My Pride Story: “The legal profession’s made great strides in LGBT diversity but we can’t be complacent”
Daniel Gerring is a partner at Travers Smith.
What is your background?
I was born and grew up near Buckingham, save for a stint in America – where I started school – and another in France. I attended the local comprehensive school, before reading History at Cambridge. I trained and qualified at Allen & Overy and have worked at Travers Smith since 2009, the last five years of which as a partner. I was made head of our six-partner pensions department at the beginning of 2017.
I have identical twin sisters, to whom I am very close. As far as I know, I am the first, and only, person in my family to ever work in the City.
Have you always been out in the workplace – did you have any anxieties about being LGBT?
My first seat as a trainee was in a, pretty macho, leveraged finance team and I waited until my next seat to come out. Otherwise I’ve had been lucky enough to feel comfortable being myself for the whole of my legal career. Sadly that is something which the research suggests is not shared by nearly enough people when they enter the workplace, and I am committed to playing my part to improve this.
If you came out as LGBT later in your career, how did you do this a) with colleagues b) with clients?
What many people don’t really clock is that coming out isn’t a one-off event. Whenever I meet new colleagues or clients, I inevitably get asked questions about my life away from work – ‘what does your partner (or, sometimes, ‘your wife’) do‘, ‘what did you do over the weekend‘ and the like. In common with the vast majority of LGBT people, this means that I have to make careful decisions on a daily basis about whether to come out or not. Almost always the answer will be yes, but on occasion it can feel that it’s really not worth it. I have found the easiest way of doing so is to refer to my partner as ‘he’ or ‘him’ but, for many people, it can be difficult to find a suitable way of coming out. Personally, being open about my sexual orientation with my clients has, in the vast majority of cases, resulted in better and more open working relationships. I’ve also found that LGBT+ inclusion has been a useful way to be able to forge deeper relationships with some of my key clients – for example by involving them in our own diversity and LGBT+ initiatives.
What specific difficulties have you had to overcome?
We have made enormous strides on rights for and attitudes towards LGBT people over recent years and I feel incredibly lucky to be living in the UK at this time. But challenges do remain. In fact I could give you a long list – but a random sample might include:
- outright (and ongoing) disdain from some people of faith (and I say this as a committed Christian myself);
- queries about my sense of humour (or not) when I tackle out of order banter;
- inaccurate assumptions – about all manner of things; and
- open aggression, even from members of my own profession (happily not where I work).
What can workplaces do to help LGBT people?
The vast majority of major law firms will have LGBT inclusive policies and procedures. The very best ones will be translating these into tangible actions. Doing the right thing is vastly more powerful than just saying it. This will vary across different firms but, at Travers Smith, we have done this in a number of ways; from running inclusive leadership sessions for senior LGBT people across the City, to implementing an innovative new mentoring programme for LGBT+ students.
Staff and partner engagement is crucial – creating an LGBT inclusive workplace is not solely the responsibility of LGBT people. To engage with non-LGBT people working at the firm, we rolled out a Rainbow Laces campaign, encouraging our various sports teams to “lace up for equality” and signal their support for LGBT+ inclusion.
The laces, and the initiative itself, have proved especially popular and have been embraced not only by colleagues, but also by many of their friends and families, as well as children in their own local sports clubs, teams and schools. This was a simple, yet effective way of engaging with a broad audience and raise awareness of LGBT matters.
Do you think the law is LGBT-friendly?
The legal sector has progressed considerably over the past few years and it’s great to see so many law firms becoming increasingly proactive in their approach towards LGBT inclusion.
But we mustn’t be complacent and one thing that I am trying to ensure, working with the Law Society, is effective sharing of best practice between firms and other workplaces across the country. I believe that there is much to be gained by doing this – both for LGBT inclusion – and diversity and inclusion in the legal world more generally.
Is having strong role-models important when it comes to being out at work?
I believe that visible LGBT role models, enjoying successful and interesting careers is of crucial importance. Many of us feel uncomfortable with assuming the position of role model, but its positive effect should not be underestimated.
What advice would you give to junior LGBT lawyers?
Be open minded, use contacts in the LGBT+ world, find firms that lead in this area if you can, and don’t be afraid to ask challenging questions.