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Stonewall workplace briefings

Illuminating the situation for LGBTQ+ workers around the world

Since 2015, Freshfields has been Stonewall’s pro bono partner for its Global Workplace Briefings, which report on the state of affairs for LGBTQ+ people in a number of different countries.

LGBTQ+ rights are a priority for Freshfields, which is why we provided LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall with legal support in creating and updating the legal overviews for the Global Workplace Briefings for 36 of the total 37 countries.

Each briefing informs employers on how they can create inclusive and equal workplaces for LGBTQ+ employees, and outlines the legal, socio-cultural and workplace situation for LGBTQ+ people in the specified country, as well as showcasing progressive workplace practices from Stonewall’s global membership programme.

The guides include case studies to show how companies can work towards sexual orientation and gender identity equality in the workplace, even in difficult circumstances. In-depth interviews with leading national LGBTQ+ organisations highlight social context, as well as information on local LGBT organisations and initiatives to help LGBTQ+ employees when on international postings.

The Stonewall guides also help companies empower their LGBTQ+ staff by giving them a unique insight into a country’s LGBTQ+ rights situation, so that they can make informed decisions about international postings. They can also help multinational companies take their first steps in working towards sexual orientation and gender identity equality in their global workplaces.

In many countries, organisations dare not champion LGBTQ+ equality as effectively as they could because they are unsure what the law is, or what the social and cultural circumstances are.

“People perform better when they can be themselves,” says Pete Mercer, Head of Global Partnerships, Stonewall. “Increasingly, global employers are recognising that there is a real business benefit, as well as a compelling moral case for actively supporting their LGBT staff. Getting it right is not a simple task – the legal and cultural situation for LGBT people globally is extremely varied. Many of the most hostile environments are in emerging markets, which poses a serious practical, legal and ethical challenge to employers. These guides give employers the tools they need to address these challenges, and help protect their LGBT staff.

Pete says he also wants these guides to empower organisations to advocate for LGBT equality. “Employers can be scared of breaking the law, or of putting people in danger, so they can be unwilling to address sexual orientation and gender identity. With these guides they can not only support their staff, they can help champion the rights of LGBT people so that everyone can be accepted without exception.”

High-profile pro bono work

Munich-based Freshfields Partner Michael Rohls, who leads our cross-practice global team on this matter,  agrees that it was a “great experience” to work on the Briefings. “There was lots of information to gather and process. We first had to condense everything to a legal form, then condense again so it was short enough, and finally rewrite to ensure that everything could be understood by a layman,” Michael says. “Of course, we maintained the same high quality standards as we do in all of our client work. But the subject matter was broader than some of our mandates, taking in political and social considerations.”

Madrid-based Freshfields Partner Raquel Flórez was another of the Freshfields lawyers who worked on the Briefings. “Working on these briefings has been amazing because it gives us the opportunity to see how different legislations in different countries are treating this issue, and there is always a lot to learn,” she says.  

The high-profile October 2016 launch of the Workplace Briefings was also “a memorable event,” Michael adds. Adverts advising employers and employees to “Know Before You Go” ran prominently in New York’s Times Square and London’s Canary Wharf.

The Global Workplace Briefings are freely available on Stonewall’s website and are one of Stonewall’s most popular resources, having so far been downloaded more than 20,000 times.

In September 2019, Stonewall and Freshfields partnered to launch the newest Global Workplace Briefings – now numbering almost 40 – at a panel and networking event at Freshfields’s London offices. The panel discussed how businesses can respond to changes in LGBTQ+-related legislation and included LGBTQ+ activist speakers from Chile and India, as well as Freshfields’ legal experts. The panel event was also broadcast to a global audience. 

You can read more about our wider relationship with Stonewall here.