I experienced my first significant exposure to diversity when I served for three years in the enlisted ranks of the U.S. Army. I joined when I was 18, a few days after my high school graduation. I grew up on a small farm in Iowa, where my family raised cattle and hogs and planted corn and soy beans. Until the day I joined the Army, I had only traveled outside of Iowa on a few occasions, and I’d had no exposure to anyone from a different race or socioeconomic background. I enlisted in part because I could not afford to go to college, but primarily because I had significant self-doubt as to whether I could make it through higher education—no one in my family had ever gone to college, and several of my siblings had dropped out of high school.
In the Army, however, I met people from vastly different upbringings, with vastly different beliefs and points of view. My eyes were suddenly opened to the extent to which our life experiences influence how we perceive the world. My time in the service helped teach me the importance of listening to and learning from others, a cornerstone of a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.
After I left the service, I went to college on the GI Bill. I had gone from being a person filled with self-doubt in high school afraid to pursue higher education to an ambitious student. The difference in my level of confidence was due to the encouragement I received in the Army from many people who didn’t look, act, or think like me. They took steps to ignore our differences and to include me. I was able to combat my self-doubt and replace it with self-confidence and the determination to succeed.
As a veteran and a first-generation professional, I love speaking today with young law students. I tell them how the Army taught me grit and determination, and how people I met in the service convinced me to pursue college and a legal career. I tell them how law school taught me about standing up and speaking out.
I also enjoy discussing diversity with lawyers and professional staff at Latham. We all need to continue to stand up and speak out about the importance of diversity. We need to find people different than us and get to know them. We need to help anyone with self-doubt gain the confidence to succeed.
Fostering an inclusive, diverse atmosphere has been one of my primary goals as Chair and Managing Partner at Latham. Every day I’m struck by how much diversity matters. Whenever I meet with clients, we discuss the importance of diversity, and we share strategies and best practices. The business case for diversity is simple: diverse teams are better at problem-solving. As I travel to Latham’s offices, I am humbled by the efforts of our lawyers and staff to host events, to recruit traditionally underrepresented groups to the law, and, perhaps most importantly, to have difficult discussions about what it takes to grow individually and as an organization.
I have witnessed many changes over the years on the diversity front, and I have seen how diversity strengthens us and the profession. But there is still so much to be done. Our firm has a Diversity Leadership Committee, which spearheads our global diversity strategy and initiatives. I am equally proud of Latham’s various grassroots efforts, many led by associates, through which we have developed new policies and initiatives. I share their dedication to enhance our inclusive culture, and I’m inspired by their passion to make Latham as diverse as the communities where we live and work.
In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com.