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Out at Work: Head of HR at top London law firm talks inclusivity

“Being authentic is simply not the reality for someone who is terrified that they don’t fit a certain mould,”  Travers Smith’s Head of HR, Carly Hubbard opens up about her experience being out at work, the importance of rolemodels and gives advice for everybody looking for a truly inclusive work environment.

I am the Head of HR at Travers Smith. The responsibilities that fall under my remit are all linked to us fulfilling our key objectives as a firm that directly relate to our people. It is a firm that places great emphasis on attributing success to its unique culture, which means that contributing to success from an HR perspective is incredibly satisfying. As a result, I am involved with steering some interesting projects that can involve performance and talent management, remuneration and reward, and naturally, among other things, I have a lot of involvement diversity priorities and initiatives. The scope of my role often finds me “in the trenches” working with my team of seven direct reports to deal with queries and urgent situations that need resolving on a daily basis. It is truly fast-paced!

Being out at work is incredibly important and in my mind it goes beyond “important” – it is fundamental. People need to feel comfortable in themselves, it creates a better team dynamic where trust can be formed and where diversity naturally brings about a healthy mixture of viewpoints and skillsets that are an advantage to the business. Being somewhere every day in a position where you do not feel that you can be open about who you really are for whatever reason is massively draining and has the potential to greatly impact on one’s happiness and sense of wellbeing.

I recall practising my “coming out” line that I would plan to deliver to new colleagues each time I changed jobs when I was younger. It was so forced and awkward and I do cringe now at the thought of one of my earlier lines – “my partner, Mel, who is a woman…”. The problem was that I felt the need to explain myself and that is where I was going wrong. This planned approach came about as a result of me attempting to avoid a recurring experience in a fixed term contract role. I started a job where I thought it would be easier not to come out given the set six month time period. I decided that I would describe my then partner as a flat mate so that I didn’t have to tell them that I was gay. I found myself trying carefully navigate around awkward offers of being set up on blind dates with friends of these new colleagues. It made me clam up and I look back now and see it is the only job I have had where I really have not remained in contact with anyone after leaving. After having tied myself up in knots with the lies I found that I couldn’t revert back to the truth as that would be hugely embarrassing. I was offered the job on a permanent basis but ran a mile instead! It wasn’t a position or team that I had felt comfortable in.

One factor that hugely motivated my move into HR at an early age relates to the involvement I am able to have in creating platforms for change. This change will involve not only policy to support people in this position and to help educate managers, it will also involve communicating these policies and raising awareness in a very public way. Here at Travers Smith, we have recently reviewed all our HR policies and staff benefits to ensure they are as trans inclusive as possible.  This has involved introducing a new dress code policy as well as gender neutral toilets.  These may seem like modest changes, but we know they make a huge difference to people who identify as trans/non-binary.

I believe that all of the letters of the LGBT+ community are underrepresented at Travers Smith, a position that reflects the situation across the legal industry. We do have an LGBT+ network, which is chaired by Daniel Gerring, a partner and Head of our Pensions group, and we have some amazing champions and allies across the firm. Removing my “Head of HR hat” and putting on my “employee hat”, I feel lucky to have some very visible out, gay role models at work, who I have access to every day. However, if that question is being asked from the perspective of accessible role models who are able to share real-life challenges they have encountered, and perhaps overcome, we have very few openly trans and non-binary people.

For me, a role model in the workplace is quite simple – it is someone who can be seen to demonstrate values and behaviours that inspire others and provide a benchmark for aspiration, regardless of their position, or level of seniority. As I have progressed through my career I have become increasingly aware of this concept. The added demands of making decisions and delivering in a highly pressured environment mean that I have found myself looking for the individuals who I can learn from, those who, in my view, have “gone about it the right way”. I often find myself consciously emulating my role models who project behaviours or working practices that I see and respect.

Do I consider myself to be a role model? I like to have that as a personal objective. As a manager of a team, I really have to work and behave in a way that could make that objective a reality. I think people select their own role models for their own very different reasons and it would be safe to say that it is incredibly important to me to think that I could be one. As a gay woman, as well as a manager of people, I am very alive to what I see as a doubly important responsibility to encourage people to feel as though they can be themselves at work. Having fun at work is paramount to job satisfaction, as well as high performance. Being authentic is simply not the reality for someone who is terrified that they don’t fit a certain mould. I hate the word “journey” but it often feels like it has been a long journey to get to the point where I felt completely comfortable being who I really am, inside and outside of work. So if there is one thing I can role model, that is it.

If an opportunity arises to come out during an interview process or early on in a new job, clearly you could go one of two ways – be open about yourself, or put it off. In that position I urge you to push yourself to being open as early as possible. The one thing that I have learnt over time is how comfortable people have become when I have come out to them. I now make reference to my wife if I am discussing plans for the weekend or my holidays and when someone sees my wedding ring and asks what my husband does, I simply correct them by telling them I have a wife and then answer their question. It becomes second nature over time. I wish I had given people more credit at the beginning of my career. I would recommend enquiring about the LGBT+ network at interview as that platform. For me, the LBGT+ groups I have been involved with at work have provided great comfort and also great friends for the long term. In my experience, LGBT+ networks tend to instil the in feeling that an employer doesn’t just pay lip service to being inclusive, they appreciate the benefits of communities, support and a platform for “education”. We have also partnered with an excellent organisation called “myGwork” to support us in our aims to recruit talent from as diverse backgrounds as possible, including from within the LGBT+ community. Creating a fully inclusive workplace, where everyone can be themselves and reach their full potential won’t be easy, but happily we are more than up for the challenge!

Travers Smithis a corporate partner of myGwork.

www.mygwork.com

 

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