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Mentoring the Future Generation of LGBT+ Leaders; An Interview with Chris Edwards

An Interview with Chris Edwards, CSR & Diversity Director at Travers Smith


You’ve partnered with the LGBT+ charity Just Like Us (JLU) to develop a mentoring scheme for LGBTQ+ young people. Can you tell us more about the programme?

Just Like Us is a fantastic charity which works to empower young LGBT+ people and promote LGBT+ inclusion in schools and colleges. JLU has developed a community of over 200 trained LGBT+ ambassadors to champion LGBT+ equality and allyship in schools, colleges, online and amongst each other as relatable LGBT+ role models.

 

To help the student ambassadors manage the challenging transition from student life to the workplace, Travers Smith worked in partnership with JLU to develop a mentoring scheme to enable ambassadors to enter the workplace as future LGBT+ leaders, confident in their identity and openly LGBT+. JLU ambassadors can sign up as mentees and they will be assigned a mentor to work with them over a 12-month period.

 

Who are the mentors, and what impact have they had?

This year's mentors are once again drawn from a wide range of industries and professions, including healthcare and medicine, law, the arts, academia and politics. They include Hardwicke barrister, Brie Stevens-Hoare QC, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr David McLaughlan, playwright Carl Miller, and composer Alex Mills. People from the firm, as well as our clients and alumni, have also acted as mentors since its launch in 2016.

 

We’ve repeatedly heard about the programme’s transformational impact. We’ve heard how mentors have been a vital critical friend for job applications, helped our volunteers build motivation to find work opportunities they love and supported them to develop a range of new skills. In short, it’s helped young LGBTQ+ people to build more confidence in their identity and take ownership of their experiences growing up.

 

What’s the firm's role with the scheme?

The firm has worked closely with JLU in developing the scheme over the past 4 years, including sourcing mentors, providing training, and creating resources and guidance for mentors and mentees.

 

As well as helping develop the mentoring scheme, we've worked closely with JLU in a number of other ways, including providing pro bono legal work on policies, governance, data protection, IP and other general legal issues. Daniel Gerring, Partner at Travers Smith, also chairs the charity's Board of Trustees.

 

Why is it important to have a specific mentoring programme for young LGBTQ+ people?

Being an LGBTQ+ young person can still be unacceptably tough and all too often LGBTQ+ young people don't have anyone to discuss how to navigate the sometimes complicated issues that can arise from entering the workplace as an LGBTQ+ person. Many LGBTQ+ people come out at university, but a staggering 60 per cent go back into the closet when they start their careers. Having to conceal your identity or sexual orientation can have a major impact on one's ability to have a productive and fulfilling career. We know that people perform better when they can be themselves. They will be more productive, feel able to build better relationships with their colleagues and ultimately better serve the needs of their clients and service users. Promoting greater LGBTQ+ inclusion is therefore not only the right thing to do, it also makes business sense too.

 

Do you think mentors gain from the program as well as mentees?

Mentoring should be a reciprocal partnership. Mentors from the JLU scheme consistently feedback how much they learn from listening to the lived experiences of their young LGBTQ+ mentees. Learning more about the needs and concerns of young LGBTQ+ people also allows mentors to consider what more they could be doing to support a cohort of emerging LGBTQ+ leaders.

 

To help formalise this reciprocal approach, we've also launched a reverse mentoring scheme at Travers Smith. This involves junior staff members from minority and marginalised backgrounds mentoring the firm's senior leaders. Gaining an insight into the experiences of trainees and junior lawyers enables the firm's leadership to develop and refine our approach to creating a more inclusive workplace.

 

Did you have an LGBTQ+ mentor or role model when starting your career?

As a young gay man growing up in South Wales in the 1980's and 1990's there weren't any openly LGBTQ+ people. Because of Section 28, and its legacy, LGBTQ+ inclusion wasn’t mentioned at school and certainly not raised in a positive way amongst my family and friends. I'm confident that as a young person, having the opportunity to meet and learn from other LGBTQ+ people would've been transformative. 

 

Fortunately, since then I've been able to access some truly amazing mentors and role models working tirelessly to make positive changes in their industries. They include my fellow Freehold Board members (a network for LGBTQ+ people working in real estate), senior leaders in City institutions, and a whole range of other heroes helping create a fairer and more equitable society. To help "pay it forward", I also help run Freehold's mentoring scheme to support young LGBTQ+ people working in real estate, and a number of people who have supported me on my journey now volunteer as mentors for the JLU/Travers Smith scheme.

 

What do you think makes an effective mentor?

Effective mentoring requires a broad range of skills! The best mentors are able to create a safe and nurturing space but are also prepared to challenge and push their mentee when required.

 

What advice would you give to an LGBTQ+ person just entering their career?

Don't be afraid to be yourself. One of the hardest things we can do as people is to pretend to be something that we're not, and life's too short to be constantly wearing masks. I also recognise that as a cis white gay man living in London, I'm fortunate to be able to be my authentic self in all aspects of my life – this isn't a privilege offered to many LGBTQ+ people. I am however committed to doing what I can to create a society where everyone can lead their authentic lives, confident and proud of who they are.




You can vote in the British LGBT+ Awards here.


Find out more information here:

Diversity and Inclusion at Travers Smith: www.traverssmith.com/difference/being-inclusive

Freehold: https://freeholdlgbt.com/

Just Like Us: https://www.justlikeus.org/

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