Legal profession still has long way to go globally to improve inclusivity for LGBTQ+ lawyers

At the start of Pride month, the ICC Court of Arbitration's Alexander Fessas reflects on how firms can improve their performance by creating diverse teams

Pride month serves as a pivotal moment to reflect on how far the profession has come in terms of LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion and look ahead at what still needs to change. In many firms, where once any conversations about LGBTQ+ issues took place between peers only, often outside of working hours, now they are discussed openly in partnership meetings, forming part of mainstream strategic discussions.

There are undeniable commercial benefits for firms in investing time and effort improving diversity and inclusion: statistics consistently prove that diverse teams make for better business performance. So how do the best firms achieve this?

There are two keys: first, cultivating an inclusive environment where individuals feel safe openly identifying as LGBTQ+, or choosing not to identify, with equal importance placed on both options. No one should feel pressured to disclose or conceal their identity. Personally, as someone who identifies as LGBTQ+, it is an integral part of my authentic professional persona and how I bring my whole self to work. The second key is to educate all employees about unconscious bias and help them spot their own prejudices and address them. These two points need to go hand in hand.

And of course, diversity and inclusion is not just something to be focused on for a single month in the year. It needs to be happening daily, in fact minute-by-minute, as people make choices how to speak, how to act and how to make decisions.

Firms don’t have to address these issues in isolation either. Instead, forging connections and collaborations with others can bolster their efforts and provide an injection of extra energy. Our own LGBTQIA Network regularly works alongside Open for Business, which is a coalition of leading global companies dedicated to LGBTQ+ inclusion. This gives them fresh ideas and impetus – and enables them to point to something tangible and positive to tell the rest of their colleagues about, showing the network makes a positive difference.

While there is a keenness from most firms now to better understand the LGBTQ+ experience in the workplace and improve diversity and inclusion, it is a mistake to think this is now the experience of lawyers in all parts of the world. Let’s not forget that in some regions Pride month is not even allowed. Globally, we still have a long way to go and there is much more that needs to change. 

As an organisation founded 100 years ago on the principles of improving access to justice and upholding the Rule of Law, we are up for the challenge. This is why you’ll see that ‘continuing to lead the world of disputes on diversity and inclusion issues of all types’ is one of our Centenary Declaration pledges.

Alexander Fessas is secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce’s Court of Arbitration

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