I have always found it difficult to explain what an ally is and why I believe I am one. Some of the definitions I have come across include “unconditional kindness,” “non-judgment,” and “spreading knowledge, awareness, and mutual respect.” However, I feel these qualities should be inherent in every human being’s behavior. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I believe allyship encompasses many facets and may hold different meanings for different individuals. For me, it is about listening, learning, and advocating for acceptance and inclusion. An ally should use their platform and their privilege to uplift and support those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
At Kingsley Napley, we are dedicated to supporting our LGBTQIA+ friends and colleagues and aim to set an example for others to follow. We have a dedicated LGBTQIA+ and Allies group that meets monthly to drive initiatives and provide training within the firm. This group serves as a supportive forum where we share news affecting the LGBTQIA+ community, discuss the LGBTQIA+-related work we do, and organize initiatives or events such as group theatre trips, office movie nights, Pride blog series, or training sessions on broad or specific issues. The group welcomes everyone, and its attendance by senior members of the firm sends an important message.
As law firms, there are several ways we can and should support LGBTQIA+ individuals:
- Encourage the establishment of LGBTQIA+ and other minority network groups, promoting an understanding of intersectionality and how these groups can collaborate. Provide dedicated time during the working day and allocate budgets for these groups to operate and thrive.
- Offer training on issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community and create a safe environment where individuals can share experiences, learn, and support one another. Ensure that the importance of an inclusive workplace is recognized and implemented at all levels.
- Encourage support from senior members of the firm who serve as role models and set expectations for others. The visibility of senior allies can extend beyond the staff to clients, contacts, suppliers, and the wider legal profession and community, showcasing the firm’s genuine commitment to improving the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Implement policies and procedures that are fully inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people and communicate a zero-tolerance approach towards discrimination. Use gender-neutral language in precedents, internal and external communication, and avoid bias towards a particular sex or social gender. Promote the inclusion of pronouns in email signatures and professional social media accounts.
I was delighted when Kingsley Napley provided rainbow laces for our sports teams and lanyards for our security passes. I proudly wear these symbols, and I have been struck by the positive comments they have generated. These small gestures demonstrate our care for these significant aspects of our friends’ and colleagues’ lives, which, hopefully, encourage openness and the confidence to bring one’s true self to work. In my role as a family lawyer, I regularly assist clients in the LGBTQIA+ community, ensuring they have equal access to legal advice and expertise on issues that particularly affect them. Through training, sharing, and experience, we gain a deep understanding of the journeys LGBTQIA+ clients have taken in building their families, whether through assisted conception, donor conception, co-parenting agreements, surrogacy, or adoption. We also recognize the specific challenges LGBTQIA+ clients face in the event of relationship breakdown, such as concerns regarding child arrangements, financial support, and underlying dynamics.
What I particularly value about the LGBTQIA+ and Allies group at KN is that it provides a safe space where I can ask questions and share ideas about the issues facing my clients and colleagues. This helps me better understand LGBTQIA+ issues and enhances the quality of the service we provide. The training we receive through the network has taught me to be more inclusive, ask questions, and apologize when I make mistakes. I still remember a session provided by Stonewall in which they shared a visual representation of various “bubbles” containing important aspects of a person’s identity.
They explained that these bubbles grow when we feel comfortable sharing that aspect of our lives and shrink when we have reservations about revealing it, depending on the environment we are in. They pointed out that individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community often have to shrink bubbles related to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace because they don’t feel comfortable sharing those parts of themselves. This saddened me. Therefore, it is crucial for us to strive, both with colleagues, contacts, and clients at work, and with friends, family, and strangers outside of work, to demonstrate inclusivity, kindness, and respect.
Simple actions like adding your pronouns or wearing rainbow colors can send a signal to our LGBTQIA+ friends, showing our respect and inviting them to expand their identity bubble with us.
We spend a significant amount of time at work, and while law firms have made significant progress in becoming more diverse and inclusive environments, we must not become complacent. There is always more work to be done.