Jessica Parry from Reed Smith spoke to George Wright from myGwork about the decision to move to the UK, finding her dream career, and the power that media has in empowering representation
BY MYGWORK, IMAGE BY JESSICA PARRY
Although originally from Canada, Reed Smith associate Jess Parry moved to the UK nine years ago. After an exchange term at the University of Edinburgh, she wanted to return. Now looking back, she seems so far away from the person she was at university in Canada, who knew she was gay but simply wasn’t out. “I wasn’t out at all [at university in Canada], I wasn’t really involved in the LGBTQ+ network at university. I didn’t go looking for it… I’ve done a total 180 since then”.
The crucial moment and realisation that she needed to live openly came down to representation in the media. “I think media is so important in terms of changing people’s perspectives and opening things up for a lot of people. That’s what it was, for me. It was a TV show that made me realise that I couldn’t hide anymore; it wasn’t working”.
“Media representation is so important”, Jess explains. “It’s important to get people to become allies and help more people to be open at work. I think for a time there might have been an idea where people felt ‘oh, we have marriage equality, we’ve gotten there,’ but really, we haven’t. There’s still a long way to go for trans equality and other issues facing the community. You never know what kind of impact you might have on someone else who might be struggling with their identity, and diverse representation in the media can help with that”.
Coming back to London after finishing university in Canada, Jess continued her education at King’s College London, where she threw herself into the LGBTQ+ network as she worked toward a legal career. Her applications to firms went out, and she passed through the tests to land herself a two-year training contract with Reed Smith. After accepting, the firm reached out to her – noticing that she had worked with King’s LGBTQ+ Society, the firm informed her that Reed Smith had its LGBTQ+ network, PRISM, and offered to introduce Jess to the co-chairs.
“Before I joined, and without me really seeking that information out other than on a very basic level, I was already made to feel that [the LGBTQ+ network] is important to the firm, that there are people who care about this, and that there are ways to get involved.”
Now, she’s co-chair of PRISM, alongside Reed Smith’s London office’s managing partner, Andrew Jenkinson, Associate, Tom Gates and Graduate Recruitment Assistant Will Buckley, helping to organise the network and put on events. This has included helping to restructure it, establishing a committee, and then empowering that committee to involve as many different parts of the organisation as possible. Then, Jess said, they were able to put on a range of events – working with myGwork, Global Butterflies, the London Bisexual Network, and others – to support and develop a policy to support transitioning colleagues. This is in addition to initiatives to celebrate being LGBTQ+ in the workplace and social events such as PRISM’s Summer Reception and film screenings.
However, the pandemic almost put a stop to the growing vital work of PRISM, at a time when community was needed more than ever. “We were trying to figure out how we would move on from that and do things, but we are getting busier again now that lockdown is easing a bit. We’ve done a few virtual events, and we’re working on things behind the scenes with our committee – we restructured, for example, to make it more reflective of the support that we have throughout Reed Smith.”
Jess’s career interest has always been media and entertainment law. She did a seat – a six-month placement – in the media and entertainment industry group at the firm and has been there ever since. She advises a range of technology and digital media clients on intellectual property related matters, and her day-to-day work primarily involves working on content licensing agreements and providing support for corporate deals. For her though, it’s because media is part of something bigger – the power it has to tell stories and be a vehicle for promoting equality.
“There’s much going on behind the scenes making sure that there are diverse people telling stories. Diverse people behind the camera, the art or the music, not necessarily having to appear in it. There’s that component of making sure the stories that are being told, are diverse – and I don’t just mean diverse from an LGBTQ+ perspective, because people’s different identities overlap and interplay”.
It doesn’t stop there though – diversity is beneficial in all walks of life, as Jessica points out. “[Diversity] also applies to law firms – it’s important to have a diverse workforce at a law firm, or any business really, because that means you have a diversity of opinions and it’s a better environment for the people working there. You’re able to provide a better service or a better product for your clients”.
The pandemic has had a tangible impact on how we all work – whether we’re busier or furloughed, changing industry completely, or adjusting to new markets created by the circumstances. Luckily for Jess, she’s been able to keep busy – while adjusting to working from home, she’s taken to it well and is continuing to work closely with her team to ensure that clients receive the best possible service, supporting each other through the colossal impact that lockdowns and the pandemic have had on individuals. “I think we’ve come out of it as a stronger team, and definitely shows that we’re adaptable to changing environments,” Jess shares, and this will certainly translate into additional success when the team returns to the office soon.
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