CC’s diversity credentials go up a notch

Arcus is Latin for ‘rainbow’ and is hence an entirely fitting name for a law firm’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) network.

Arcus is Clifford Chance‘s LGBT network, which was officially launched at a fabulous bash at its offices on Monday 10 March. It attracted more than 50 lawyers, senior management and heads of practice groups from within the firm, as well as 130 guests from outside.

Clifford Chance tax partner Stephen Shea was instrumental in setting up the network – and the party. He says everyone was “beaming”, although he admits he may be biased.

But more than just a good party and the culmination of months of planning (as reported by The Lawyer on 5 November 2007), Arcus also marked the completion of a process of self-discovery.

“It’s taken me to a whole new level in who I am,” says Shea. “Having to write that opinion for The Lawyer [10 December 2007] is when I really had to start thinking very hard about what I was up to. In a sense that took me halfway there, and I came the other half with the party on Monday.” The decision to start up Arcus was triggered by a sexual orientation discrimination claim brought by former competition partner Michael Bryceland against Clifford Chance, as reported by The Lawyer (20 August 2007).

The claim was settled, but it attracted the attention of gay rights group Stonewall as well as Clifford Chance’s sizeable, but up to that point mostly silent, gay population.

Shea claims that, when he started at Clifford Chance three decades ago, the ethos and boast of the firm was ‘broad church’ and that it drew in people of all different kinds.

However, that ethos ran into image problems with such a high-profile discrimination claim.

But Shea insists that Arcus was not at all an exercise in getting the firm’s act in order. “The reason for the formation of the group was that we felt we can’t let people think that about the firm,” he insists. “We were deeply offended to see it represented in that light.”

Nevertheless, Arcus has now moved far beyond its initial aim of making a statement to set the record straight.

Shea says the obvious question that needed answering was, ‘For goodness sake, why do you need a gay group when there’s no heterosexual group?’The question almost felt like an accusation the group had to face and it forced everyone to think deeply about the issues surrounding gay identity in the workplace.

The answer lies primarily in affirmation, feels Shea, which is largely taken for granted within the heterosexual community. Christening cards, wedding parties and child birth presents are primarily heterosexual rituals that are vital life processes in building up self respect in personal relationships and in work. But the LGBT community has traditionally had few such affirmations.

“To me that is the basic agenda and one of the reasons why people felt so elated at the party. People realised this was an official affirmation and acceptance from the firm,” enthuses Shea. “We can feel the wheel is starting to spin for us.”