Law firms fostering LGBT-friendly environments

Three major law firms have been named among the top ten LGBT-friendly employers in the UK.

The latest annual Stonewall Workplace Equality Index highlights the commitment shown by the legal sector in creating an inclusive culture for its employees. Baker & McKenzie (sixth) was the highest-ranked law firm, followed by Freshfields and Pinsent Masons (joint ninth).

Diversity is a major issue for the sector at present, with various studies pointing to the plethora of benefits associated with hiring staff from different backgrounds and encouraging the development of diverse management teams. In total, 11 law firms feature in the top 100, putting it only behind local government (15) in terms of overall mentions.

Law firms serious about LGBT

Baker & McKenzie's position represents the highest ever ranking obtained by a law firm, while it is the fourth consecutive year it has featured in the top 20. This demonstrates how the organisation is reaping the rewards of its long-term diversity strategy.

Harry Small, chair of the firm's Global LGBT Initiative, is clear about its intentions - to provide "an environment where people can be safe". He also praised the "enthusiasm, efforts and commitment" shown by staff at its London office and through its Allies network.

"Diversity and inclusion have always been at the heart of our culture and this result is testament to that," stated inclusion and diversity partner Sarah Gregory. "Our LGBT and Allies network has grown substantially this year and the objectives of the network are fully supported by senior leaders throughout the firm."

Transformative approaches

Simmons & Simmons was also singled out for praise by Stonewall, being named one of its Star Performers thanks to its commitment to revolutionising its approach to engaging with suppliers and supporting those looking to improve their approach to workplace equality.

The law firm will organise annual roundtables to share diversity and inclusion best practice and offer training, while regular audits will also be held.

Stonewall chief executive Ruth Hunt said: "All ... our Star Performers have consistently proved that they can make the world a better place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people."

A work in progress

While it's great to see progress being made in LGBT relations, there is still plenty of work to be done. Only three in five (57 per cent) people are comfortable discussing their sexuality with all of their colleagues, while this dropped to 53 per cent when it came to discussions with managers.

A third (33 per cent) are unwilling to disclose their sexual orientation to customers, clients or service users. If these statistics are to be improved, there has to be a top down acceptance of LGBT culture, and greater visibility and reach for LGBT network groups.

The impact of being yourself at work is clear for all to see, as 86 per cent of people who are out said they are satisfied with their sense of achievement - this figure falls to 54 per cent for those who are not out.

"Lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents who are not out with anyone at the workplace are five times more likely to be dissatisfied with the support they receive from their manager and three times more likely to be dissatisfied with the training they receive when compared to those who are completely out in the workplace," the report stated.