Amber Marie Hobson, Barrister at Wilberforce Chambers
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
My name is Amber Marie Hobson and I am currently a practising barrister based at Wilberforce Chambers in Hull
In your experience, what it’s like being ‘out’ in the legal profession?
Generally I find being out at work to be un-problematic. I think there is still a way to go, but overall the bar has taken great strides of late to be more inclusive and promote diversity. Being a barrister means aside from pupillage, you are generally on your own and the reality is professionally, your sexuality doesn’t tend to come up.
Were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality or gender identity on an application form? Or were you ever afraid to?
Before I started applying for pupillages, back when I was still studying I was petrified that my sexuality would be an issue. I saw the bar as a very conservative world and worried Chambers wouldn’t take me if they knew I was gay. (this turned out to be an unfounded fear!)
I was fortunate enough to be invited by Stonewall to take part in their Young Talent programme at the peak of my anxiety about this and found this put quite a lot of wind in my sails and helped me with advice on navigating the workplace as a gay professional. The upshot of what I learned is this – disclosure of your private life is only ever a matter for you. It’s not something you should ever feel worried about disclosing, but you certainly don’t have any onus to be a “flag bearer” for our community.
Were you ever anxious to come out in the workplace? Do you ever feel anxious about coming out to new people in the workplace?
I’ve always been pretty confident about coming out but initially when I first started working I was reserved about telling people I was gay. I still find myself now making a risk assessment when disclosing to someone any personal details.
The best advice I ever got, was from Julia Hoggett (the daughter of Baroness Hale) who told me how she prefers to deal with “coming out” through a story of a colleague telling her he was spending the weekend with his wife. She then referenced spending the weekend with her wife. “Oh, I didn’t realise you were gay, why did you come out to me?” he said. “Well you just came out to me” she said. I advise anyone worried about coming out at work, to just remember, disclosing your sexuality should be as ordinary as telling someone your weekend plans.
Have you experienced any difficulties in your career because of your sexuality or gender identity? How did you overcome them?
I’ve experienced difficulty with, particularly early on, homophobic comments and inappropriate language. I remember early on hearing the word “dyke” bandied about, before I came out to any of my colleagues on the first day I started at one of my old firms. I felt literally sick and cried myself to sleep that night, thinking that I was going to be a pariah. Actually, when I came out, the colleagues who had used that sort of language were very apologetic. I was able to explain to them why that sort of language was inappropriate and they were able to digest and positively respond to what I was telling them. Nowadays, I find it easy enough to challenge those attitudes and call out that sort of behaviour. For those who don’t, I promise you it is few and far between that I’ve come across those sorts of incidents. There are means of formally reporting such behaviour and I encourage any young practitioner to be familiar with them, but also remember there’s no obligation on you to be a whistle blower. If you’re uncomfortable but don’t want to report someone, talk to someone (anyone!) that you trust and get some advice, or ask if they would support you in confronting that person.
Otherwise in terms of job applications and interviews, the reality is I’ll never know what bearing my being out had on my career. I hope it had none! But to anyone worried that an opportunity passed them by, just think – a workplace that would pass you on the basis of your identity is not a workplace worth you entering, you are so much more than your private life. I wouldn’t change my Chambers now for the world, they’re a great bunch of people who don’t treat me or my fiancé any differently to anyone else. Like my grandma always says “what’s meant for you will never go by you”.
Do you think the legal profession is doing enough to ensure support for the diversity & inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees? If not, what more could be done?
The legal profession as a whole is in the process of modernising and taking some positive steps towards diversity and inclusivity. The reality is of course there is always more to be done. The issue I see is for outsiders looking in to my profession, the bar remains a conservative, white, male dominated profession. The reality however, in my experience, quite different.
What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring LGBTQ+ legal professionals?
(1) Never feel as though you need to be a version of yourself to further your career. As a legal professional who you are is so important to what you bring to a workplace or a client.
(2) The right workplace is out there, it’s just a question of finding it. Aspiring barristers and solicitors often forget – Chambers and Firms want to hire you. They’re looking for the right person as much as you’re looking for the right workplace. You’ll find somewhere that’s right for you – just as Goldilocks found the right porridge.
(3) If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or upset about being yourself, that is a reflection of their character and not of yours. Anyone who is inappropriate or abusive to you is categorically in the wrong. Don’t feel frightened to talk to someone about it and raise it through the proper channels.