Beyond the pale.
A partner at HFW has been sent to do penance in diversity training after making a joke to do with race.
The solicitor landed in hot chocolate in February when the international shipping and insurance firm celebrated the US’s Black History Month. HFW’s Race & Ethnicity Network marked the occasion by handing out bars of Tony's Chocolonely, accompanied with a leaflet about the group, to staff in several offices.
In Dubai, where the chocs were distributed by a black employee and an Asian colleague, a partner was unable to resist remarking to another partner, "I'm presuming they don't have Milkybar". (Milkybar being “the all-white chocolate bar", noted a helpful source.)
A member of business services who overheard the comment flagged it with the network, which elevated it to management, which duly instructed the "mortified" partner to take diversity training.
"During one of the events taking place across our international network in February to celebrate US Black History Month, a partner made a comment that was not consistent with the firm's culture or values", a spokesperson for HFW told RollOnFriday.
"This was reported to our Race and Ethnicity Network and relayed to senior management, who commenced an internal investigation. The partner apologised unreservedly to the individuals concerned, and has undertaken diversity training. HFW is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive working environment, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind."
Talking about race has proved a minefield for lawyers and firms on more than one occasion, even when they have been specifically addressing the issue. Last year, Gowling WLG apologised after the firm set up special screensavers to mark Black History Month in Canada which featured an employee recalling how she once met a black man who was "very nice and extremely polite".
The year before, Freshfields' Senior Partner Edward Braham was criticised by staff for referring to "Blacks" in an email expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It transpired that he had crafted his message with the help of a group of black partners, but their involvement didn’t prevent internal blowback.
Whispa it: if you're in-house, take a break, take the survey: