June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and while the typically colourful celebrations have been muted due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many law firms are still marking the month with various online initiatives and virtual events. Clifford Chance has hosted webinars spotlighting its LGBTQ+ pro bono work, while Pinsent Masons, Taylor Wessing and others have launched social media campaigns.
Internally, many organisations are taking the time to reflect. For the firms that do foster inclusivity, strides are being made through the tireless work of individuals pushing for change.
Nathalie Hobbs, Asia regional managing partner and ally at Linklaters, which ranked as the top employer for LGBT+ inclusion in the 2019 Hong Kong Index, tells ALB that law firms can have a significant impact when it comes to setting an example and pushing for change in the industry.
“There is a role for law firms both as external advocates for changes in the law (such as the intervention application in the QT case in Hong Kong or assisting with lobbying for marriage equality in Japan) and also as employers, by ensuring that our work environment is one in which discrimination is banished, our employee policies are fair and non-discriminatory and inclusiveness is promoted and celebrated,” says Hobbs.
The firm has found success by adapting its D&I strategy to different offices, with the goal of inclusion remaining the same.
“For example, in our annual Diversity Week, we celebrate D&I across the region and run both regional themes and events as well as local ones, to allow each office to input into the programme and look to adapt to local specificities. Pride Month has been a similar case, with global, regional and local events and activities,” says Hobbs. “The buy-in within each office has been greater, and the impact more significant, as a result”.
Independent Hong Kong firm Hugill & Ip has promoted D&I since the firm was established in 2018. Managing partners Adam Hugill and Alfred Ip say that for any organisation, no matter the size, LGBTQ+ inclusivity is part of many components that can help to create a diverse environment and support business.
“For law firms, it becomes even more important, as generally there’s an even greater awareness of minorities rights, not only in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also regarding race, religion, culture and other aspects that compose a truly diverse workforce,” says Ip.
While D&I programmes are broadly viewed as an essential for firms, once strategies are rolled out, ensuing the buy-in of key stakeholders is often critical to gaining momentum with such initiatives.
Firms pushing for better D&I need to be attentive. “D&I should not be force-fed or feel coercive,” Hugill says.
“Stakeholders need to be an integral part of the process and embrace the benefits for them and the whole organisation. The education and awareness components are paramount. Companies should be proactive and take a step-by-step approach. This can only happen through education. It is also true that one person alone cannot be responsible for D&I: it always takes a team effort! When facing hitches in implementing D&I policies we ought to think back about the hiring process, the talent and character component,” he adds.
Hobbs emphasises this point too, noting that D&I is not just about “one month a year for Pride, or a programme to support women, gender-neutral bathrooms or anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, although all of those – and more – have their place. It is also about frank conversations, banning certain language, being respectful and genuinely interested in the well-being of colleagues.”