Taylor Wessing’s Head of Talent Development Robin Panrucker and Associate Toby Ney talk to myGwork’s Pepi Sappal about their creative plans to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion both inside and outside of the firm, thanks to their shared passion and background in the arts.
As well as both Robin and Toby having a performing arts background they also both have successful careers in the legal industry. While Robin studied drama and Toby ballet, they ended up working together at the law firm Taylor Wessing and are the co-chairs of Taylor Wessing’s LGBTQ+ committee alongside their day job. They are both equally passionate about promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion both inside and outside of the firm.
Toby Ney and Robin Panrucker (Photo: Provided)
Robin has been at the firm for almost eight years. “When I first joined Taylor Wessing, I was an advisor responsible for inductions, onboarding, and various skills development programmes, including our trainees and graduates. So I've actually been looking after Toby's population for quite some time; which is how our paths first crossed here.”
Toby has been at the firm for five years now. After completing his rotation as a trainee in various practice areas, he’s now an associate in the private client team. Despite the generational difference, both had creative aspirations in their youth. Before ending up in the HR and the people management profession, Robin aspired to be an actor. Like Robin, Toby started out as a ballet dancer, before completely changing career direction and pursuing law instead.
“I also had an arts background, and then fell – hopefully gracefully - into a legal career via the graduate scheme at Taylor Wessing, which vocalised support for LGBTQ+ inclusion,” shared Toby. “I left school after my GCSEs to become a ballet dancer. I went to Northern Ballet School, before making the difficult decision to go to university to pursue a career as a lawyer.”
Born and raised in Derbyshire, Robin played the piano and performed in school plays as a child. “One of my hobbies was doing ballet in the local village hall, and yes, sometimes in pink outfits,” he recalled. As a young boy, his "gayness" was put down to him being creative and "theatrical". After he moved to Essex at the age of eight, he was sent to an all-boys school, where he suffered mental and verbal abuse on a daily basis.
“This went on for five years, until I was in the sixth form,” shared Robin. “Nevertheless, I continued with my love for musicals at school and performing arts, which I took all much more seriously than my studies.”
Things changed at his mixed sixth form thanks to his new circle of mostly female friends. He then went to university to do a dance and drama degree. “I thought that finally I could be out and be who I want to be. But disappointingly that wasn't the case,” he revealed. “There were just three other boys who identified as LGBTQ+, but back then you didn't speak about it, which seems so strange, especially being in the dance world.”
Surprisingly both found the legal industry more open than the creative ones they initially sought. Not only is it a coincidence that both come from an arts background and ended up in law, but they also both believe that the legal sector is actually far more creative than it’s given credit for. “People don't think of law as a creative industry or a creative profession. But it's more creative than people think it is,” noted Toby.
“Something that also always sticks in my mind is being aware of this bigger picture and recognising your role in the same. When dancing, I was performing to the whole audience and not just the person with the most expensive seat. Recognising and understanding that you are being watched from various viewpoints has fed through to my current practice – everybody involved should receive and see excellent service being delivered.
In fact, Robin attributes ‘creativity” to attracting him to the role at Taylor Wessing in the first place: “What attracted me to this industry is the creativity used to perfect the profession through employees and partners from a diverse range of backgrounds. I remember someone saying to me, ‘a piece of legislation is the same north of the river as it is in the south. What's different is, who's delivering it and how it's delivered’. By having the diversity of thoughts around the table really adds to our offering and enables us to have more interesting conversations and deliver excellent legal services, while being a trusted adviser.”
Both professionals even share similar coming out stories. Toby officially came out to his parents when he was around 17 years old: “It happened at my parents’ house in Cheshire on the Saturday of Manchester Pride. I was kicking a football about with my dad, when he asked me what I was going to do that day, hinting that Manchester Pride was on. I pretended not to know, even though I had planned to go and watch it with my best friend, after which my dad added: ‘Your mum and I used to take you and your brother to Manchester Pride when you were younger, and you used to really love it’.
"Then my dad sweetly kicked the ball away and walked over to me. He gave me a big hug, saying: ‘You know, your mum and I love you no matter what.’ He basically outed me, so I didn't have to come out myself. He was just super sweet and supportive about the whole thing. I appreciate it's a privileged coming out story and I certainly don’t take my positive experience with my parents for granted."
Robin was also ‘outed’ by his parents: “Like Toby, I think my coming out was taken from me, and weirdly, it happened the same weekend that I planned to tell my parents at our family home. I was 21 at the time already in a secret relationship with my first boyfriend. That Saturday morning, my mum came out of nowhere and said: ‘Does your sister know you're gay?’, to which I replied ‘yes’.
"She said: ‘All right, well, don't tell your grandparents’. Then she went shopping and we never spoke about it after that. This troubled me as I guess it would have been good to have had a wider conversation with her as one of her brothers was gay; which we only found out about just before he sadly died of cancer.”
Robin’s dad however was ‘surprisingly much more supportive than his mum’, he recalled: “We met up one day for a drink in the pub, shortly after my mum’s chat. He sat there and just looked at me, and said ‘just tell me’; to which I replied: ‘What? That I'm gay?’ Then he said with relief: ‘Thank you. Although your mum has told me already, I've been waiting for you to tell me that yourself.’ I always thought my dad would be less supportive, but it was the opposite for me.”
Toby Ney and Robin Panrucker (Photo: Provided)
Despite their similarities, one thing that has differed for them are their experiences of being open at work, especially given the generational age difference.
“Older professionals in the LGBTQ+ community often find it hard to be out in the workplace, especially those who have spent so long trying to hide their true identity,” explained Robin. “Even when I first joined Taylor Wessing, it actually wasn’t easy to be open and out as it is now. I think it’s a generational thing. I do feel that coming from a certain generation where it was still considered wrong to be LGBTQ+ and ‘not normal’.
"So, you make conscious decisions to be ‘less gay’ and change who you are to please others. I have definitely done this throughout my entire working life. You tend to go back into the closet when starting new jobs and have to go through the same process of coming out once you learn who you can trust and that you won't be treated differently or be afforded lesser opportunities to progress.”
It probably explains why there are still so few out senior leaders. However, Toby is testament to how quickly things are changing. Toby “feels privileged” and has “always felt lucky” to be able to be his authentic self at work: “Throughout my time practicing law, the people that I’ve had the privilege of working with and for, have all been great allies, which has made it incredibly easy to be out and authentic at work. Having vocal and visible out LGBTQ+ role models within the firm like Robin, alongside an inclusive, welcoming culture, have definitely helped.”
Having “really vocal and visible out role models” are vital, which is why Robin tries his “best to be a strong role model and mentor” to his “LGBTQ+ siblings”. Together with Toby, he is committed to continuing to “make change happen”, for the LGBTQ+ community. “We have many goals for EqualiTW, which centre around delivering regular events (in collaboration with companies like myGwork and selected speakers) to both internal and external audiences,” highlighted Robin.
“Our main objective to show that Taylor Wessing has a strong, visible LGBTQ+ group with a great network of allies to ensure that we are working with a diverse range of people to help raise awareness of the challenges and issues that our community faces both in the workplace and our personal lives.”
In short, together, as co-chairs of EqualiTW, both Robin and Toby plan to ensure that Taylor Wessing “continues to be a beacon for LGBTQ+ inclusion”.