Transformation Through Collaboration: How the InterLaw Diversity Forum is Changing the Legal Sector, by Daniel Winterfeldt

The third post in our series of LGBT History Month guest contributions, Daniel Winterfeldt, founder of InterLaw and Partner at CMS, shares his experiences of founding an LGBT network. With the influence of InterLaw growing year on year, here Daniel outlines his advice for longevity and originality.

Daniel Winterfeldt, Founder of InterLaw & Partner at CMS
Daniel Winterfeldt, Founder of InterLaw & Partner at CMS

I founded the InterLaw Diversity Forum for LGBT Networks eight years ago, as a way of connecting with and supporting LGBT professionals, as well as straight allies. Early on in my own career I didn’t know any other LGBT professionals in the City, and when you struggle to see people like you at the top, it can be very isolating – I certainly questioned whether I could be a partner one day because the feeling was that to achieve that you had to stay in the closet, and I’d already come out.

A great mentor to me and now one of my clients, Tim Hailes at JP Morgan, started it all with an article in The Lawyer and his picture on the front cover. The headline said ‘JP Morgan tells law firms to shape up on gay issues’. That started the InterLaw journey for me, and we have since grown to 1500 members and supporters from over 70 firms and over 45 corporate and financial institutions.

I often get asked why the InterLaw Diversity Forum has kept going, when other sector-based, networking organisations regularly struggle and lose momentum. I believe we have grown and succeeded for a couple of reasons. Firstly, our sense of community is very important – we engage LGBT legal professionals and straight allies, as well as firms, at every level and all events are open and inclusive to all. Fundamentally, we are a professional networking organisation – it is about supporting each other professionally so that LGBT equality moves forward across the board. That sense of community is also critical, as one of our major pillars is charitable giving to the wider LGBT community; recognising and using the privilege we have as professionals in the City of London to support members of the wider LGBT community, who may be facing harder times. Secondly, we continue to explore new projects, meaning the type of projects has changed and evolved in response to the sector changing.

Tim Hailes, Managing Director and Associate General Counsel at J.P Morgan, photographed by Thomas Knights for Purple Reign on the roof of the Guildhall, London
Tim Hailes, Managing Director and Associate General Counsel at J.P Morgan, photographed by Thomas Knights for Purple Reign on the roof of the Guildhall, London

In 2009/10, the Law Society of England and Wales conducted three diversity studies around barriers to career progression in the legal sector, each focusing on a different strand of diversity: gender, ethnic diversity, and LGB inclusion – the latter in collaboration with InterLaw. They are collectively referred to as the ‘Barriers Reports’. At that point, the conversation was very much about diversity, specifically getting these groups and individuals through the door and into the profession. The reports showed that diverse groups face similar obstacles, both in accessing the profession initially and succeeding within it. That was a lightbulb moment for us. We realised that our efforts to increase LGBT+ inclusion in the sector couldn’t stand alone, but that tackling these barriers for one group meant creating more inclusive environments for all.

In 2012, the InterLaw Diversity Forum sought to follow-up on this observation and conducted a study that collected a wide range of quantitative and qualitative data from across the UK legal sector, publishing the ‘Career Progression Report’. It provided fresh evidence in support of the Barriers Reports, demonstrating that the further an individual deviated from the white, male, straight and elite-educated norm, the less they would earn and the less fair they would perceive the sector to be, meaning they are less likely to stay in the profession, creating a stream of talent walking out the door. The report also showed that, despite vast efforts made by law firms to effect cultural change, there had been little significant improvement and ‘diversity 101’ wasn’t working – getting diverse people through the door didn’t change anything. The Career Progression Report has shaped all of our work since, and we plan to recount the research this year, to see if we can show a shift in the sector.

Beyond research reports, I believe that role models are incredibly important in encouraging diversity and inclusion as they enable those entering the profession to aspire to be successful, to believe that it is possible to reach the top. Of course, role models don’t have to look or sound exactly like you, and in fact within the LGBT+ community, we have a very diverse range of role models. This was something we chose to highlight through Purple Reign, a photography exhibition in collaboration with photographer Thomas Knights and one of the founders of Stonewall and an iconic LGBT+ activist, Lisa Power. Purple Reign celebrates LGBT+ role models and straight allies and, in particular, highlights the multiple and complex identities we all hold, including but going far beyond sexual orientation. The Purple Reign series aims to raise the self-esteem and career aspirations of LGBT+ youth, students and professionals, and was launched in the first ever LGBT+ event hosted by the Lord Mayor at Mansion House, London, in June 2014. We have since exhibited the series in a variety of locations and continue to do so, including ‘pop-up exhibitions’ at law firms and other organisations. We recognise that many firms are looking for simple ways to bring a discussion around LGBT+ inclusion into their workplace and the Purple Reign series enables them to do that in a relaxed atmosphere.

Sir Ian McKellen, Lisa Power MBE, Olivette Cole-Wilson and Simon Fanshawe OBE, co-founders of Stonewall, photographed by Thomas Knights for Purple Reign at Sir Ian’s residence, London
Sir Ian McKellen, Lisa Power MBE, Olivette Cole-Wilson and Simon Fanshawe OBE, co-founders of Stonewall, photographed by Thomas Knights for Purple Reign at Sir Ian’s residence, London

Drawing on the results of the 2012 Career Progression Report, the InterLaw Diversity Forum has recently been reaching out beyond our original remit to focus on inclusion across the whole spectrum of diversity. The idea that ‘diversity 101’ wasn’t working was frustrating for many senior leaders who have invested in, and see the benefit in, more meritocratic workplace cultures that result in better service delivery, innovation and talent management. We realised that there are some amazing initiatives going on to create more inclusive and meritocratic cultures within companies, but that what is being done, and more importantly, how it is being done, is often left in the dark. Even when awards are presented to successful diversity & inclusion programmes, the audience is often left wondering at the details. In 2014, we created the Apollo Project with the Financial Times, which shares best practice in creating organizational cultural change. Again, we see the power in collaboration and in shining a light on those organisations leading the way in this space. That is why every organisation that submits an entry to the Apollo Project must provide all the necessary information, including evidence of its impact, which we publish, to enable other businesses to replicate that success. This year, we gave out five Architects of Meritocracy awards to National Grid, Reed Smith, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, RBS and Deloitte.

Starting from a sense of isolation, it’s incredible to see what we can achieve through collaboration. Using the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index as a benchmark, the legal community has shifted from having the first firm in the Top 100 Employers in 2007 to now having 12 (and a Star Performer), and being the top performing sector. However, despite the incredible progress we’ve made, diversity and inclusion remains as important for the legal sector today as it was then.

Follow InterLaw on Twitter: @interlawlgbt

Follow Daniel on Twitter: @danielkamin

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