Legal Business Blogs

Pride Month 2023: ‘I was told that I needed to tone my “gayness” down in order to be successful’

Allen & Overy DE&I ambassador Justin Farrance on the challenges still facing the City law LGBTQ+ community and how social media can drive change.

You use social media as a key platform for advocating for LGBTQ+ representation – what led you to start doing this?

When deciding to enter the profession, I was told that I needed to hide my sexuality, or ‘tone my gayness down’, in order to be successful. I was left to believe that I simply cannot succeed by being myself. I slowly became more comfortable and as a result of the support I received from Allen & Overy and various mentors, I wanted to make sure others were not made to feel the same way I once was.

How effective a tool have you found it? 

I started using social media as a way to reach wider, more diverse audiences. I really only had one goal, which was to make sure others felt that they belonged, no matter their background, gender, sexuality or identity. When I started posting, only a couple of people would view my posts. Now my LinkedIn posts are often viewed by 200,000+ people, showing just how important it can be to use your voice for good.

I use social media in my role as ambassador for DE&I at Allen & Overy, to amplify and continue our important DE&I work as well as spotlighting our incredible teams – it’s been an impactful way to hear from colleagues and clients from across most corners of the world.

What has been your biggest achievement on social media and worst experience?

My biggest achievement has been receiving an award and written letter from the Prime Minister – those things don’t happen to me! I started to support people through social media and didn’t expect my story or charity to resonate with so many people. Seeing a letter at work stamped from 10 Downing Street was a full circle moment when I look back at the barriers I’ve faced.

I’m also really happy that I took the step to found a DE&I focused charity (GROW Mentoring) with no financing and no paid advertising, with social media in part helping to amplify our message.

In terms of my worst? I occasionally receive hateful messages purely because of my sexuality – I’m lucky and grateful to have a very close support network during those times.

What is the single biggest challenge still facing the LGBTQ+ community in City law? How can it be addressed?

Some LGBTQ+ people feel that they will not be able to rise to the top of the profession – for a number of reasons. We also have a way to go in supporting and increasing the number of Trans colleagues within our profession, focusing on ensuring they feel that they can progress and thrive in their legal careers.

What motivated you to actively use your position to advocate for LGBTQ+ voices in the legal sector?

I feel very lucky to be the first ambassador for DE&I at Allen & Overy, having pivoted from my role as an associate in late 2022, and there’s an element of privilege attached to that compared to other regions around the world. Working at Allen & Overy has allowed me to progress and meet some of the most inspiring people from around the world. When you’re surrounded by inspiring people, you begin to grow and feel that you too can make a positive impact. I’ve supported and led diversity initiatives across our Middle East region and European offices, with a brief visit to New York – there is a great deal of impact from sharing best practice from different regions and bringing colleagues together.

I founded a GROW Mentoring, a DE&I focused charity, during the Covid lockdown to support students who may be facing similar barriers to me. The charity was founded as a result of some of the situations I faced, and I wanted to play a small role in helping others, even if only removing one or two barriers. I never experienced the charity to scale so fast, where we now support 4000+ students from more than 100 universities.

How has the industry improved since you began your career?

I began my career as a worried trainee who was still not entire comfortable in his own skin. I’m now in a role speaking publicly about the importance of diversity in the firm and working with our leadership team on meaningful DE&I initiatives as a priority. I have seen a great deal of improvements and better representation across the profession, but we still have a way to go – especially from a global perspective. To think that I founded a charity along the way and am now in a new role and career at A&O, focused on amplifying and supporting our global DE&I strategies is pretty surreal and something I’m really proud of.

How helpful are role models in pushing change?

I think visibility, representation and role models are key. We often talk about the importance of role models for those entering the profession, but role models are also crucial for current professionals, no matter their level of seniority. Until we reach a stage where everyone can comfortably be their authentic self at work within the industry, we should continue to spotlight and empower role models at all stages. In my role I have the privilege of spotlighting and amplifying many of our inspiring role models who do incredible things to support others and I’m always left really inspired by the work they are doing, often behind the scenes, to make the workplace more accessible and inclusive.