Covid 19 Crisis - Can we afford (not) to invest in equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives?
Traditionally, masculine pronouns have been used by professionals throughout the legal sector when drafting. Corporate and commercial contracts usually use male pronouns to refer to any party, irrespective of their singular or collective genders. The word ‘chairman’ was, and still is, used in a variety of company agreements and constitutional documentation to describe the chair of a board or general meeting (I would note that I use ‘chairperson’ when drafting). Many letters start ‘Dear Sirs’.
This was recognised as being an outdated practice which reinforced historic gender-specific stereotypes by law makers in 2007. In fact, on International Women’s Day in 2007, Jack Straw, a former Leader of the House of Commons, delivered a written statement announcing that the Government had asked Parliamentary Counsel to henceforth adopt gender-neutral drafting.
Jack Straw’s announcement was the first time that the Government signalled a change in the use of masculine pronouns for the universal purpose of identifying individuals in legislation and legal drafting. Up until this point the Government had been relying upon and using principles laid out in section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978 for legislative drafting, whereby any word importing the use of the masculine gender included the feminine, and vice versa.
This change hasn’t been reflected across the legal profession though. I remember very early in my career spending ages amending a contract because our client was a woman. I then felt foolish when I was told that was unnecessary and that I should have just relied on the quite standard provision in contracts which reads along the lines “Unless the context otherwise requires, a reference to one gender shall include a reference to the other genders”, but it felt strange and a little rude when I knew my client was a woman.
Since 2007 it has been government policy to write legislation in gender-neutral language, so shouldn’t we as a profession make (arguably a late) but concerted effort to use language that does not solely refer to the male and female genders, in order to reflect our diverse society?
I think the answer must be, unequivocally, yes. Because, why wouldn’t we?
There is an argument that gender neutral drafting distorts the English language and that ‘they’ should not be used as a singular pronoun. My view is that our language is a living, ever-evolving thing, and should reflect how we communicate with one another and the society we live in. There is another argument that gender neutral drafting can create confusion or uncertainty in legal documents, which by their very nature need to be clear and unambiguous. Part of a lawyer’s craft however, is to produce clearly drafted documents which deal with all sorts of complexities, so it should not be beyond the profession to draft in a gender neutral way. The argument ‘this is the way it has always been done’ frankly holds no sway. This is the case especially in the context of the current global pandemic. Look how much has changed and how quickly it has changed – most of the legal profession has been working effectively from home for the last 12 weeks, causing an unprecedented shift in attitude to home and flexible working which is likely to transform the workplace as we know it. And we have adapted.
For anyone who wants to find out more, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, the Government Legal Department and InterLaw Diversity Forum have produced a Guide to Gender-Neutral Drafting. Its message is simple, avoid gender-specific pronouns and adjectives (‘he/him/his’) and avoid nouns that might appear to assume that a person of a particular gender will do a particular job or perform a particular role. Use the passive tense and a few more definitions if you need to.
I should say that gender neutral drafting is being used by many already within the profession. The challenge for law firms and busy fee earners is to always apply this consistently, in practice. This involves agreeing on a consistent approach across teams, across departments and across the profession and most likely an overhaul of any precedent banks.
So, my conclusion? Frankly, I’m embarrassed I haven’t paid more attention to this and will be aiming to draft in a gender neutral way going forward.
Roberta advises startup founders, angel investors and established businesses on a variety of corporate and commercial legal matters. She advises on early stage investments, share option schemes, shareholder agreements, share buybacks and company sales and acquisitions.
Trans adults with full decision-making capacity have the freedom to secure hormonal and surgical interventions to align their bodies with the physical attributes typical of the gender with which they identify (a process known as “transitioning”). However, for those who lack capacity, the involvement of others who are responsible for making decisions on their behalf is required, and the position can be complex as a result. This blog explores the approach to making decisions relating to transitioning on behalf of protected trans people, applying the best interests test and guidance from case law, and discussing the practicalities for decision-makers.
When I told some of my friends I was writing a piece about drag activism, their reaction was almost unanimous…
"Oh, but, is there much to say?"
That's when I realised that drag queens, for many, are more synonymous with big hair and lip-syncing pop hits rather than political consciousness and activism. You can certainly understand the reason for this - we have been totally spoiled in recent years with the explosion of Ru Paul’s Drag Race around the world - the make-up, talents and confidence being a feast for the eyes (and the soul). But we cannot minimise the political importance of Mama Ru’s creation. Who could forget numbers such as “Shady Politics”; the discussions of gay conversion therapy while applying make-up; and Bob the Drag Queen describing his arrest during a 2011 marriage equality protest? Not to mention Nancy Pelosi sashaying into the All Stars season…
Coming out is an extremely personal journey and will be unique to each person. It takes a lot of courage to come out and a person may have to repeatedly do this in their personal and professional lives. Statistics show that 46% of people who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual and 47% of people who identify as trans feel comfortable to discuss their orientation or gender identity.
How can you put the spotlight on intersectionality to remind others that, even within the LGBTQ+ community, not everyone is treated equal?
Are you proud of who you are, your journey and the person that you’ve become? Do you truly wear your heart on your sleeve? For some, being open and honest about who we are (which includes our gender identity or sexuality) does not come easily and can be extremely hard. It can be even tougher at work, and for those that hide their true self, the energy expenditure is endless. That survival cost of energy makes you less productive, or even worse still, it has a detrimental impact on your mental and physical health.
I am a trans woman who has recently embarked on her transition. Having only taken my first steps on this journey, I am acutely aware when writing this that I have much to learn about myself, about being trans, and about the diverse LGBTQ+ family that I now find myself part of. However, there is one theme that I feel is important to discuss as we celebrate Pride in 2021.
Following on from my colleague Sameena Munir’s blog ‘’pray the gay away: cull conversion therapy worldwide’’, the issue of gay conversion therapy dominates contemporary conversations surrounding LGBT politics and legislation in the UK, but the Government has failed to deliver on its promise to ban it.
For two weeks during Pride month, Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blogs to celebrate Pride and highlight LGBTQ+ issues from home and abroad.
It’s been 9 years since R&B artist Frank Ocean headed off rumours about his particular pronoun usage in the album Channel Orange by posting on Tumblr that his first love had been a man. Since then, the momentum for the openness and success of queer artists has continued to gather pace, and LGBTQ+ representation in the arts and mainstream media is as wide as it has ever been. This rise has however raised important questions about pigeonholing queer artists, and perhaps most interestingly whether they must always shoulder the responsibility of ‘pushing the agenda’.
In February this year, I attended a virtual talk held by the InterLaw Diversity Forum for LGBT+ History Month. The speakers featured individuals working in the legal sector and each discussed their experience of coming out as trans or non-binary at work. It feels an apt lesson given this year’s Pride theme: Visibility, Unity and Equality.
In January 2020, I was fortunate enough to give birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. As far as I know, I am the first partner at Kingsley Napley (although certainly not the first employee) who has a baby who is lucky enough to have two mums. News of my pregnancy was met with overwhelming support from my colleagues. That support continues to this very day, and my wife and I remain truly grateful for the kindness that has been shown to us. However, since falling pregnant I have learnt that not all workplaces are as supportive to same-sex parents as mine. The concept of two mums or two dads starting a family is something that some people still struggle to get their heads around. So this year, for our KN Pride blog series, I have decided to explain the questions, that speaking from my own experience, it is not helpful to say to same-sex parents.
Tomorrow, global organisations across the world are celebrating Global Pride, and I wanted to write to say how much it means to us at Kingsley Napley to celebrate Pride and to support our LGBTQ colleagues.
On sitting down to write this blog, I was a little embarrassed. When you actually take the time to think about drafting legal documents in a way that is gender neutral, it seems to me that the question isn’t why do this, but why not?
In 2012 we formed an LGBTQ* & Allies network at Kingsley Napley (KN). I’m ashamed to say that the impetus to form this network came not from within, but from Scott, a new joiner who upon his arrival was surprised, and critical (rightly so) to find that no such network existed at KN.
The UK spouse visa has been the subject of frequent criticism and has rarely been out of the news since the rules surrounding it were completely changed in 2012. This is predominantly as a result of the stringent and often exclusionary financial requirements imposed. However, when you take a look at the basic relationship requirements imposed by this route, it is exclusionary in an unexpectedly discriminatory way.
This Sunday marks International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. On this day, over 130 countries around the world draw attention to the various forms of discrimination and violence that the LGBTQ community continue to experience. It serves as a reminder each year of the work which is still needed to achieve LGBTQ equality. David Sleight, a Partner and ally, at Kingsley Napley shares his experience below.
Now is a more important time than ever to be a visible ally to LGBTQ people in the workplace. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation continues to take place, often with disastrous ramifications for individuals and businesses.
The current government lockdown is making everyone aware of their living arrangements. Relationships are being put under new pressures and the current emotional and financial impact of the virus may be causing additional stresses in a relationship. It is a sensible time to make sure you understand how you own your property and the implications of such ownership.
There are countless instances of LGBT+ individuals being stigmatised and discriminated against throughout history, including in criminal law. In particular, a number of sexual acts between men have historically been criminalised. This homophobic legislation was compounded by an insidious approach to investigations, which targeted men who were believed to be gay, leading to a large number of men being criminalised, with all of the consequences that a conviction brings, for behaviour that should never have been illegal in the first place.
On the eve of the new decade, 31 December 2019, the first mixed-sex couples officially entered into civil partnerships, granting them the same legal protections as in marriage.
When you cast your mind back to last summer, you may have hazy memories of enjoying an aperol spritz during the heat wave, listening to Lewis Capaldi on every radio station, or your attempts to desperately avoid buying plastic bottles and single use cups.
Recent social progress in LGBT+ issues in the UK is a cause for celebration but it is not the end of the story. Heteronormative stereotypes persist and can be harmful.
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