What is your current role and how long have you been a Diversity & Inclusion practitioner?
I am the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Winston & Strawn, LLP. I joined Winston in September 2017. Prior to Winston, I worked at Baker Botts as the firm’s Diversity Counsel for almost 11 years. Prior to Baker Botts, I practiced in the Corporate Diversity Counseling Group at Holland & Knight. As such, I have done diversity and inclusion work for almost 19 years.
What was your practice area, how long did you practice for and what prompted the career change?
My practice was labor and employment, and I practiced law for 10 years. During my last 5 years of practice, I worked in the Corporate Diversity Counseling Group. I loved being a labor and employment lawyer, and my intent was to continue to practice law until I retired. In 2006, I accepted a senior in-house labor and employment position, then withdrew my acceptance to accept the Diversity Counsel position at Baker Botts. I made the decision by writing down the pros and cons of each job. I decided on the diversity position primarily because I have always wanted to do work that makes a difference, especially for those who have been historically under-represented or disenfranchised. As a black lawyer who had worked in law firms for 10 years, I felt that a law firm diversity position would be the best place for me to make a meaningful difference.
What do you love most about your current work?
Above all else, I love playing a small role in the success of law students and lawyers. I receive great satisfaction from seeing them advance and succeed personally and professionally. I also love to educate and raise awareness through training, quality programming, and other initiatives. I don’t get to do it as often as I would like, but I absolutely love conducting diversity and inclusion training.
What was the most challenging thing you experienced transitioning out of practice?
The issue with D&I is that it touches almost every other area of the firm, including very established areas, and I had to use a lot more diplomacy and negotiation skills to get things done than I expected. Additionally, I wasn’t fully aware of the significant divide between lawyers and staff at law firms until I went from being a practicing lawyer who loved her job and was good at it at one firm, to became a staff person at another firm.
What advice to you have for someone hoping to transition from practice into diversity and inclusion?
Do your homework – read articles and books; familiarize yourself with diversity and inclusion trends, challenges, best practices, and innovative approaches; learn how to write a strategic plan; and speak to diversity and inclusion practitioners about their day-to-day work. I think passion for the work is important because progress is slow and the hours are long. Don’t go into law firm diversity because you want to work less hours or want an easier path.