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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

A call to action

In response to the civil unrest in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd and increased activity by the Black Lives Matter movement, the firm issued a call to action for racial equality to its global community.

Partner and co-chair of our US Black & Latino subcommittee Thais Garcia and Senior Associate and co-chair of our UK ethnicity network REACH Roy Appiah discuss.

What was significant about our call to action in 2020?

Thais: It was our collective voice, acknowledging that while the firm has been a long-standing advocate for racial equality and racial justice, we need to do better. We committed to further consider what concrete actions we can take in response, using the avenues and expertise available to us to see how best we can actively challenge discrimination. Alongside the alarmingly disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 in the black community, our black and brown colleagues have experienced systemic racism for their entire lives. That has become more visible now to the point that nobody can deny it, ignore it, or leave it unaddressed.

Roy: It was also significant that the killing of George Floyd happened during lockdown, at a time when the whole world had stopped and could process. It became publicly acceptable to support the idea of Black Lives Matter without criticism, and it made society confront what genuine support in terms of action should look like beyond just statements. As a firm, we used this opportunity to accelerate a lot of actions that we had been working towards for several years prior and in doing so we were able to be at the forefront of defining what actual support for our black and ethnically diverse colleagues should look like from the business community. 

How do you feel our internal sensibilities have changed in light of the external Black Lives Matter movement?

Thais: We’ve seen a distinct shift in discussions on advancing racial equality, racial justice, addressing racial inequality, and the concept of anti-racism. One of the first things we did in the US in response to these events was to open up an honest dialogue with our people and ask them to identify what they think our priorities should be and to highlight which areas we should devote the majority of our resources in the upcoming months.

Roy: I think there has been more discussion that has allowed everyone to understand the context and perspectives of black and other ethnically diverse communities and the role we all have in advancing racial equality. This has prompted a shift in focus away from trying to ‘fix’ our ethnically diverse colleagues to asking questions about the structures within our firm that are responsible for our ethnically diverse colleagues progressing within the firm at the same levels they are recruited.

How are we continuing to make progress in our firm?

Roy: We have evidenced our commitment to progress through our global inclusion targets and signing up to the Race Fairness Commitment in the UK. These are not about positive discrimination, they’re about looking ahead to how we get to a place where everyone, irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social background or personality can fulfil their career aspirations within the firm.

Thais: Campaigning for more inclusion and equality is also critical. In the US, we joined the Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance, and we’ve been hosting a series of trainings and book clubs that engage our people and enable meaningful discussions around social and racial justice. We’re also creating a Task Force focused on the recruitment, retention and advancement of Black and Afro-Latino attorneys in the Americas, and we’re excited to be offering a new Diversity Scholarship open exclusively to those from traditionally underrepresented communities at big law firms.

What changes do you hope to see in the future?

Roy: I would love to see a time where there isn’t a single narrow path for ethnically diverse colleagues to progress to the leadership within the firm. But that will take time, so in the here and now we must be honest about how our industry is failing certain communities and be proactive about addressing why that is the case, so we can give our people the best possible opportunities to achieve success.

Thais: Absolutely – dismantling something as complex as systemic racism and inequality in society will not happen overnight. This must be an ongoing campaign, with concrete action items, that each one of us takes ownership for, especially those in positions of leadership. We need to continue these discussions, stay curious, keep learning, measure progress and keep working.