Building strong affinity networks in the workplace
Nathan Eastwood, Senior Associate and Network Leader of the Year at the Australian LGBTQ Inclusion Awards, and Singapore partner Lena Ng discuss the importance of developing an active passion for inclusion in our offices.
You’ve both played a leading role in founding regional chapters of the firm’s Arcus (LGBT+) and Accelerate>>> (gender parity). What was your motivation?
Nathan: Before my career at Clifford Chance, I wasn’t ‘out’ in the workplace. I would often be asked about my wife or girlfriend so I used to lie about my sexuality. After several years, I got tired of keeping up with fake stories and wanted to do something about ensuring I and others like me could be their authentic selves in the workplace. When I joined Clifford Chance, during the marriage quality campaign, there was a big push for LGBT+ rights in Australia, which inspired me to push for a dedicated Australian chapter of Arcus to bring people together in Australia and start the discussion about the importance of allyship and LGBT+ inclusion.
Lena: In Singapore, we were inspired by the great strides made by the Women’s Network in our Hong Kong office and subsequently by the launch of Accelerate>>> in the UK, which was the first of our offices to move from a ‘women’s network’ to a truly inclusive group that works to accelerate the pace of change towards gender parity by encouraging action by all, not just women.
Why is this allyship important?
Nathan: Many of us in the LGBT+ acronym assume that the bullies you knew in high school exist in the workplace too, so positive acts of inclusion are important to help your LGBT+ colleagues know that they are in a safe space. Simply by having a visible LGBT+ ally flag on your desk, you’re sending a clear and powerful message that this is an environment where everyone can feel free to be their authentic selves.
Lena: Allyship across all levels of the firm helps people, especially younger generations, feel empowered to express what they want to see happen in their firm and spark inspiration in others. They are encouraged to contribute to wider conversations, whether relating to gender, ethnicity, LGBT+ or disability, and understand that they will be listened to and championed. For me, this is particularly important as our progress as a firm is really about our people.
How do our networks impact the careers of our people?
Lena: We really focus on the personal growth of our lawyers and business professionals, whether that’s through responsibility for organising events, speaking opportunities or working with partners on actions plans relating to our inclusion targets. At the simplest level, it’s also very important that our more junior people practice good networking skills as these are immensely useful in every stage of their career.
Nathan: Junior lawyers are also able to develop better advocacy and business development skills in a supportive environment. The work I have done in diversity and inclusion has significantly improved my public speaking skills. This has helped my legal career immeasurably. It can even lead to commercial opportunities – for example, through our Arcus Pride Art events we met representatives from Amazon, which began future partnerships on both an inclusion and commercial level. I think the ability to build a business case through our affinity group activities has a big impact on our ability to retain the best talent, which is important for the future of the firm.
Finally, congratulations Nathan on winning Network Leader of the Year at the 2020 Australian LGBT+ Inclusion Awards. How else do you think our networks help to set Clifford Chance apart?
Nathan: By being visible, vocal and showing unwavering support for LGBT+ inclusion. I was recently interviewing future graduates and had a candidate out themselves in the interview process. I never would have had the confidence to do that when I was their age, but they understood from our public advocacy and LGBT+ inclusion events that Clifford Chance was a place where they could be themselves. In three years, we’ve gone from two Australian offices with two people identifying within the office as LGBT+ to over 8 and I couldn’t be prouder.
Lena: Our clients often talk to us about this progress too. It’s wonderful to see collaborations between all of our regional networks, drawing inspiration from each other, but we also inspire many others through our inclusive polices and targets, which were developed through close consultation with our affinity groups. We commit to demonstrable action, and many people are taking note of that.