Tai-Heng Cheng is global co-head of the firm's international arbitration and trade practice and co-managing partner of Sidley’s office in Singapore.
What does Pride month mean to you personally?
When I was younger, Pride month was very affirming to me because it was a celebration of my identity and inclusion in society at large. As I have grown more mature in my life and in my career, I have come to realize that Pride month is an important time not just for those of us who are fortunate to be welcomed in our jobs, our lives, and our families, but especially for those — including transgender kids and minority kids — who may be facing a tough time in families and environments that don’t understand their gender identity or sexuality. Every year, as we celebrate Pride month, it’s important for us to appreciate how far we have come, but also to remember those in the queer community who are still left behind.
How would you describe your experience as an openly gay man at Sidley?
In my career, I have been at three major global law firms. I have to say that my experience at Sidley as an openly gay man has been by far the most affirming and positive. It starts from the fact that our global management team has openly gay leaders like myself. The firm’s Management Committee Chair, Yvette Ostolaza, is a first-generation American Latina running a 155-year-old firm with offices around the world. So the tone starts from the top that we are a welcoming and inclusive place. Not just for queer members of our community but also for all diverse members. At Sidley, everyone can be proud of who they are and bring their diverse talents to the workplace in service to our clients.
What is the biggest opportunity you see for creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace environment for the LGBTQ+ community?
In the context of Sidley, this is really a global question, as we have 2,000 lawyers in 21 offices across the world. Different countries are at different points in their development toward being inclusive and progressive and honoring equality. So, for example, while in America we still have some way to go, American laws recognize and protect the fundamental human rights and equality of the LGBTQ+ community more than some other countries in the world. For me, as the co-managing partner of the Singapore office, it is important that we do not get involved in the domestic laws and politics of the countries that host us. But for all our employees everywhere in the world, if they are queer, the moment they walk through the door, they should expect and they are entitled to the universal commitment of our firm to equality and diversity. Any and all queer employees at Sidley, wherever they are located, should feel that, in our offices, they are in a welcoming workplace that celebrates their queer identity.
What is your advice for allies who want to support the LGBTQ+ community?
My clients come to me as their trusted adviser because of my judgement and experience. The fact that I am gay, and in the U.S. an ethnic minority and first-generation immigrant, informs my judgement, because I bring perspectives to solving my clients’ problems that some of their advisors miss. Some of my clients also believe that I work three times as hard as their lawyers from other firms who are not diverse and did not need to prove themselves as much. It is not surprising to me, therefore, that companies are increasingly requiring law firms to put together diverse teams in order to get retained on matters. To our allies, our trusted partners, and our clients I would say: when you pick your lawyers, pick them for their excellence and their diversity. Let your law firms know you want queer lawyers among the teams that work for you because you value their sexual orientation and gender identify, which enables them to bring different perspectives to do the best work for you.