Martin Jackson Discusses Feeling Authentic and the Disparity Between LGBTQ+ Associates and Partners
“The open environment at Sidley gave me the courage to be authentic — a reason why Sidley is still home after nearly 20 years.”
Did you ever have hesitation sharing that you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community at Sidley or at any other point in your legal career?
When I joined Sidley as an associate in 2002, it was the first time in my professional life that I was comfortable being open about my status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. While I initially had some trepidation about coming out at work and how my LGBTQ+ status would affect my career, I quickly learned that Sidley both embraced and celebrated differences among its lawyers. The open environment at Sidley gave me the courage to be authentic — a reason why Sidley is still home after nearly 20 years.
You serve as the New York office chair on the firmwide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. How has the role allowed you to shape and support the professional advancement of LGBTQ+ lawyers at Sidley?
I’ve had the opportunity to assess challenges faced by LGBTQ+ and diverse lawyers and to implement programming specifically aimed at addressing these issues in order to foster a more inclusive workplace. The firm’s initiatives, which focus on building and maintaining strong internal and external professional relationships, are central to sustained success in the advancement of LGBTQ+ lawyers. Due to the diversity among LGBTQ+ lawyers, no single initiative works for everyone, which is why a variety of approaches and initiates are important to achieve the most significant, positive impact.
In your leadership position, you’re a role model for many at the firm. Do you think your professional experience has been different as an LGBTQ+ lawyer?
Every lawyer has a unique professional experience shaped, in some ways, by certain mutable and immutable characteristics. As an LGBTQ+ lawyer, my professional experience has been enhanced by my ability to practice law without ever hiding my LGBTQ+ status. The ways in which the firm and individual lawyers have embraced me and supported me throughout my career have proven to be the keystone of my achievements.
In your opinion, what more needs to be done, or should be done, in terms of creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment for the LGBTQ+ community within the legal profession?
While there are increasing numbers of LGBTQ+ lawyers in the associate ranks at large law firms, a significant disparity remains between the percentage of associates and partners that are open about their LGBTQ+ status. This disparity is a reminder that there’s still more work to address the barriers, whether actual or perceived, for the promotion of LGBTQ+ lawyers in the profession and for more established LGBTQ+ lawyers to feel more comfortable disclosing their LGBTQ+ status. I believe a key component to address this disparity is through initiatives focused on business development, which support retention and promotion of talented LGBTQ+ and other diverse lawyers. Another key aspect is our inclusivity programming, which is designed to make all LGBTQ+ lawyers feel comfortable, but not required, to disclose their LGBTQ+ status. While this has proven to be a more significant challenge among partners, as compared to associates, we continue to make progress as partners increasingly disclose their LGBTQ+ status.