The new wave of transgender support in legal employment.

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

The inclusion and support of transgender employees in the legal sector are fundamental for business growth through representation and social progression. As more firms adopt inclusive practices, and with application season upon us, we at QLT wanted LGBTQIA+ aspiring lawyers to be aware of the initiatives and support available to them and which firms are leading the way.

If you’ve read our interview with Helen Randall, you will have seen that Trowers and Hamlins have recently revised their ‘transitioning at work’ policy to invest in a safe and comfortable workplace for trans employees to come out and provide support for their transition. However, Trowers and Hamlins is not alone in this exciting effort to increase inclusivity and support for the trans community within the legal profession.

In 2019 the SRA published ‘Good practice for law firms on creating trans inclusive workspaces’, which outlined methods of increasing trans inclusivity such as drafting internal policies, engaging with and educating staff, reassessing work facilities, and using inclusive language. Although a better-late-than-never mentality may prevail, large city firms had already implemented such measures.

For instance, Herbert Smith Freehills, a full-service international city firm, set the bar extremely high by offering to foot the bill for employees’ gender affirmation surgery, which is notoriously difficult to gain on the NHS. In 2018, preceding the SRA’s guidance, the leading disputes firm announced that it would pay for ‘all or part of the cost’ of the surgery and ensure access to psychological care ‘at any point during the transition.’

In 2019, following HSF’s phenomenal example, Linklaters and Clifford Chance announced updated insurance policies which include gender reassignment surgery. However, prior to this both of these magic circle firms had implemented initiatives and events regarding trans inclusivity, including Linklaters' sex transition ‘toolkit’ launched in 2016.

Freshfields, another magic circle heavyweight hitter and founding member of Stonewall’s Global Diversity Champions programme, crafted a specific ‘Trans equality and gender expression global guidance’. Not only has this provided an internal framework for best practice within Freshfields, but also demonstrates a commitment to providing a safe and supportive environment for trans employees.

A more creative endeavour towards trans inclusion and support was exhibited by Pinsent Mason, who secured fourth place in this year’s Stonewall UK Top 100 list. In 2019 the SRA composed a list of the efforts taken by the firm in the fight towards promoting and encouraging trans equality in the workplace. This included launching a film on gender identity in support of Mermaids, a charity focused on supporting children and adolescents facing gender identity issues.

Over the last few years, most firms have made statements regarding their support of the LGBTQIA+ community, with many focusing on trans support in recognition of the unique challenges faced by the trans community. Ruth Grant, chair of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Hogan Lovells stated that “Recognising the qualities and strengths required throughout the transitioning process, we are committed to supporting our people who wish to transition and to ensuring that their work and personal wellbeing are maintained throughout their transition”. Of course, in a society run on moral leveraging, statements such as these are easy to dismiss as empty. However, this top tier firm also walked the walk by designing an internal policy, making it clear that support is offered to anyone who is transitioning. This policy launch included advice on the most respectful and appropriate language to use when referencing and interacting with clients and colleagues who are transitioning or have transitioned.

Similar guidelines and advice were produced by Eversheds Sutherland in its 'Transitioning at work' policy which was launched in 2018, including a ‘transition plan’ template. Alongside this, Eversheds has demonstrated its commitment to trans inclusion and support by holding seminars for trans awareness. For example, the firm collaborated with Global Butterflies, an organisation that helps businesses become trans and non-binary inclusive, to give a ‘Trans 101’ webinar educating Eversheds employees on the importance of trans inclusion. They also hosted a Stonewall Trans allies seminar and organised a series of training courses on gender identity. It is safe to say that Eversheds has taken an admirable ‘everyone on board’ approach to trans inclusivity at their firm.

Within the commercial law sector, many firms are doing many things to increase trans inclusivity. The options and benefits available to trans aspiring lawyers are more varied than they have ever been. This small sample of firms has implemented wonderful policies and initiatives, but it’s important to note that so many more firms are committing themselves to inclusive practices. With this in mind, if you’re a trans aspiring lawyer, it is crucial that during application season you research firms in as much depth as possible. Knowing what provisions and investments firms have made is a huge indicator of what your experience at that firm may look like.

With that in mind, all of us at QLT wish you the best of luck!

By Sonal Master

Director of Written Content.

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