. Sitting in a meeting room with nine individuals, each part of LGBT+ community, feels like catching up with friends. One can feel the camaraderie and respect each one has for the other The myGwork team visited Lewis Silkin to discuss how it champions diversity throughout the ranks and how the team deals with assumptions on a day to day basis.

The city law firm champions diversity throughout all ranks, with a strong diversity and inclusion policy in place, that shows in the individuals approach to the topic. Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, Legal Director and Deputy Head of Advertising & Marketing says it’s that approach to the cause that matters.

“For people joining the firm, we’re keen to ensure that no one feels any kind of trepidation around disclosing their sexuality or gender identity. It can be kept as a private thing, of course, and that’s absolutely fine and completely respected. There’s absolutely no pressure to ‘come out’, but equally no one should think that being open and honest and being themselves is going to be an issue or count against them or hold them back in any way.  And that’s the case whether they join as a paralegal, partner, associate, secretary, or in any other role.

Quite a few of us who are LGBT+ ensure that we are very visible, and we get involved in various initiatives and networks within the profession. We’re also keen on spreading the word and getting involved in different ways across the various sectors in which we’re well known, especially the creative industries. We have found that the legal profession can be further along on this journey than other industries which you’d expect to be light years ahead, like the advertising industry. So, we have taken the initiative to lend our support where we can.  For example, I am a member of PrideAM, an LGBT+ organisation doing great work with and for people in the advertising and marketing industries. PrideAM aims to promote an inclusive workplace for everyone, and fair and accurate representation of LGBT+ people in advertising.”

Jo Evans, partner and former head of the corporate team has been with the company for 24 years and was open about her sexuality after 3 months.

“Attracting LBGT+ candidates is a combination of factors. We promote role models who are open about it and we encourage a spirit of inclusiveness and transparency and I hope that shines through in our graduate recruitment process and open days. There are also styles of management and leadership that influence the culture of an organisation. If you’re not able to be your authentic self at work then the organisation will never get the best out of you.”

Matthew Rowbotham, partner and head of tax says it’s an individual choice but is happy that the great majority of people at Lewis Silkin are able to be out.

“If you feel able, I think it’s important to be out, the same way it is important to be out to friends and family. That is the only way to progress things. If you feel like doing it, absolutely. I saw that statistic about people going back into the closet after leaving university and I was intrigued. I am wondering to what extent they genuinely go back into the closet, or whether they just keep their head downs as a new entrant to the workplace until they worked out what the situation is. I hope it is no more than that in most places. I did that for a few weeks back when I was a trainee. When I interviewed for this role at Lewis Silkin a few years ago I was already out, and discussed my involvement with LGBT+ networks in the interview.”

Many individuals struggle with the move from university to workplace. Anna remembers the time when she started in the workforce after leaving university

“As a bisexual person, you have to come out twice sometimes. When you say, girlfriend, you’re automatically a lesbian and then six months later you have to correct them again. It’s just time-consuming. I personally went through a stage after Uni where I was less out, simply because you go from a self-selected group of people your age to a more professional environment that comes with a nervousness coming in as a junior. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But by the time I was applying here I reached a point where it’s just too much effort and energy. Frankly being a lawyer is quite a lot of effort itself anyway so there is not much room left to play the pronouns game. I’m trying to address the issue by being open and visible. You need to see role models or just people and peers that are like you and are comfortable in combination with an organisation that’s totally fine and supportive.”

Rob Johnson, Senior Business Development Executive knows that assumptions can be a hurdle to overcome sometimes.

“I got a new boss April last year, and she didn’t know about my sexuality, simply because the opportunity never came up. So after 10 months, I mentioned I was going on a date and she asked ‘Who is she?’ I was like, this is really awkward, because it’s been 10 months, and this big part of my life that I simply have not communicated to you. It wasn’t the embarrassment that ‘Oh god I have to tell her,” it was more correcting her and telling her she’s wrong. It’s the awkwardness of correcting someone rather than the awkwardness of telling her.”

At Lewis Silkin people practice what they preach, and when dealing with assumptions Geraint says that it’s usually very easy to do – and choosing the right time and place as well as approach makes all the difference.

“There are always people that make assumptions, about all sorts of things, and it can feel quite awkward to contradict or challenge those assumptions. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal. For example, being a Welshman living in London, I have a difficult name to pronounce, so almost everybody will say it wrong the first time. It’s not an issue. Casually correcting people when they assume my partner is a woman is not very different from correcting people about the way they say my name –you just choose the appropriate time to do it (usually asap), in a breezy way that(hopefully) doesn’t make them feel like they’ve put their foot in it. When people use the wrong pronoun, it’s not about making them feel like you’re trying to catch them out.”

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