OutLaws 2019 Preview: How Best to Advance LGBTQ Professional Leadership

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Inclusion, Law Firms, Leadership & Retention, Legal Executive Events, LGBTQ, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


At a moment when LGBTQ+ civil rights and public interest face considerable challenges at home and abroad, the timing of the Legal Executive Institute’s OutLaws 2019 couldn’t be better, says Donna L. Wilson, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Partner-Elect at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, and an honorary co-chair of the conference.

The Legal Executive Institute’s OutLaws 2019: Advancing LGBTQ Professional Leadership conference will be held June 12 in New York City.

“June is always important to the LGBTQ+ community, but OutLaws this year is happening within a very special Pride month,” Wilson explains, noting that the first New York City pride rally occurred in June 1970, just one year after the Stonewall Riots, which will see its 50th anniversary on June 28. “While we have much to celebrate and we’ve made tremendous progress towards equality, there is still plenty of work to do to, and conferences like this create a dedicated space for our community to come together and discuss some of those important issues,” Wilson says. Wilson herself is an illustration of such progress. Elected as Manatt’s CEO and managing partner last year, she takes over this July 1 and will be one of very few out LGBTQ+ women to lead a major professional services firm.


Donna L. Wilson of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

Wilson describes how she joined the local LGBTQ+ bar association and started attending events and conferences after she first started practicing law in Washington, DC. “I met tremendous people and connections at these events and felt they established a great sense of belonging for our community within the legal profession,” she says, adding that compared to today, the resources available to an LGBTQ+ bar were minimal — something she is glad to see has changed.

“The community now is very prominent, very inclusive, and attendees can expect to feel that at OutLaws this year.”

More importantly, she notes, the conference gives attendees a chance to hear from leaders who are doing important LGBTQ+ advocacy work every day in their organizations and to discuss ways in which we can all create more diverse and inclusive environments. “I’m honored to be a co-chair this year and, even more so, to be partnered with two other women chairs [Erin J. Law, Executive Director of Legal & Compliance at Morgan Stanley; and Gina Jurva, Esq., Manager of Thought Leadership Enterprise Content for Corporates & Government at Thomson Reuters] to lead this event.”

#MeQueer: A Conversation About the Workplace

One panel at OutLaws — #MeQueer: The Forgotten Spotlight on LGBTQ Workplace Inclusion — has the opportunity to focus on the topic of LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion and on what professional services firms can do to enforce a healthy corporate culture inclusive of LGBTQ+ employees, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Despite significant gains over the years, many queer-identifying employees don’t feel safe reporting negative comments to a supervisor. According to a Human Rights Campaign survey, the top reason LGBTQ+ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ+ people is because they don’t think anything will be done about it — and they don’t want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.

John Tedstrom, founder & CEO of Tedstrom Associates and founder of NextGen Leaders, a program targeted at supporting the career advancement of younger LGBTQ+ professionals, will be on that panel. Tedstrom says he believes the lingering reason employees are hesitant to report harassing comments is because of the stigma still associated with being a part of the LGBTQ+ community and years of being able to blend into the background to avoid detection.


John Tedstrom of Tedstrom Associates

“We instinctively revert to these and other protection strategies as adults, meaning that we in effect opt not to be as visible as we may need to be to advance our careers,” Tedstrom explains.

His advice to any corporation looking to change this is dynamic to start at the top and engage the executive team, insisting that they lead communications around LGBTQ+ goal-setting, accountability, and reporting. Second, queer people need to be visible in regular company communications. “To the highest degree possible, companies need seize every opportunity to get relevant LGBTQ+ information in front of employees in order to mainstream it and normalize it,” he says.

Tedstrom, who has worked openly as gay as since the 1980s, including stints as a Director of National Security Council and advisor to President Bill Clinton on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He believes that an organization should encourage employees to self-identify and be counted. “By not including it on the choices of how we identify ourselves: ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual orientation — we either signal that the company’s leadership doesn’t think this is important enough, or we reinforce the view that the topic is too taboo for polite discussion,” Tedstrom says.

Finding Economic Opportunities

Another panel will examine potential economic opportunities among LGBTQ consumers — a market that is often overlooked, though reportedly estimated to be more than $5 trillion globally. Panelist Susan Cooney, Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Symantec, says this represents a tremendous opportunity and is heartened to see global brands like Coca Cola, Macy’s, and Campbell’s Soup “more fully depict LGBTQ people and families in their advertising campaigns.” Cooney applauds this development. “To normalize LGBTQ individuals as both consumers and influencers is to simultaneously drive awareness and acceptance.”


Susan Cooney of Symantec

Symantec, a software leader with a global footprint across 46 countries that operates across many different cultures and geographies, has become a leader in LGBTQ workplace policy, Cooney notes, adding the company has earned a perfect score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for several years in a row. “Symantec actively participates in local and regional LGBTQ events and community gatherings in the places we operate. We work closely with organizations that educate and provide resources for the LGBTQ community.”

Manatt  has also been designated as a best place to work for LGBTQ equality by HRC and Wilson agrees that forging a strong message of inclusion is critical for organizations. She adds that attending the OutLaws conference promotes a renewed sense of community as well as generating good ideas that attendees can bring back to their organizations.

“Conferences like OutLaws highlight the absolutely fundamental role diversity and inclusion has in the workplace. Cementing diversity as a central tenet to our workplace culture is something I do every day at Manatt,” she says. “I think OutLaw attendees will go back to their workplaces with energy and new knowledge that they can share with their leaders and teams.”

Wilson says the best ways to advance LBGTQ+ professional leadership at a firm is strong direction and commitment from the top and throughout the organization. She notes it is also important to have visible diversity in your leadership in order to pave the way for future leaders.

“At Manatt, I lead our organization to incorporate diversity into our culture not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it enhances everything we do; It enhances the quality of the legal and consulting services we provide for our clients and it’s an important part of our responsibility as corporate citizens.”

You can register here to attend the OutLaws 2019: Advancing LGBTQ Professional Leadership conference on June 12 in New York City.