Young queer people must be supported on their journey into the professional world


Travers Smith associate, Hannah MacDonald spoke to myGwork about the firm’s longstanding partnership with Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity. Founded in 2016, Just Like Us seeks to improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth and inspire a safe and happy environment for them to flourish. The two have come together to offer LGBTQ+ inclusive mentorship – supporting young people on their journey into the professional world.

By collaborating with schools and developing programmes specifically geared towards supporting young people in the LGBTQ+ community, Just Like Us works hard every day to make the world a more welcoming for those who feel they don’t fit in. Hannah shares the increasing importance of such mentoring programmes, and the mutual value gained through volunteering and sharing knowledge.

Hi Hannah – thank you for chatting to us. We’re excited to learn more about your partnership with Just Like Us, can you share a bit about the mentorship program?

The aim of the programme is simple: to provide young LGBTQ+ students and recent graduates with guidance and support from LGBTQ+ leaders who are individually selected to work with them to help them achieve their ambitions. Travers Smith has worked closely with Just Like Us in developing the scheme since its launch in 2016, including sourcing mentors, providing training, and creating resources and guidance for mentors and mentees. Last year we were proud to welcome more mentees and mentors than ever before. Covering a range of skills and sectors from law, to media and television, we have further developed our selection and matching process to ensure that mentors and mentees experience a more personalised and fulfilling scheme.

Mentors support the students in a variety of ways including preparing for interviews, completing applications and developing new skills to help them in the workplace. The feedback from both our mentors and mentees has repeatedly shown just how transformational the scheme can be. Mentees have reported that they feel more confident and better equipped to succeed at work and beyond, and the mentors, in turn, really value the opportunity to work with and learn from an emerging cohort of LGBTQ+ leaders.

As well as helping develop the mentoring scheme, we work closely with Just Like Us in a number of other ways, including providing pro bono legal advice and financial support. Daniel Gerring, chair of the firm’s LGBTQ+ Network, has been involved with the charity since its very early days and now chairs the board of trustees.

Demonstrating the firm’s deep commitment to supporting the charity and this programme, I’m really pleased that some of my colleagues have also joined me in taking part as mentors, including knowledge lawyer David Bufton.

Why are schemes like this so important?

Entering the workplace can be daunting experience for LGBTQ+ people. Many LGBTQ+ people come out at university, but 41% go back into the closet when they start their careers. Having to conceal your identity or sexual orientation can have a major impact on one’s ability to have a productive and fulfilling career. We created this scheme to help students navigate that difficult transition, and to support them to be their authentic selves, comfortable in their own identity.

In addition, research conducted by Stonewall demonstrates that people perform better when they can be themselves. They will be more productive, feel able to build better relationships with their colleagues and ultimately better serve the needs of their clients and service users. Delivering this programme and supporting LGBTQ+ students is therefore not only the right thing to do, it also makes business sense too.

Why did you volunteer to become a mentor?

Being able to bring your whole self to work is something that is very important to me, particularly as an LGBTQ+ person. Navigating the beginning stages of your career and the transition from education into full time work is a challenging experience in itself and being an LGBTQ+ person can add an additional layer of nervousness around starting your first job.  I wanted to become a mentor to hopefully help young LGBTQ+ people get started in their chosen career and help them feel empowered to be themselves throughout the process.  I feel quite lucky that I started out in my career in a workplace with vocal advocates for inclusion and supportive peer group which undoubtedly made it easier for me to feel comfortable being myself at work. I know that this may not necessarily be the case for everyone or for every workplace, so my hope is that as a mentor I can be part of that support system for a young LGBTQ+ person.

What are you and your mentee hoping to gain from being involved?

My mentee is hoping that the programme will help him navigate the challenges and uncertainties around choosing and embarking on a career as well as how LGBTQ+ people can support each other in the workplace. He is really keen to give back and to use what he learns over the course of the programme to support other LGBTQ+ people during his career both within and outside the workplace. I think that as well as hopefully supporting my mentee to fulfil his career ambitions that I will also learn more about myself and being a good mentor. I think there is a lot to be gained from mentoring relationships, I am looking forward to learning about other LGBTQ+ peoples’ perspectives and reflecting on areas that I can work on for myself.

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