Some lawyers believe their concerns would not be viewed objectively.
Law firm staff are split over policies brought in by their firms which embrace gender identity ideology, with some saying they are too scared of the potential professional repercussions to raise objections.
Gender identity ideology posits that everyone has a gender identity independent of their body which they identify as, and which may not match their sex. It has been incorporated as an inclusive measure in many workplaces, but some have objected to the potential impact of such policies on areas such as women’s single sex spaces, and women's ability to organise on the basis of their sex.
"I am appalled but keep my head down", a lawyer at RPC told RollOnFriday. "We are wholly in thrall to Stonewall, whose contentious ideology is adopted wholesale, seemingly without question.".
An RPC spokesperson said, "We pride ourselves on proactively fostering an inclusive and diverse work environment. And that means that we celebrate difference because that's what makes us a better firm". However, the firm said that it made space for dissent: "It also means that we understand that opinions conflict but we respect them and seek to learn from them. Our focus has always been to ensure our people feel supported, accepted and valued for being themselves and accordingly we have multiple internal channels through which we actively encourage our people to share their perspectives and ideas in a collaborative way."
Other solicitors referred to surreptitious discussions with colleagues. "I talk about how gender identity is taking precedence over sex in all areas, even for changing rooms and rape crisis centres - but only with certain people once we know we're each onboard", said a lawyer who asked for her place of employment to remain anonymous. "I do not feel I can discuss with other colleagues the fact that sex is still relevant in certain scenarios."
Some lawyers said their firms were adopting policies, similar to the Law Society template, which stated that everyone has an internal gender identity, and that male-bodied people should be allowed into female single sex spaces if they felt their gender identity did not align with their sex.
"Men can use women's toilets and Travers hasn't even mentioned this to women, let alone ask them if they mind, instead they just just hid it in a trans policy", said a Travers Smith solicitor. She said there was "no acknowledgement that the association with Stonewall and Just Like Us is divisive, controversial and makes straight and lesbian women feel like our rights are irrelevant". However, she said she was "Not able to raise this at work of course - the firm just presumes everyone is in favour of this pseudoscience bullshit".
A spokesperson for Travers told ROF that it provided "gender neutral cubicle toilets" on four floors of its office which "can be used by anyone, regardless of gender identity or expression", and "are in effect single sex facilities as they can only be used by one individual at a time". She said that employees could also use "single gender facilities (located on all floors) which align with their gender identity (to put it simply, a trans woman should feel able to use the women's toilets, and equivalent for trans men and the men's toilets)".
Several firms expressed surprise that their staff might not feel able to raise concerns about policies which touch on gender identity. Travers Smith "has a genuine commitment to empowering our people to speak up and let us know their views", said its spokesperson, which included its "WorkInConfidence platform, which allows employees to raise any concerns they may have in a secure, confidential and anonymous basis. Additionally our Gender Balance Group and LGBTQ+ network both provide a supportive space for people to work with the firm to ensure inclusive practices are part of everything we do".
Some law firm staff said their firms had substituted female-centric words like 'woman' for more generic terms, in the name of inclusivity. "The word woman has been banned - we are now 'people who menstruate'", claimed an employee at Allen & Overy, adding that the change "does not seem to apply to the people with prostates". A&O declined to comment, but a second source denied that any such changes had been made.
A solicitor at DWF said her firm "removed the use of the term 'mother' from the family-friendly policy in favour of the term 'birthing parent', which I can only assume most women would find offensive and off-putting". She said DWF "has been Stonewalled" and now "encourages inclusion of pronouns on email signatures, which I find embarrassing and unprofessional as it's a political statement on a controversial issue".
However, DWF's policy also had its supporters. In the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022, a DWF employee in business services said her firm's approach to diversity and inclusion had been "incredible", and cited a recent update from the CEO "about the support and training being introduced for trans and gender diverse colleagues", adding, "We are lucky".
A spokesperson for DWF said, "As an inclusive and diverse business, we constantly review our approaches to ensure we are as inclusive as possible of all characteristics. Above all, it's about understanding the importance of often small but visible cues we can take to show respect and acceptance".
The split was also evident at Osborne Clarke, which, like Travers, was praised by hundreds of its people for creating a genuinely inclusive culture in RollOnFriday's Best Law Firms to Work At 2022. However, its treatment of sex was not to everyone's taste. An Osborne Clarke employee said the firm should "reconsider its association with Stonewall, whose approach towards the protected category of sex is problematic and controversial. You can have a diverse and inclusive culture without subscribing to Stonewall's increasingly extreme agenda".
As an example of the heated views, ROF was directed to the Twitter account of an Osborne Clarke gender identity policy representative, where they had accused JK Rowling of carrying out a "relentless campaign of hate" against trans people, and ‘liked’ a reply to their tweet which stated of the author, "She's an absolute cunt and I for one would love to personally kick her wormy uterus".
Liz Lovell, Head of HR at Osborne Clarke, told ROF, "We always value, and take seriously, feedback from our employees. We want all our people to feel they have space to share their individual opinions, through our employee council or through our diversity networks. This consultative approach is underpinned by our culture that encourages and enables voices to be heard".
Bola Gibson, OC's Head of Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility, added that "Our external partners, such as Stonewall, provide valuable insight and challenge. As with all our partnerships we don't view their guidance as a prescriptive set of rules. Ultimately we review any external input so it is in line with our legal obligations, and aligns with what we think is right for our people, ensuring we are a firm where everyone can thrive".
Several lawyers highlighted Stonewall's focus on transgender issues and its redefinition of 'same sex attraction' as 'same gender attraction' as a source of concern. “My gay colleague says the accusations of transphobia he would get for stating that he has a genital preference [for males] is like old school homophobia - again, we'd never discuss this more widely at work", said a solicitor. Although some firms have distanced themselves from the lobby group, many remain members of Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme.
A woman at Gowling WLG said the firm should "sack off" the controversial charity, while a solicitor at Womble Bond Dickinson rued her firm’s reliance on the pressure group. "Not a day goes by where we are not exhorted to celebrate the next Stonewall-sponsored edict”, she said: “I suspect most staff would just prefer a decent pay rise and some extra colleagues to carry the work burden".
Although many staff with concerns blamed their colleagues in HR and Diversity & Inclusion roles for driving the adoption of gender identity ideology, an HR executive working in the Australian branch of her firm said she was also worried. "We’re going down the identity politics route heavily and they don’t seem to have grasped the scope of the issue (women’s sports, prisons, employment, hospital wards etc). They are pushing fully mixed sex toilets, pronouns and a lot of training sessions around transwomen - despite the fact that most of our employees are female but most of our leadership are male". She said, "I can’t see how I can continue to work in HR and work around a framework based on how someone identifies themselves. Sooner or later I will have to look women in the eye and tell them that their sex, religious beliefs, cultural beliefs, past traumas, etc, don’t matter".
Stonewall told RollOnFriday that initiatives taken up by its Diversity Champions "are entirely up to them and Stonewall don’t seek to influence those decisions - care should be taken not to suggest that we do". A spokesperson for the lobby group said, "It’s a simple human right that everyone, including LGBTQ+ staff, is free from discrimination and prejudice at work. Our Diversity Champions programme simply provides guidance and support to employers who want to make their HR policies inclusive for LGBTQ+ employees. We all perform better when we can be ourselves and we make no apologies for empowering companies to create working environments in which all lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people can thrive".
Legal Feminist, a collective of feminist solicitors and barristers, told RollOnFriday, "Law firms and chambers must wake up to the serious reputational, legal and retention risk. Reputational risks due to 'overreach' by Stonewall and other single lobby groups, and the lack of real progress on progression of women and ethnic minorities. Legal risks as a result of failure to provide single sex toilet and changing facilities to meet the needs of women, and some ethnic and religious groups. Legal and retention risks because the relentless focus on trans rights, increasingly pressured pronouns policies, elimination of the word 'women', and replacement of 'sex' with 'gender', combine to create an increasingly hostile environment for gender critical women to feel safe and speak freely".
The group added that firms "must consider all the protected characteristics and refocus I&D resources on the areas of greatest need - such as the woeful under representation of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities at senior levels and in the most lucrative areas of work".