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Law Firm DEI through the lens of Belonging

I brought a carryout Roasterie coffee when I recently met with Diana Kander.  Diana asked for no coffee, perhaps because her laser-focused energy could power half a continent without caffeine.  Diana is a Millennial, and she and husband Jason are busy raising their two young children.  And in case you didn’t already know, Diana is a New York Times bestselling author, business development consultant, and corporate keynote speaker in high demand across the country.

Diana was born in the port city of Odessa, Russia (now in Russian-besieged Ukraine). Times were rough for Jews in Russia – Diana was required to have “Jewish” on her identification papers, and her parents faced discrimination and oppression.  At age eight, Diana left Russia with her parents and grandmother and emigrated to the United States.  The first few weeks in New York City welfare housing were also rough – it was a coin flip whether the cockroaches or rats had the upper hand.  And so, Diana’s parents decided to move their family to the Midwest, joining other Jewish Russian émigrés in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas.

Fluent in Russian, Diana spoke no English when she began third grade.  A semester-long ESL course (plus watching American TV cartoons) soon solved that early challenge.  And at age nine, Diana decided she wanted to be a lawyer, because “I was fascinated by a country where laws meant something.” 

Diana excelled in school, and she joined her high school debate team.  Through that she first met her future husband, who debated for a rival high school’s team, and the two eventually competed against each other in Forensics at a national qualifier tournament.  College at UMKC was next for Diana, followed by law school at Georgetown.   

By then Diana’s career goal had shifted, driven by her entrepreneurial fascination with business.  She saw herself ending up in a corporate boardroom, and she concluded her path would be to become a successful law firm partner, then a corporate General Counsel, and ultimately use that gravitas and experience to run the business.

During law school Diana was a summer associate at three different large law firms, and after graduation she accepted one of the firms’ offer to become an associate lawyer.  These were formative experiences for Diana, though perhaps not in the way her law firm intended. She put in crazy-long working hours as a new associate, and she also developed significant new business for her firm, so much so that at her first year review meeting she was offered a large bonus and accelerated career advancement.  Instead, Diana had already decided to resign from her firm and pursue entrepreneurial business ventures on her own.  And she did so, with a string of start-up successes.

Practicing Belonging:

Belonging at Work