The IILP Family Feeling

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Reflection on October 2018 Chicago Symposium by: Sudheer R. Poluru

Do you know how rare it is for a diverse leader to open up candidly about their experience? It is not something I take for granted. And I am thankful to IILP for creating the types of inclusive spaces in which diverse professionals feel comfortable sharing their experiences in an authentic manner. Recently I attended an IILP Symposium on the State of Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession. It felt like a family reunion, where people were looking out for each other and wanted to share what they have learned to make life just a little bit easier for the next generation.

Feed Your Soul

If you are a diverse, hard-working professional or student, consider making time to attend an IILP event. Amidst a packed schedule with looming work deadlines, graduate school applications, and family responsibilities, I attended the IILP’s October 2018 Chicago Symposium, and it was just what I needed. I arrived stressed and sluggish and left calm and reenergized. The candid conversation and supportive community at IILP events feeds my soul.

Meeting Diverse Leaders

Day in and day out, I work to make organizations more diverse and inclusive as a consultant with Jones Diversity, Inc. I have seen the numbers and research, and I know that there is a lack of diversity in senior leadership. That lack of diversity is apparent in a variety of industries from law to business to technology. Sadly, I have also seen the trend lines, so I know progress is slow and is not something that occurs naturally without intentional work.

Diverse mentors and role models in senior positions of leadership are few and far between, and I know there is much to learn from any diverse professional who has successfully navigated their industry and made it to a position of leadership. Unfortunately, it is not easy for me to ask incredibly busy, diverse leaders out to coffee or lunch just to ask them about their career, life, and strategies they have used to overcome obstacles. But IILP fills this gap.

Diverse Leaders Candidly Opening Up

At IILP Symposia, diverse senior leaders share their candid thoughts. At the October Symposium IILP had gathered top leaders from law firms, corporations, and non-profits. They were diverse professionals themselves or allies and strong proponents of diversity and inclusion. I was struck by these leaders serving on the panel or giving a presentation, especially because I would normally not have had access to hear the views and passions of these professionals.

In October, I heard Collette Woghiren speak about the barriers that undocumented immigrants face as they strive to become practicing attorneys; I heard Rutgers Law School Professor Stacy Hawkins talk about the legal defensibility of various diversity and inclusion practices; and I listened to Martin P. Green discuss the challenges of business development as a Partner of color at an MBE law firm in Chicago.

Win-Win Situation

IILP Symposia are win-win situations. At IILP Symposia, senior leaders have the opportunity to reflect on their careers, something they may not have the chance to do when in the midst of a firestorm of work. Additionally, young professionals like me,  have the opportunity to take in valuable advice and lessons learned from accomplished, diverse leaders. As a millennial just starting out in my career, it was reassuring to learn at the last IILP Symposium that diverse leaders wrestle with many of the challenges that are currently on my mind: questioning my purpose in life, figuring out the best way to demonstrate my value, and trying to balance work with a personal life.

Our Collective Effort

Sometimes I get discouraged when I see the slow rate of progress with diversity and inclusion efforts. And I wonder if my individual effort really makes a difference. Leaving the IILP Symposium, I know that I am not the only one fighting the good fight and speaking truth to power. It is uplifting to meet so many accomplished diverse professionals pushing for progress and change in their organizations and their spheres of influence. It is vital for each of us to fight for progress in the pocket of the world we inhabit. Our collective effort can make the world a more diverse and inclusive place. And yes, overall a better place.

Sudheer R. Poluru is an Associate at Jones Diversity, Inc.