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LCN Says

Disability and inclusion: Q&A with Gowling WLG’s Bex Gerrard

updated on 20 January 2022

Tell us a bit about your role at Gowling WLG.

My name is Bex Gerrard and I work in the HR department. In the operations team, we answer your queries that come into [email protected], onboard new starters, process leavers and do a lot of the admin around any changes to your role – among a lot of other things! It's a very varied and interesting role.

What influenced your decision to pursue your chosen career?

My original plan was to pursue a career in academia. While doing my PhD however, I started questioning how I could best help a large amount of people. A couple of particularly difficult managers and work cultures led me towards a career in HR/organisational psychology, as I didn't want others to experience what I had been through.

“Respect and understanding go a long way. If you’re unfamiliar with what a colleague might need – in any circumstance – just start by having a conversation.”

What have been the most rewarding experiences so far in your career?

I've been asked to help some colleagues in very low moments of their lives. While it's hard to see people suffering, it was very rewarding to be able to listen to them and work out solutions together. They're doing much better now, and it's a great feeling to be a part of that.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome these challenges?

My biggest challenge in previous workplaces has probably been ignorance from colleagues and managers about my disability. I have cerebral palsy and, for the longest time, I didn't tell workplaces or ask for any adjustments because I thought I needed to just get on with the job. When I did start asking for adjustments in a new role, the atmosphere definitely changed and I felt like I was viewed as a 'problem employee'. There was never a conversation about what I actually needed; it was just assumed that I would ask for too much, or it would be too difficult to implement.

Luckily, I’ve not experienced this at Gowling WLG and I've learnt to advocate for myself much better. Because at first glance people see me as able-bodied, I think it's easier for them to discuss disabilities in general, now that I'm more open about my disability at work.

What is your top tip for ensuring a truly inclusive workplace?

Respect and understanding go a long way. If you're unfamiliar with what a colleague might need – in any circumstance – just start by having a conversation. Before I started at Gowling WLG, I had a phone call with HR to see what adjustments I might need, and what would make my job easier to do. I really appreciate that mentality. I think people are scared to have that conversation, but I'd much rather have a slightly awkward conversation than feel ignored or dismissed as a result of my disability.

I was encouraged to see the staff networks at Gowling WLG, as I think they're an important way for staff to have a voice in an organisation. It's also a good way to hear about how people's situations impact them differently. Disability, race, gender, sexuality, and families – they're not monoliths, there's great diversity within each that needs exploring to achieve inclusive workplaces. I hope my colleagues here participate in the different networks – whether they identify with the group or not – to share and learn more.

“Work is important, but so are the other areas in your life. It’s ok to give more to an area some of the time, but in general, you should be finding a balance that works for you.”

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

That you don't know what goes on behind closed doors. It's easy to make snap judgements about people, especially if you have a bad interaction with them, but they could be going through anything, and you might never know. I don't want to make anyone's day worse by reacting badly to them, so I try to approach everyone with openness and positivity. It's not always easy though.

How do you balance work and home life?

We only have a finite amount of energy to spend every day. I try to picture it as something tangible – like water. If I have one litre of water to fill every cup (eg, work, family, socialising, chores and self-care) and spend 0.8 litres on work, I've only got 0.2 litres for everything else. Work is important, but so are the other areas in your life. It's okay to give more to an area some of the time, but in general, you should be finding a balance that works for you.

What are the leadership attributes that you value the most?

I value leaders who empower employees through encouragement and a solution-focused approach to work. No one wants to work in a negative atmosphere where they're beaten down!

Bex Gerrard is a HR coordinator at Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.

Visit LCN’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling, for more on what the firm is doing to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.