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Walking through the vast, opulent lobby of a global law firm in the City I was stopped in my tracks by a huge noticeboard entitled “Allen & Out”, encouraging staff to champion their LGBT colleagues.
The firm were promoting LGBT awareness as part of a diversity and inclusion initiative. So what? You may ask. Why my amazement?
The last time I’d been to their offices back in the early 90s the reception was like a gentleman’s club, full of leather studded armchairs and copies of Hare & Hound and Country Life. At that time, the idea that a law firm would even acknowledge it had gay members of staff, let alone actively champion them, would have been astounding.
I remember a client complaining to me about an employee he wanted to sack: “She’s a bolshie dyke and I want her out”. I was shocked but didn’t know how to challenge his sexism and homophobia – such views were commonplace at the time.
Overt discrimination based on social class was rampant too. At interviews for trainee solicitor jobs in the mid 80s I was routinely asked: “and what does your father do?”
To my intense relief I had a “respectable” answer to this question – my father was an accountant. I’m uncomfortably aware my career could have been very different if he’d been a bus driver. Of course, no one asked about my mother’s occupation.
When it comes to equality and diversity we all know the situation isn’t a bed of roses: Weinstein, Trump, The President’s Club. And yet, LGBT people are no longer forced to hide who they are at work and no one gets asked about their father’s occupation.
About the author
Liz Rivers is a Women’s Leadership Coach who helps brilliant women to see their own brilliance.
Formerly a City lawyer, she has over 25 years’ experience of helping women to thrive in male dominated environments. Her work has taken her to The House of Commons and the UN and she’s a frequent expert commentator on BBC radio. She offers an acclaimed two day women’s leadership programme Purpose Power Presence. FInd out more at www.lizrivers.com.