17 June 2020

Our stories: Pride 2020 - Justine Markovitz


Justine Markovitz
Chairperson | Switzerland

I joined Withers on 1 February 1999 as a junior associate. At that time I wasn’t out in my workplace because a typical London City law firm was not the most liberal or open of environments. There was a lot of negative commentary about gay people and I didn’t see why my sexuality should make any difference to how I was treated at work, so I chose not to mention it (which for those of you who have been in similar positions will know means making sure to use neutral language and being able to cleverly switch the topic of conversation when it gets too close for comfort). It turned out that from that perspective, Withers was not your typical London City law firm….

I wanted to tell one of the stories which demonstrates this most clearly. It was early 2003 – still a time when being openly gay at work was not easy for most people. I was a mid-level associate by then and was hoping to stay at the firm for the long term. My partner and I had decided to have children. She became pregnant and I needed to broach the subject at work because I wanted to take a bit of time off just after the birth. This was before paternity leave… so unless you were the person actually having the baby you would normally have been expected to take a bit of holiday, but that would be it. I asked if I could see Margaret Robertson who at that time was Joint Managing Director.

My first surprise came when Margaret came to see me. I wasn’t summoned to her office. She actually walked down to my office. She sat opposite the desk and asked what I wanted to speak about. I drew a huge deep breath, mentally closed my eyes and decided to jump right in.

I started with “there are four things I wanted to say”. She just smiled and said, “yes?”, so I went for it. “First, my partner is a woman. Second, she is pregnant. Third, she is giving birth in France and fourth, I would like to take some time off so I can be there for the birth.” I mentally opened my eyes again and drew breath.

Now, my radar (or is it my “gaydar”?) is super sensitive and I am used to detecting a negative impression in someone’s face, even when their words are positive. I waited for the response. Margaret just looked at me, didn’t flinch or even bat an eyelid, smiled and said “congratulations!” It was the most “normal” of reactions and, in its normality, it affirmed what I had already experienced at Withers: I was treated just like everyone else, even if there was a big part of my life that was very different. She went on to say that I would not need to take the time off as holiday and that I should feel free to go to France for the birth whenever I needed.

I went just before the birth of the twins and stayed for two weeks after. I will never forget how the Firm treated me then – just like everyone else having a baby – and it was the first time in my life I had been out in the workplace and accepted for being me.

When the kids were younger the four of us would go on the Pride March each year. Here you will see a photo of our first Pride March together in 2003 when the kids were just three months old, and now with the addition of the youngest (hairiest) member of the family – all proudly wearing our rainbow laces.

Happy Pride month to everyone!

Justine Markovitz Chairperson | Geneva

Category: Blog