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Firm Hosts Uber’s Tony West at 18th Annual Diversity Dinner
When Tony West became the chief legal officer at Uber in 2017, his goal extended beyond building a diverse team. He wanted to bring in the best talent he could find and create what he called ‘the most dynamic in-house team on the face of the planet.’
“I already knew when I said that, that the team was going to be diverse, because everything in my experience tells me that when you go out to get the best and you are intentional about looking for the best and casting a wide net, you are going to bring in a very diverse talent pool,” he told a crowd of more than 200 people during the firm’s 18th Annual Diversity Dinner in 2019.
According to Tony, he understood the importance of diversity and inclusion long before he was selected to lead a global team of more than 600 people in Uber’s Legal, Compliance and Ethics, and Security functions. “You can’t grow up in this country and be of color or be a woman and not experience what it feels like to be on the outside or experience what it feels like to have to be twice as good in order to succeed. It is a part of growing up,” he said during a post-dinner discussion moderated by Partner Katya Jestin. But it was during his law school experience that that his views on the significance of diversity and inclusion in the legal field “crystalized.” He explains, “You are in this legal framework that in many ways has explicitly excluded you, and you’re trying to figure out ways to operate within in it, excel in it and ways in which you can make it work for others.”
While general counsel at PepsiCo, Tony led an initiative to increase diversity and inclusion on his outside legal teams, which involved tabulating extensive metrics. “It’s the way to make sure women and people of color are becoming a fabric of their law firms and therefore reflecting our values,” he explained, adding that companies often have to engage in some disruption to make a difference in diversity and inclusion. He is implementing a similar initiative at Uber.
With studies including those by Harvard and Stanford repeatedly reinforcing the value of diverse teams, Tony believes ‘we are past’ making the business case for diversity. “The question is simply how to bring the diversity into your enterprise in order to enjoy some of that success.”
Asked to give advice to the law students in the room, Tony encouraged them to not be afraid of taking risks, acknowledging that this is often easier said than done: “In my experience, doing something unfamiliar is hard to do in the moment, but when you do it, you experience both growth and self-respect in ways that you can’t really imagine, and it makes you a better lawyer, a better professional, and I think it makes you a better person.”
Tony began his legal career at the Justice Department when he joined the Clinton administration in 1993, as a special assistant under Philip Heymann, the deputy attorney general of the United States Department of Justice until 1994, when he was appointed as an assistant United States attorney (AUSA) for the .Northern District of California. As an AUSA, he prosecuted child sexual exploitation, fraud, narcotics distribution, interstate theft and high tech crime. In 2009, Tony returned to the Justice Department when President Obama nominated him to serve as assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice Civil Division. He transitioned from the Department of Justice to PepsiCo in 2014.
During the event, Associate Board of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee members Andrew Noll and Reena Sikdar introduced the firm’s Diversity Scholars: Divine Collins, University of Chicago Law School; Carolina Herrera, Stanford Law School; Charles Mahone II, University of Michigan Law School; Kiana Outen, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Sarah Soleiman, University of Illinois College of Law; and this year’s Grant R. Folland Scholar, University of Chicago law student Jocelyn Sitton.
Diversity Speaker Series
The Diversity & Inclusion Speakers Series, hosted by the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, invites guests from all offices to speak about contemporary issues related to diversity. On March 22, the Washington, DC office hosted the first Diversity Speaker Series of 2019, featuring Judge Robert L. Wilkins of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Judge Wilkins spoke on the topics covered in his book, Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He described the endless obstacles and pervasive intolerance that supporters faced, starting with the fight to create a monument to honor the history and achievement of African-American soldiers at the end of the Civil War and ending with the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2012 by our first African-American president, Barack Obama.
In 2000, Judge Wilkins quit his job at the Public Defender Service to focus full time on creating the national museum. He eventually served as chair of the Presidential Commission’s Site and Building Committee. In 2003, after a long and arduous journey, the bill finally passed allowing the creation of the museum. Judge Wilkins then battled to achieve the commission’s initial dream of having the museum located on the National Mall—a mission he eventually accomplished and describes as “one of the most important tasks I had undertaken in my life.”
On June 4, the firm continued its 2019 Diversity Speaker Series, featuring Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary Sarah McBride. Sarah spoke about her struggle with gender identity, how others stories have helped shape her work and what lies ahead in the fight for equality. She also discussed stories from her book, Tomorrow Will be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality. Sarah describes her experiences coming out as transgender to her family and classmates, falling in love and speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention where her speech marked the first time a transgender person addressed a national convention.
In her daily work, she is an advocate for a wide variety of LGBT issues, including the legislation around gender-equal bathrooms. During her discussion, Sarah pointed out that bathrooms have been at the center of every civil rights battle over the last 70 years. “If they can legislate, legalize and, in some cases, mandate discrimination in restrooms, it becomes the closest thing to a silver bullet to legislating that particular community out of public life,” she said. Sarah also discussed the importance of ally-ship, both within the LGBT community and with other marginalized communities. Sarah hopes that progress for LGBT individuals in the United States continues on so that children like Stella, a thirteen-year-old transgender girl, can fulfill her dream of becoming the first transgender president of the United States.
Sarah has a long history of LGBT advocacy including interning in 2012 at the White House, where she was the first openly transgender woman to work there in any capacity. She worked in the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, where she advanced LGBT issues. She also served on the steering committee of Trans United for Hillary, an effort to educate and mobilize transgender people and their allies in support of Hillary Clinton.
Previous speakers include:
Guest speaker Tony West (left) discusses diversity in the legal profession with Partner Katya Jestin in 2019.
Partner Reid Schar (left) interviews keynote speaker Tina Tchen at the 17th Annual Diversity Dinner in 2018.
Former Partner Scott Wilkens (left) discusses First Amendment rights with guest speaker Jameel Jaffer in 2017.
Guest speaker Ruby Bridges (right) talks with Partner Reginald Hill in 2013.
Guest speaker Kenji Yoshino (left) talks with former partner Paul Smith at the Annual Diversity Dinner in 2015.