The act of inclusion goes a long way to providing a safe and caring work environment for all employees — and one that will benefit through higher productivity, says Nathalie Hobbs, Managing Partner for Asia at Linklaters.
“Inclusion and ensuring that people are able to bring their whole selves to work, make for a happier and more productive environment,” Hobbs says. “In a professional context, diversity is allied to creativity, which is a large part of our role as we try to solve problems for our clients.”
From her position in the firm, Hobbs notes she is witnessing the growing importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) among legal employers in the Asia-Pacific region.
Journey from diversity to inclusion as LGBTQ ally
Hobbs says her commitment to D&I started with a hatred of discrimination and her pledge to champion D&I has expanded over the course of her career. Indeed, her journey shows that the expansion of D&I priorities is moving beyond gender; and over the last decade, Hobbs says she’s become increasingly aware of the difficulties that her colleagues face if they identify as LGBTQ, Black, having a disability, or coming from a less privileged background.
Because of the gains in tackling discrimination within organizations worldwide over the last 20 years, Hobbs explains that she remains hopeful for future progress in other areas of D&I — although, noting the recent Black Live Matter protests, she understands there is much work to do.
Her pledge for LGBTQ inclusion started with the creation of the Linklaters LGBTQ and allies network in Hong Kong by a previous firm leader, Hobbs says, adding that because she strong believes that everyone is deserving of respect in the workplace, joining the network was an easy choice, especially since being out as LGBTQ in Hong Kong can be difficult because of the more conservative culture there. Indeed, Hobbs’ vow to be a strong ally deepened when someone close to her came out. “The idea that he might not have an equal chance for success and personal happiness (including a family) was highly upsetting and spurred me to become more vocal,” she says.
In addition, advocating for LGBTQ inclusion has made Hobbs and her peers a better leader because they know that empathy is at the core of allyship. “The best leaders are those who empathize with colleagues and try to understand and then solve or ameliorate issues,” she adds.
The role of the business community in advancing LGBTQ inclusion
Hobbs has seen first-hand how LGBTQ inclusion, and other areas of D&I, have deepened client connections as a key step in collaborating with businesses to advocate for LGBTQ equality. “All opportunities to get closer to our clients and get to know them other than simply on transactions, is a good thing for us as a business,” she explains, adding that D&I is regularly talked about with the firm’s clients. In fact, clients such as international investment banks are keen to understand and measure what the firm is doing, she notes. “LGBTQ is an area where we have carried out joint activities, such as fireside chats, roundtables, and networking events.”
Under Hobbs’ leadership, Linklaters in Hong Kong was ranked number one for LGBT+ inclusion. The distinguishing factor, according to Hobbs, was the HR’s team intense policy review to ensure that those policies reflected the firm’s value of respect in everything related to D&I. In particular for LGBTQ inclusion, the review ensured that policies and benefits were adapted to same-sex couples, even altering policy language when it was necessary. The firm also created a “transition at work” policy and followed its effort with an awareness campaign, which included creating dedicated web pages on the firm’s intranet and specialized events. Externally, the firm has demonstrated its commitment by voicing public support for marriage equality, taking a public stance against LGBTQ discrimination, and sponsoring Hong Kong’s Gay Games in 2022.
Certainly, the legal landscape for LGBTQ equality in Asia has a ways to go before individuals with a LGBTQ identity can be fully themselves in public, yet Hobbs sees the business community leading the way in expediting progress. “I would say that the business community has a major role to play both in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia where the environment may be more hostile to the LGBTQ community and the workplace can be a safe haven,” she says, adding how businesses joined together on the recent Hong Kong QT case intervention application.
Indeed, several trends likely will speed up the business community’s support and advocacy for LGBTQ equality and protections under the law in the jurisdictions in which they operate, Hobbs explains. For example, younger workers — valuing D&I more so than previous generations — is one notable foundational trend; and early-career professionals who change jobs more often (thus carrying with them the values from firms like Linklaters into new workplaces) will hasten the acceptance of LGBTQ equality in more conservative cultures.
The combination of employee and employer advocacy is the strength in numbers needed to advance LGBTQ equality across the region one step at a time, as one instance of progress begets another.