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How my employer supported me to be my true self at work

How my employer supported me to be my true self at work

By Ross Sottile

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The piece is written for the publication of the Young Lawyers Diversity Handbook which will be released early 2022. The Diversity Handbook will comprise of stories of diverse lawyers: their triumphs, adversity and resilience. By highlighting such stories, we hope to empower young diverse lawyers to navigate their identities and overcome challenges they may face, and embolden discussions of key diversity and inclusions issues in our profession. 

I distinctly remember when I started my career in the legal profession, I grappled over whether I would feel included and equal at work as a gay man or whether I would need to guard my identity.

I started my career in law in February 2016 at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. Since 2016, I have worked in many roles as a legal assistant, floating legal assistant, senior legal assistant and more recently Law Clerk.  I am currently in my fourth year of law at Deakin University with aspirations of becoming a lawyer in early 2023.

For me, it was not a question of whether I would decide to be out in the workplace, but rather if I would feel comfortable and supported doing so. You see, I never wanted to spend time in my career using energy hiding aspects of my personality. It was important for me to be able to express myself in a way in which I felt natural. I wanted to feel like I could share aspects of my life so that I could form honest relationships with my colleagues.

Looking back now, I felt supported to be myself from day one at Maurice Blackburn. I remember that I began to let my guard down within the first few days and started to show my authentic self quite early on. In fact, by the end of my first week, most people in the office knew that I live with my boyfriend and our chihuahua, Popcorn.

You may be wondering what made me feel so supported to be my true authentic self at work. For me, it was the fact that Maurice Blackburn provided and continues to provide an inclusive culture. It was, and is, an ongoing priority for Maurice Blackburn to ensure a supportive and inclusive professional environment for people of diverse gender and sexuality that assisted me in feeling a sense of relief and comfort to be able to come to work and not have to hide a part of myself.

As soon as I was able to let my guard down, I felt a huge sense of relief. I experienced  genuine respect and felt safe to express myself, and in turn, my productiveness and morale at work increased expeditiously

In September 2017, marriage equality was put to a voluntary survey for all Australians on the electoral roll. This was a very difficult time for many of us in the LGBTIQA+ community as our rights to marry our loved ones were in the hands of others. I remember feeling anxious because I had plans to propose to my partner pending the change in law. During this time, there were campaigns shown on TV supporting both the “yes” campaign and the “no” campaign.  Maurice Blackburn showed strong support for the LGBTIQA+ community during this time by encouraging all employees and Australians to ensure their details were registered with the electoral role and to vote “yes”. On 26 September, I marched together with 50 of the firm’s staff to the local post box in the CBD to post our “yes” vote. I remember feeling a sense of pride and happiness knowing that my rights to be treated equal under the law were well supported by my employer and colleagues.

If you are a law student or graduate, and you are starting a new role or going to interviews, and diversity or inclusive culture is something you are passionate about in your workplace, I would encourage you to ask potential employers what initiatives and support they have in place for those who identify as LGBTIQA+.

Some examples of great diverse initiatives that firms in Victoria have implemented include having a network of people who support, mentor and coach employees who identify as LGBTIQA+ as well as influencing policies, training and recruitment practices to be LGBTIQA+ inclusive and increasing staff awareness of LGBTIQA+ related issues.

 


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