Zoe Woodhouse read Politics with International Studies at the University of Warwick, UK and joined Sidley in 2017 as an associate in the London Corporate team. She was seconded to the Funds team in the firm’s Hong Kong office for two years.
“I was pleased to learn very quickly that Sidley embraces and celebrates differences among its lawyers, and the open environment at Sidley gave me the confidence to be myself.”
Tell us about your experience as a LGBTQ+ lawyer at Sidley?
It has been incredibly positive. When I joined the firm’s London office in 2017 as a newly qualified solicitor, I had no reservations in terms of being open about my status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community (and by this time I’d had plenty of practice correcting assumptions that my partner was “my boyfriend” in awkward professional settings). I was pleased to learn very quickly that Sidley embraces and celebrates differences among its lawyers, and the open environment at Sidley gave me the confidence to be myself.
The support and mentorship that I’ve received during my time at Sidley’s office in London has been immeasurable. I’m grateful for the ways in which the firm and individual lawyers have embraced me and supported me throughout my career so far — so much so that when I asked to be relocated to Sidley’s Hong Kong office, primarily because my partner was located there at the time, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who was willing to help me navigate that move within the firm.
When I first moved to Sidley’s Hong Kong office, I was cautious about how open I should be with my colleagues. Again, I quickly learnt that my team was hugely accepting (and remarkably diverse for a team of its size). On a number of occasions, several of the non-LGBTQ+ team members attended diversity events to show their support for LGBTQ+ lawyers, and I was often asked about my partner by team members (most of whom had even taken the time to get to know her in person), which to me demonstrated immense support and acceptance from the team in Hong Kong.
Do you sense that diversity, equity, and inclusion is important for the younger generation of lawyers and clients?
Yes, absolutely. I think diversity, equity, and inclusion within any organisation has become increasingly more important for our younger generation of lawyers and clients as they seek representation in leadership positions.
Speaking from personal experience, being female, a person of colour, and an LGBTQ+ lawyer has not come without its challenges. Having worked at a handful of law firms (as a paralegal or through various internships) and having attended numerous cross-firm diversity events, it was evident early on for me that female members of the LGBTQ+ community (let alone those of colour and in leadership positions) are very rarely visible in the profession. As a trainee solicitor at the time, trying to find my footing in the early stages of my career, I was discouraged from seeing what benefit there might be to bringing my voice and diverse set of experiences to the table.
Over the past year, however, I’ve recognised the importance of feeling represented and included within the profession and how this can positively impact self-confidence and a sense of belonging at work. Being visible, open, and inclusive within an organisation is important for our younger generation of lawyers and their clients — not just for recruitment and retention, but because it empowers LGBTQ+ lawyers to feel their diversity is valued and their voices are genuinely relevant to the conversation.