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Doing it differently: uncovering

Should you hide your true self in order to progress? GC looks at some under-the-radar areas of diversity through the lens of NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino’s work on covering, and showcases GCs promoting LGBT diversity and social mobility through ground-breaking initiatives.

LGBT and social mobility initiatives

Walking the talk

Tim Hailes, associate general counsel and managing director of J.P. Morgan in London, talks about his efforts to focus law firm partners’ minds on diversity.

When it comes to furthering LGBT inclusion in the legal profession, London-based associate general counsel and managing director of J.P. Morgan, Tim Hailes, is known to be vocal. As an openly gay member of senior management, he made a splash in 2007 when he helped ensure that J.P. Morgan would be introducing diversity and inclusion questioning into its UK RFP process. It wouldn’t be the decisive factor, but the bank would take a dim view of law firms that failed to demonstrate a tangible commitment in this area.

Eight years on, the change has been dramatic. Nowadays most leading law firms have LGBT networking groups and initiatives. Interestingly, law firms now trump investment banks in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, a statistical compilation of the top 100 UK-based employers. The ranking includes only those organisations that choose to take part. But, as Tim says: ‘Silence implicitly says to people that you don’t care and you’re not interested.’

Tim can’t pinpoint why law firms might now be more eager to publicise their LGBT members than investment banks. But he raises the distinction between internal perceptions of the in-house and the external lawyer: ‘In a law firm you’re a fee generator and in an investment bank you are an expense. That does have a relevance to the power dynamics of your role in an organisation. If you like, I’m a support function, whereas in a law firm, the lawyers are the equivalent of the front office and therefore are the principle points of interface with external clients. Does that change the paradigm of how you may or may not be comfortable as a gay lawyer in those two contexts? I think so.’

Tim’s own team is pretty diverse – 58% male, 42% female, with 10% LGBT, 20% BAME and 7% with disability. He hasn’t consciously sought out this mix, but attributes it to ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ whereby LGBT lawyers may be attracted to a department with a high profile gay leader. And this has knock-on effects for other candidates, he suspects. ‘Stonewall did a study about inclusion on a gender basis, and found that some heterosexual women were looking at the Workplace Equality Index and saying, “well, if it’s a tolerant, welcoming workplace environment for LGBT people, it probably also is for women”’.

But should GCs be doing more to actively target diverse individuals? Despite the historical conservatism of the legal profession (in private practice, at least) Tim feels that the lawyer’s role sits comfortably alongside that of the diversity advocate. ‘Practitioners of the law have a very deep-seated sense of fairness. You’re trained to analyse behaviours or facts in a particular way without prejudice – no pun intended – and that is how you approach things.’ Within companies, he continues, ‘the lawyer will always come at it from that direction, and does that then ricochet out into the broader firm? Quite probably.’

The other role that the GC can fill, says Tim, is to be gatekeeper of the way the message is articulated. He is careful not to mandate behaviour, but to inspire. ‘When you talk about justice, equitability and fairness, these are part of the DNA of counsel. When you come at it from a ‘marginalised’, ‘special treatment’ angle, people turn off.’ So, he concludes, ‘I think how you frame it and express it is important, and clearly general counsel can have an enormous impact in that sense.’

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