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Are Law Firms More Inclusive of LGBT Employees?

If you are a lesbian, gay, bi, or transgendered worker, outing yourself in the office can be risky, even today. Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is banned in only 21 states and the District of Columbia; protections against gender identity discrimination are even rarer. There are huge swaths of the country where LGBT employees can be freely fired for no other reason than their sexuality or gender identity.

But the legal industry across the country continues to be one of the most LGBT-inclusive industries in the nation. The nation's law firms "set the standard for LGBT workplace inclusion," according to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign. So give yourself a pat on the back, lawyers. You're not as bad as everyone says, after all.

Law Firms Win the Pro-LGBT Race

The news comes from HRC's recently released Corporate Equality Index -- and the high performance of law firms shouldn't come as a surprise. The legal industry as a whole has long been pro-LGBT equality, since well before it became the corporate norm.

Of the 200 hundred firms ranked by the index, 95 earned a perfect "100." That means they have fully inclusive non-discrimination policies, equal benefits for partners and spouses, trans-inclusive healthcare services, and other pro-LGBT policies.

Of course, legal high mindedness could explain firms' great performance all on its own, but the HRC report is also an important recruiting tool, helping firms attract gay and straight candidates with their commitment to workplace equality. But, not all companies have fully jumped on board. While 93 percent of Fortune 500 businesses have a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy, according to the Corporate Equality Index, only 64 percent offer domestic partner benefits and only 40 percent offer transgender inclusive benefits.

Other Signs of Diversity Lag

Unfortunately, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, LGBT inclusion may be the only area the legal profession excels in. In terms of gender, female lawyers make up 45 percent of law firm associates, but only 20 percent of partners. There are almost no female managing partners at large firms, where a staggering 96 percent of managing partners are men.

Racial diversity is not exactly an industry strength either. Less than two percent of law firm partners are black, according to ABA statistics. Compare that to the corporate world, where 20 percent of in-house legal departments are headed by African Americans.

So, while we lawyers excel at being gay friendly, let's not forget that there is still plenty that needs to be done before the industry can truly celebrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

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