The UK Chairman of Gowling WLG has apologised after the firm was criticised for celebrating Black History Month by quoting an employee recalling how they once met a black man who was “very nice and extremely polite”.
The quote appeared as a screensaver on the computers of Gowling WLG staff in Canada.
“My daughter inspires me a lot. When she was younger, she often spoke of her friend Daniel”, read the quote. “One day, my husband and I attended an event at her school and finally got to meet Daniel. He was very nice and extremely polite; my grandmother would have said he was 'well brought up.' Never during the course of her friendship with Daniel did my daughter mention he was black. That night, I went to sleep with the hope that one day, race-based conflicts would forever be behind us.”
And do you know, he even helped with my shopping.
A screenshot of the well-intentioned anecdote was leaked on Twitter where it was condemned by pundits for implying that a black man who was nice was an outlier worthy of remark. One disapproving commenter joked that the post gave “the highest praise it’s possible to give” to a black person: “he was so good it was like he was white”.
Others accused Gowling WLG of paying lip service to diversity, pointing out that none of its new Canada partners appeared to be BAME.
More derision followed when a Gowling WLG post from October was dug up which quoted a white marketing executive praising black people for influencing his music taste and being good at sports.
Just a fan of black stuff generally.
Gowling WLG swung into full self-flagellating damage limitation mode, and said it would be “reaching out” to all its people to “listen to their perspectives and learn from this matter”.
Andy Stylianou, Chairman of Gowling WLG UK LLP and the firm's lead on diversity and inclusion, told RollOnFriday, "We are deeply sorry that a post that does not reflect our values appeared on an internal network in Canada yesterday".
"Addressing systemic racism requires a collective effort and we actively encourage our colleagues to become allies" he said. "However, we recognise that we have more work to do to educate, upskill and empower them".
RollOnFriday asked the firm whether Stylianou's reference to "systemic racism" was an admission that Gowling WLG was racist, but a spokesperson clarified that he was "addressing systemic racism across society as a whole".