Pride Month: How inclusive is your workplace?

Pride Month: How inclusive is your workplace?

To mark Pride Month, Clare Jerrom speaks to lawyers at Browne Jacobson, which have long been flying the flag for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and recently won the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative of the Year award at the 2021 British Legal Awards.

Browne Jacobson was praised for “doing rather than talking or planning” when it came to promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the legal sector by the judges as they were awarded the D&I Initiative of the Year award at the 2021 British Legal Awards in November.

Caroline Green, Senior Partner at Browne Jacobson, who leads on diversity, inclusion and well-being at the firm, added: “When I started in law, diversity programmes were simply unheard of. Whilst much has changed there remains so much more that we as a profession and a society can do in this field.

“This award is testament to the incredible work undertaken by so many at the firm and demonstrates the value of attracting and supporting a diverse workforce and its value to a firm’s culture and long term success,” she added.

The award came in the same month that Hannah Collins, a trainee lawyer at the Nottinghamshire branch of Browne Jacobson, was listed in the OUTstanding LGBT+ Future Leaders Role Model List for 2021. The global list which is sponsored by Yahoo! Finance showcases LGBT+ business leaders and allies who are breaking down barriers and making a significant contribution to LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace.

Last year the firm was also recognised for:

  • Innovation in Diversity & Inclusion Award at the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards
  • The Innovation Award at the fifth annual UK Social Mobility Awards
  • The Diversity & Inclusion Award at The Lawyer Awards
  • POC SAHMGames100 List (Kulpreet Virdi)
  • The Disability Power 100 List 2021(Mark Blois)
  • Inspirational Women in Law Awards 2021 Champion (Lynette Wieland)

Furthermore, Browne Jacobson has been ranked as the UK’s leading employer in the Social Mobility Employer Index 2021, the leading authority on social mobility workplace best practice in the UK.

The Index is created by the Social Mobility Foundation and identifies those employers that have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. This year 203 employers were considered for the Top 75 rankings. It was the first time that any law firm has topped the rankings in the history of the Index.

Making up for lost time

Hannah and partner at the firm James Arrowsmith have been central to promoting diversity and inclusion at Browne Jacobson.

James (he/him) is a partner in the social care practice. A gay man, with a husband and son (through adoption), James has been at Browne Jacobson for 18 years While he’s been ‘out’ at work from the start, he regrets that at one time he was not so vocal an advocate for inclusion.

James Arrowsmith

“I was concerned about receiving negative reactions if I had been more vocal, and that this may have impacted on my career. However, I rationalised this by thinking that if I kept my head down and could progress then I would be in a better position to facilitate change,” said James, admitting that he now considers his concerns were unjustified and is doing what he can to make up for lost time.

Hannah (she/they) is a trainee solicitor on the brink of qualification in March and will be an associate working with James in the social care team, as well as working with other public law teams in the wider [Insurance and Public Risk] department. Hannah has been at Browne Jacobson for seven years, holding a few different roles, and like James, has been “out and proud” from the start.

"Thanks to wonderful visible colleagues like James, and numerous “out allies”, I have had few concerns about being vocal about diversity and inclusion. However, without those visible people at the firm, it could have been a much more muted experience,” Hannah explains.

James adds: “We are not D&I experts. We’re lucky to be in a business in which we have a really strong D&I team, but they can’t do it alone. Inclusion is about how an organisation feels to everyone in it, every day, meaning we all need to play our part. What we’d like to share is how we play our part, and we hope this will inform and inspire others, whatever their role, to do the same. And let’s be clear: this is not just an invitation to the LGBTQ+ community. Allies have a key part to play too.”

Hannah agrees: “It’s only by acknowledging the plurality of human experience that we can ever hope to include everyone in ways of working together. Plurality arrives as forms of privilege, as well as challenge. That is why a culture of openness helps, often facilitated by discussions groups and awareness pieces, where active allies are integral. We are all allies to someone else; within the LGBTQI+ acronym and beyond. We can use our respective allied platforms and privileges to promote inclusion for others.”

Hannah Collins

Championing diversity

James and Hannah were central in the formation of Browne Jacobson’s internal Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) steering group where both have an active role in educating the firm on LGBT+ related matters and championing related initiatives.

As part of their drive to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Hannah and James have introduced a number of measures:

  • The firm’s Pronoun policies have been updated.
  • D&I Blogs are frequently written.
  • Internal webinars and discussion groups focusing on LGBT+ related topics are held.
  • Virtual Pride and LGBT History Month events are held at the firm.
  • Browne Jacobson workers attend external Pride marches.

Hannah helped drive the set-up of the East Midlands branch of the Alliance Network through her participation in an external LGBT+ steering group. The firm now collaborates with the Network which brings together some of the region’s most diverse employers and LGBT+ professionals and staff networks from across the region. The mission of the Network is to unite organisations to share good practice, provide support networks, facilitate events, and make the region the best place for LGBT+ individuals to live and work. Hannah co-ordinated and led on the first panel discussion which launched the East Midlands Alliance Network, by focusing on intersectionality.

James explains: “We’ve both been involved in the Browne Jacobson Diversity and Inclusivity committee for around two years now. One of the great things about driving D&I from a committee structure, which extends across all our inclusion networks, is the opportunity to find common ground, collaborate and consider the complex intersections of identity, in a way separate networks cannot.”

“So, in our experience, starting from a basis of collaboration can be a real strength. It is also a route to build a culture of allyship - each of our networks are allies to the others.  We’re also working to bring everyone into the inclusion conversation, by making it relevant to them. In addition to targeting a wide range of specific inclusion themes, we’ve done this by exploring areas that are ubiquitous, such as ‘covering’ (attempting to disguise ‘difference’ whether that be sexuality, caring responsibilities or your preferred football team). Our aim with these conversations has been to demonstrate that we can all benefit from inclusion programmes,” added James.

“One of the great things about our D&I Group is the intersectional approach,” adds Hannah. “It is often said that “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Whilst we certainly cannot claim to be reducing the barriers faced by underrepresented communities to fractions just yet, we can at least use our individual experience to approach a pervasive issue from many angles.”

Hannah explains that they also hope to demonstrate that acknowledging sexuality, gender, race, heritage, ethnicity, disability, health, family and caring roles - to name a few - can benefit everyone. Browne Jacobson’s ‘Covering’ session highlighted that there was a powerful business case, as well as moral imperative, to encourage people to be more open about their respective “diverse” quality, said Hannah.

“People will achieve better outcomes if their mind is not burdened by feeling the need to hide their whole selves. People will be more committed to their organisation if the organisation supports them holistically too,” they added.

Pride Month

James says that occasions like Pride Month and LGBT+ History month are an opportunity to reflect and recognise how far we’ve come, while acknowledging how fragile the progress can be, and to look forward, to how we can be more inclusive within the workplace, and in how we engage externally. Lawyers and social workers work for ‘people organisations’ with the aim of helping people to get the outcomes they want or need.

Hannah adds that the celebration of milestones and LGBTQI+ people are two of the wonderful opportunities that come with LGBT+ History Month and Pride Month. “Reflecting on the periods of oppression for the LGBTQI+ community is also important. Both provide food for thought regarding how we can be more inclusive - as lawyers, organisations and society – by learning from the successes and struggles of the past,” she says.

During both Pride Month, Browne Jacobson likes to hold drop-in sessions and conversations about both specific and intersectional issues, as an opportunity for mutual learning and education.

Making a positive difference

James concludes that Browne Jacobson want to create an environment where people can thrive. “Personally, we each want to use the experience and influence we have to make a positive difference for others, inside and outside our organisation. We also believe that people are more likely to thrive and perform to the best of their ability in an environment where they can be themselves.  But we know, too, that our clients are every bit as diverse as we are, and sometimes more so, and fostering our own diversity helps us better relate to and work with our customers. Whether we’re in law or social work, reflecting our communities and those we work with helps us do our jobs better, and to achieve better outcomes where it matters."

Hannah agrees: “I second what James has said. We want to use what experience and influence we have, along with a healthy dose of passion and authenticity, to be helpful – professionally and personally.

“When you look at the fabric of our society you see that the founding threads of its structures are people. People create legal infrastructures, perceived norms, the organisations we work in and work with. We try to approach matters acknowledging the importance of D&I in the process, and the hope is that clients will feel the benefit of improved outcomes,” Hannah concludes.

Key messages

Hannah and James both want to steer away from advising others on how to promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace using a few short phrases fearing they can become merely performative, but their key messages taken from the above are as follows:

  • Pride Month is an opportunity for mutual learning and education.
  • Sharing good practice is key.
  • Active allies are integral.
  • Visible people in an organisation can encourage diversity and inclusivity.
  • An intersectional approach helps to reduce the barriers faced by underrepresented communities.
  • Passion and authenticity are key components of promoting diversity and inclusivity.
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