Can you tell us about a specific experience or Hispanic figure who influenced you?
Candidly, I have a hard time defining my experience, though I think that is becoming more common for (or at least more openly admitted by) first generation Americans. I am the first of my siblings born in the United States. My dad moved from Medellín, Colombia to the United States when he was in his late twenties to attend the University of Texas, where he earned his master’s degree in civil engineering. He did not meet my mom (who is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma – where I grew up – and of Irish and German descent) until several years later. My mom does not speak Spanish, and by the time I was born, my dad was changing careers and starting a small business, so we almost exclusively spoke English at home, aside from speaking to relatives on the phone. I say all of this to make the point that I do not “look” or “sound” the way many expect a Colombiana to “look” or “sound.” Because of that, I have spent much of my life hesitant to identify as Latina – not because I am not proud of my heritage (quite the opposite!), but because I was afraid of not being Latina enough. Once I finally worked up the courage to start connecting more with the Hispanic legal community in Atlanta, I learned that I am far from the only person experiencing this. Instead, what I found was an incredibly diverse group of people who are all interested in sharing their experiences in a blended culture and supporting each other in our careers. One of the law students I spoke with recently put it best: “¡Somos familia!” (“We are family!”)
How do you view the importance of diversity and inclusion in today’s workplace?
I cannot overstate how important diversity and inclusion are in today’s workplace. Not only is it simply the “right” thing to do, but it is frankly the only way that businesses will get the best outcomes. Study after study has shown that diverse teams in the workplace produce more creative and efficient results than more “homogenized” teams. Moreover, in our particular line of work (litigation), we need to be able to work with and/or speak to people from all walks of life. Including diverse people on a team means that it is more likely the person across from you (whether it is a client, opposing counsel, judge, juror, etc.) will find a connection with your team, which will ultimately lead to a better result.
What diversity and inclusion changes would you like to see in the future of the legal industry?
There are certainly a lot of changes I would like to see, but one of the most important would be achieving better representation across all levels of the legal community. According to the ABA, only 5% of all lawyers are Hispanic, even though the U.S. population is 18.5% Hispanic. Lower still, only 2% of all lawyers are Latinas, specifically, and the numbers only continue to decrease as you look at specific figures for higher level positions (senior associates, partners in law firms, judges, and so on). While it takes all of us to make a difference, I am certainly hoping to be part of that change for those that come behind me.