Nneka Cummins (they/them), Associate at Travers Smith
So, tell us about yourself and what you do?
I’m an associate in the Commercial IP and Tech Team at Travers Smith the practice is broad and I get involved with a range of work. At the moment, I do quite a lot of data protection work,. such as reviewing policies, helping clients deal with subject access requests and a range of data protection and compliance issues.
In your experience, what is like being ‘out’ in the legal profession?
For me, it was a journey. I joined Travers Smith as a trainee and my coming out experience started off on a one-to-one basis and quite slowly. I think it’s very important to be authentic at work, it's important to feel comfortable and be able to share parts of your life with your colleagues in the same way that non-LGBTQ+ people are able to. Whilst I’ve gotten to a place where I am able to be authentic, it has taken a little bit of time to disclose both my sexuality and my gender identity, as both a queer and gender non-binary person. It’s definitely been a bit of a journey.
Were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality and gender identity on an application form?
I was never advised not to, but I didn’t disclose my gender identity on my application forms. That was probably a combination of me, at that point, not being fully out in my own personal life and also not wanting to disrupt my progression into the legal sector. If I was applying today though, I think I would put my gender on there as I now have felt the full benefits of being out at work and it would have been great for that to have been my reality from the very beginning.
Were you ever anxious to come out in the workplace and do you ever feel anxious about coming out to new people in the workplace?
As I said before, because I was so junior, I think the initial conversations about my sexuality were harder to have. But I am very glad I did have them because it allowed me to share a bit more about myself, such as what I did at the weekend with my girlfriend or talk about LGBTQ+ events I went to. This allowed me to form real relationships with my colleagues. My sexuality was something I found a lot easier to share because it is something which people are more aware of.
Speaking about gender identity was a little bit harder at the time because it’s something in our society that isn’t as well understood. So, it wasn’t just saying this is how I identify, it was also saying this is what it is, and this is how I identify. I’m grateful that there has been a lot of education at Travers Smith about LGBTQ+ issues and increasingly trans issues. But that didn’t stop me from feeling a little bit anxious about putting my hand up and saying I am non-binary and I fall into that category.
In general, have you have experienced any difficulties in your career because of your sexuality or gender identity, and if so, how did you overcome them?
I don’t think I’ve experienced specific difficulties. I’m very grateful that I have been able to come out, have these discussions and be given a platform to write an article for the whole firm on this topic. But I think the main difficulty is that is takes a lot of energy to worry about how you come out, when you come out, how much to disclose about yourself. Dealing with coming out along side continuing to work a busy and demanding job takes a lot of effort. There have definitely been times I have decided not to have the 'LGBTQ+ discussions' and it was important for me to make those self-care decisions for myself.
Do you think the legal profession is doing enough to ensure the support for the diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ colleagues? If not, what more could be done?
I think things are better than how they were, and I think generally there’s a greater awareness in the industry of these issues since when I applied to be a trainee. So, a lot of progress has been made even in that very short time. But I think that the work of QLT and the grouping of queer LGBTQ+ voices together as role models is important. Something that really needs to be addressed is the visibility of LGBTQ+ employees as role models.
Would you say that some elements of the LGBTQ+ community are better represented than others?
I would say that is not just a legal profession problem, but an LGBTQ+ community problem, in that some voices have historically been a lot louder than others. This naturally translates into the workplace because there are likely to be more gay and lesbian employees than there are trans employees. As an industry, we need to make sure that those who are in the minority of the community have the opportunity to put forward their concerns and their needs.
At Travers, do you have an LGBTQ+ Infinity Network?
Yes, there is a network group and we meet to discuss issues and put forward ideas for campaigns and other initiatives. I imagine most law firms have an LGBTQ+ network group and it should definitely be a factor to consider if you’re an LGBTQ+ student applying for a firm. Whilst it might be harder for smaller firms to organise these groups that should definitely not absolve smaller firms from making sure that LGBTQ+ employees have some sort of support. In hindsight, it would definitely be something that would be on my list when looking to apply for firms.
And finally, what are the three pieces of advice you would give to LGBTQ+ lawyers?
Firstly, be authentic. It’s exhausting to be anything but.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to be vocal and put forward ideas. Often it isn’t that people don’t want to make positive change, sometimes they just don’t know what will be of benefit.
Finally, be open to finding and working with some really strong allies that you find in the workplace – there were more than I initially thought there would be!