Walking through the vast, opulent lobby of a global law firm in the City I was stopped in my tracks by a huge noticeboard entitled “Allen & Out”, encouraging staff to champion their LGBT colleagues. The firm were promoting LGBT awareness as part of a diversity and inclusion initiative. So what? You may ask. Why my amazement?
The last time I’d been to their offices back in the early 90s the reception was like a gentleman’s club, full of leather studded armchairs and copies of Hare & Hound and Country Life. At that time, the idea that a law firm would even acknowledge it had gay members of staff, let alone actively champion them, would have been astounding.
I remember a client complaining to me about an employee he wanted to sack: “She’s a bolshie dyke and I want her out”. I was shocked but didn’t know how to challenge his sexism and homophobia – such views were commonplace at the time.
Overt discrimination based on social class was rampant too. At interviews for trainee solicitor jobs in the mid 80s I was routinely asked: “and what does your father do?”
To my intense relief I had a “respectable” answer to this question – my father was an accountant. I’m uncomfortably aware my career could have been very different if he’d been a bus driver. Of course, no one asked about my mother’s occupation.
When it comes to equality and diversity we all know the situation isn’t a bed of roses: Weinstein, Trump, The President’s Club. And yet, LGBT people are no longer forced to hide who they are at work and no one gets asked about their father’s occupation.