Corporate Associate, Peter Wozny, was recently published in Investigo's "Insight" Issue discussing what an inclusive workplace means to him.

"Peter Wozny has spearheaded LGBT+ initiatives throughout his career as a corporate lawyer in the UK, the US and Europe. From the early stages of his career, Peter has demonstrated a strong commitment to equality, diversity and inclusivity, becoming the figurehead for international law firm Freshfields’ LGBT+ committee while working in their Moscow office, before moving to Brown Rudnick in 2013 and establishing the practice’s LGBT+ network, Brown Rudnick & Proud.

We spoke to Peter about what an inclusive workplace means to him.

What does an inclusive workplace for LGBT+ employees look like to you?

An inclusive workplace is somewhere where you can be yourself. It accepts and respects you, for you. You do not need to change or conceal who you are in order to fulfil your role or find your place.

As an international corporate lawyer, I spend a great deal of time in the office, working long hours (occasionally through the night), working weekends and working closely alongside colleagues. My job, therefore, is a significant part of my life – and to be happy in life, you need to be happy at work. An organisation who accepts you for who you are allows you to be just that – happy.

However, it is also important for an organisation to value meritocracy. That is, it doesn’t matter your gender, sexual orientation, age, race, religion or belief, it is your experience and skill in your role that is important. So, as well as recruiting employees without bias, it is vital that people are not seen to be fulfilling a diversity quota. An inclusive workplace is not borne out of a diversity drive or box-ticking exercise.

Looking at the landscape of diversity and inclusion in the legal sector, do you feel strides have been made or do you feel there is still a way to go?

Great strides have been made for diversity and inclusion over the past decade, but there are still improvements that can be made; particularly in the legal sector with regards to the percentage of female legal partners and of LGBT+ employees.

I feel firms sometimes get caught up in the need to appear diverse. On paper, it might look as though they are championing diversity and inclusion, but are employees experiencing the benefits of the changes that have been made or the initiatives put in place?

So, do employers know what their people want?

Fundamentally, it is important for employers to listen to what their people want – ask questions and invite feedback.

And where a lack of diversity has been identified, companies need to understand why that is. Root out the cause by digging into why there has been a lack of recruitment opportunity, progression to senior level or retention of certain employees.

For those organisations who remain reticent or even apathetic at committing to a D&I strategy, what would you say are the benefits of a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace?

I think these types of organisations are rare nowadays and I must say that in my experience the UK stands heads and shoulders above the global community in its acceptance and inclusion of LGBT+ employees.

The benefits of D&I are limitless. Increased productivity. Enhanced creativity through a broader range of ideas and a diverse skill set. Greater retention of clients; there is a demand for diversity in businesses from their clients as much as from their employees. Improved employee engagement and retention, giving diverse organisations competitive advantage in maintaining their top talent. And greater cultural insight, which is particularly important for international firms. I could go on…

How does Brown Rudnick cultivate an inclusive workplace culture for LGBT+ employees?

Our Diverse Attorneys Working Network (DAWN) and Brown Rudnick & Proud LGBT+ network are integral to our inclusive culture.

Our annual London-based Brown Rudnick & Proud events have proved incredibly successful – attracting notable guest speakers, performances from West End stars and over 100 people in attendance. And I’m delighted to have rolled these out to our US offices; the first of which was in Boston in May and the second next summer in New York. These events are a celebration of diversity but also a valuable development opportunity for colleagues and a business tool for clients in providing proactive advice and guidance for improving inclusivity in the workplace.

Indeed, education is fundamental to our D&I initiatives. Brown Rudnick was one of the first UK law firms to educate on modern definitions of gender and gender pronouns. Traditional notions of gender can be exclusionary, so it is important to understand how we can be more inclusive towards non-binary conforming genders; using someone’s preferred gender pronoun is essential for respecting their dignity.

We are also active in mentoring programmes between senior and junior lawyers as well as working externally with graduates and students. I, myself, mentor LGBT+ law students to support them as they embark on their legal career.

Whose responsibility do you feel it is to educate others about diversity and who should be responsible for cultivating, maintaining and evolving an inclusive workplace culture?

Ultimately, championing for diversity and inclusion comes from the top. Senior management need to actively support initiatives. Our CEO is incredibly active when it comes to D&I initiatives and three years ago we recruited a fantastic D&I Director to rollout training for all employees.

Most importantly, everyone can be a diversity champion; you need the entire firm and all employees to work together to establish and maintain the culture they want to be a part of. It only takes one derogatory comment from one employee to another to see that come crashing down, so everyone needs to be on board with the firm’s values and committed to upholding them or speaking out when something doesn’t align to them.

As well as a collective responsibility for the company culture, it is essential to create an environment where people feel able to participate, ask questions, engage in difficult or uncomfortable conversations and to voice opinions. Everyone needs to engage and be engaged for an inclusive culture to thrive.

What do LGBT+ employees want from an inclusive workplace?

Here are Peter’s top five tips for understanding what LGBT+ employees want from their employers:

  1. Ensure all internal policies are explicit in their inclusivity of LGBT+ employees. For example, shared parental leave should be equal among male and female colleagues; a male couple should be entitled to the same amount of parental leave as a female couple or a male/female couple.
  2. Listen to the advice and guidance of LGBT+ Networks to inform the rest of the business. For example, our Brown Rudnick & Proud network are able to identify challenges or opportunities for improvement to enhance the overall company culture, a sense of belonging for all employees, recruitment processes, career progression and staff retention.
  3. Engage all employees, including those who do not identify as LGBT+. Allies provide a vital role in disseminating messages of equality and ensuring inclusion for all. Diversity is something that should be celebrated and championed by everyone.
  4. Demonstrate support from the top down. Managers and leaders are integral to upholding the company culture through actively communicating their support for LGBT+ inclusion. They are the advocates for inclusivity and by their nature as leaders, where they go others will follow.
  5. Communicate. Regularly consult all employees – not exclusively LGBT+ – about what inclusion means to them and your organisation. From there you can cultivate a strategy to achieve their vision. Collaboration is key for ensuring employees in turn uphold the values and culture."

Read the full Investigo Network Issue here.

This article was first published in Investigo Network Insight Issue 6, and is reproduced by kind permission of Investigo.