Out and about

JPMorgan is leading the way in the approach to gay worker inclusivity with its Pride’ campaign. But what can law firms do to follow the bank’s lead? By Catrin Grifiths

The only gay in the City?” reads the poster. “Hardly.” When JPMorgan managing director and assistant general counsel Tim Hailes decided to head the bank’s 14-strong gay and lesbian steering committee, being coy was the last thing on his mind. The poster he devised might be humorous, but the campaign is serious.

“I am confidently out and have been since I joined JPMorgan,’ Hailes says.

“If you are not out’ at work then an enormous amount of intellectual and emotional energy is spent obfuscating,” he argues. “Conversations about the weekend have to be neutralised – my partner’, the other half ‘ – rather than just saying it like it is.

“It can put quite intolerable pressure on the individual – leaving aside the fact we already work in a high-pressure and demanding environment – to have to juggle these kind of things on top of the day job.”

Hailes, who trained at Denton Wilde Sapte and then worked in the London office of US firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft before becoming an in-house lawyer at JPMorgan, says that private practice firms have a long way to go. “Would gay and lesbian staff know where to go in one of the magic circle firms if they wanted mentoring or networking?” he asks. “Where are the role models? The support?

“Employee networking groups can play an important role in creating a culture of tolerance and inclusion. The investment banks don’t have it all right – but I see resources and opportunities presented there which often don’t seem to exist in private practice.”

The question is how to create such an menvironment without being overly politically correct and thereby alienating sympathy, and without patronising gay and lesbian lawyers. A small number of law firms are turning to gay charity Stonewall for advice.

“It’s not about being nice to gay people,” says Stephen Frost of Stonewall. “If gay people are bad at their job you sack them like anyone else. Whether someone is out or not, is not my business, but what is my business is to create an environment where you can be out if you want to be out.”

Diversity Champions, Stonewall’s good practice forum for blue-chip and major public sector employers, now has 200 members, including the likes of British Airways, Centrica, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM and banks such as Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. There are seven law firms on the programme: Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Linklaters, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, Pinsent Masons and Simmons & Simmons.

Pinsents joined the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme 15 months ago as part of a general examination of its corporate values, but there were existing contacts between the two organisations: projects partner David Isaac is chair of Stonewall. With at least two senior figures – property head Adrian Barlow and Isaac – as out gay men, the firm had early management buy-in on the issue.

To date, Pinsents and Herbert Smith stand out as having made steps in creating employee networking groups. Herbert Smith took on Carolyn Lee earlier this year as its head of diversity. Lee is formerly of Deutsche Bank and helped set up employee networks there. “It’s very early stages so far. I know a number of lesbian and gay employees at Herbert Smith and have had a discussion with some of them to gauge their appetites for this,” Lee says. “You have to build in time for individuals to become comfortable.”

Interestingly, Pinsents and Herbert Smith believe that it is a positive step to have non-gay and lesbian individuals involved in getting the groups off the ground. “One of the lessons that investment banks have learned is that you don’t have to be a GLB [gay, lesbian or bisexual] individual to sponsor the group,” says Lee.

Not everyone sees networking as the obvious answer. Natalie Gamble, a private client solicitor at South Coast firm Lester Aldridge, who is building a client base in civil partnership work, says: “You couldn’t really have a network in this firm – it would probably be meeting two or three other people! But it’s important to feel you can go to social events with your partner. I’ve always talked openly about my partner and never had anyone bat an eyelid. When we went through a civil partnership last year the firm sent me a bottle of champagne.”

Gamble speaks for many gay and lesbian solicitors when she says: “The ideal is for it not to be an issue. Filling in statistics and having networking events are a path on the route to getting it to be open.”

Pinsents’ Barlow agrees. “The more you raise awareness, the more people feel comfortable,” he stresses. “And if you feel comfortable, you don’t have to bang on.”