Kelly-Ann Cartwright is a labor and employment attorney in Holland & Knight’s Miami office. She currently serves as chair of Holland & Knight’s Directors Committee and previously served as the executive partner of the Miami office for 12 years. She is a member of the firm’s Diversity Council and is chair of the Board of Directors for the YWCA of South Florida. In this Q&A, Kelly-Ann discusses her firm’s evolution on diversity, equity, and inclusion and explains why we must all remain steadfast in our commitment. Kelly-Ann will be serving as a panelist on Why D&I must remain a core business imperative post-COVID on October 29, 2020 at 2:00 pm (EST). Register here.
How have diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts evolved over your career?
I have spent my entire legal career—almost 30 years—at Holland & Knight. At our firm and across the legal industry, we have come a long way in how we think about these issues.
To give an example, Chesterfield Smith was one of the architects and founders of our firm. He graduated from law school in the 1940s. He was from Arcadia, Florida, which is this small town in Florida. Diversity was important to him, and he made it a core value of the firm. He hired the first female attorney for the firm and he hired the first African-American lawyer a few years later, at a time when there were relatively few women or minorities in the profession, let alone at any large law firm. That commitment is why I came to the firm nearly 30 years ago. We have come a long way since those two initial hires, but our commitment remains. It is reflected not only in the programs and initiatives we have in place today to provide our diverse attorneys with opportunities to succeed, but it is also reflected in the number of diverse individuals who make up our leadership ranks and partnership classes. For example, over the last several years, more than 50% of each of our partnership classes has been diverse. This is a testament to Chesterfield’s original vision and our firm’s progress in this space.
How have those efforts continued to develop, in light of our most recent events this year?
This has been an unprecedented year – a global pandemic, an economic downtown, and a renewed call for racial justice. These events present tremendous and unanticipated challenges. However, there is a common thread throughout all three of these challenges – the disproportionate impact of systemic inequality on communities and people of color. These challenges are now at the forefront of the serious issues facing our country and have evoked a different response from law firms. For example, Holland & Knight is one of 200+ firms that have joined the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, a consortium of law firms committed to dismantling racism. At our firm, we are hosting firmwide and local town halls on these topics, facilitating courageous conversations on racism, and elevating our work around allyship. Despite the challenging circumstances that brought this change and acceleration, this movement gives me hope.
Why must diversity, equity, and inclusion remain a priority?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot be a priority only when times are good. In fact, it needs to remain a priority when times are their most challenging. These times call for organizations to draw upon their values and stand by their stated commitment. Our organizations do better when they are diverse, equitable, and inclusive. It is essential in order to offer a broad range of perspectives, approaches, and solutions and to produce better results for our clients.
To find out more about our seminar on Why D&I must remain a core business imperative post-COVID, in partnership with Holland and Knight, click here.