Following our first Diversity Matters event's overwhelming success last year, we've expanded the series to champion diversity within our student body and the professions. On the 25th of February 2021, we hosted Diversity Matters: LQBTQ+ to highlight LGBTQ+ History Month. A host of inspirational speakers committed to sharing their experiences and discussed improving accessibility and inclusion.
Attendees from eleven countries joined ULaw's newly appointed Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Patrick Johnson as he shared his mission for his new role.
ULaw's Leeds Campus Dean Matt Tomlinson shared his own personal experiences within the legal sector as a gay man, how it has changed and what more there can be done. Matt studied the GDL and LPC at ULaw in Chester. Matt started his training contract with DLA Piper LLP and went on to qualify and practise corporate restructuring.
"As a gay man who joined the legal profession at a very different time, it has been remarkable to witness how much progress has been made in the past decade. It's down to members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies who have been able to share their stories and who have put inclusion and diversity truly on the agenda…”
He talked about growing up during Section 28 and how there wasn't any LGBTQ+ representation in the workplace during this time. He highlighted the importance of clients seeing themselves represented in the legal sector. He went on to say – "Never let your identity stand as an obstacle to your own achievement. In fact, your individuality is your biggest asset.”
Contract lawyer Emma Niit gave us a whirlwind tour of the weaknesses in our existing equality law protections. She provided some suggestions about how we can work together as a community to bring about positive change. Emma is an experienced equity and debt capital markets lawyer. After earning degrees in engineering and law, she clerked for an appellate judge in Canada before starting her legal career in New York in 2009. Emma has been practicing in London since 2011.
"We need to focus on increasing LGBTQ+ representation across government, the judiciary and senior business leadership. More than that, we need the right kind of representation. Representation is a lot more than numbers around a desk, seats in the house of commons or judges behind the bench. I'm sure many law firms can boast about having a small cohort of gay partners. But if those partners are closeted or otherwise feel vulnerable, they will be very limited in what they can do to help others. We need to create a culture that fosters diverse individuals into leadership roles and encourages people to be themselves and not hide who they are."
Jay Dickens, ULaw Student Association LGBTQ+ Liberation Officer and President of the ULaw Leeds LGBTQ+ Network shared the responsibilities he has as in this role, what it means to him and how all students can get involved.
"During my Foundation year, I realised there was little to no representation as ULaw. Not just on the Leeds campus but ULaw in general. I thought – this needs to change. So I did something about it. I decided to create the ULaw LGBTQ+ Network."
His inspiring story and tireless work have helped ULaw and our students to promote inclusion and ensure LGBTQ+ voices are heard at all levels.
Founder and Director of A City Law Firm, Karen Holder discussed what it means to be an LGBTQ+ equality employer and ally within the industry. As a firm, they promote and fight for equality for alternative families and LGBTQ+ rights.
"We hear a lot of people say – 'I'm nervous of hiring this person because of this reason. I'm wary of understanding this culture.' But isn't that fantastic, particularly in a traditional firm of lawyers, to have people from all over the world? Male, female, old, young, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender. What a wonderful mix if we could actually represent the real world. I actively promote that. I really, truly want that. That's the sort of thing that I'm hoping you, as the next generation of lawyers, will really challenge."
Karen shared her mission for A City Law Firm and how her business has changed law for the better. She encouraged the next generation of lawyers to keep fighting to ensure the legal sector embraces diversity and inclusivity.
The event ended with a passionate and lively question and answer session. Questions ranged from asking advice about being a better ally to asking if anyone had felt uncomfortable putting their sexual orientation on a job application.
After the event, attendees networked in digital expo booths with the speakers, staff and student of the ULaw LGBTQ+ networks and our Mental Wellbeing Team.
Thank you to everyone involved in this incredible event.
Couldn’t make the event? Watch the talks on our YouTube channel.
Our next event in the series, Diversity Matters – Gender, is on 11th March at 6pm. For further information and to register your attendance for this free-of-charge event, please check your student email