Leslie Minier believes her career path would have been different had it not been for the right people becoming invested in her future, and she’s working to pay that investment forward.
As a freshman studying electrical engineering at Tuskegee University, Leslie successfully applied for a scholars program at General Motors. During the interview, an executive articulated what made her the ideal candidate: an intelligent, hardworking and capable African-American woman.
“The recognition I received during that interview motivated me. Afterwards, I never considered failure,” Leslie said.
That attitude led her to earning a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and landing her first job as an engineer at BellSouth.It was a meeting with a lawyer at the telecommunications company that piqued her interest in a career change, motivating her to enroll in law school at Northwestern University, where Leslie also received her MBA.
She came to Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in 1995 as a young associate counseling clients in the firm’s corporate practice group and representing public and private companies in mergers and acquisitions and venture financing.
Leslie soon discovered, however, that it was rare to see anyone who looked like her on the other side of the table.
“It bothered me that the legal profession was so severely lacking in diversity, and so I decided to see if I could help change that,” Leslie said.
She had witnessed the push by the engineering industry to get more minorities hired in tech fields, and wanted to see the same happen in the legal profession. Leslie had experienced first-hand the opportunities that could be created for minorities if an industry decided to invest in them. In fact, Leslie and three of her four siblings became engineers, all taking advantage of the tech industry’s commitment to diversity.
In her dual role as a practicing firm partner and Katten’s Chief Diversity Officer, Leslie feels compelled to pay forward all the support she received as a young engineer and later as a young lawyer. Leslie has been the driving force behind many of Katten’s diversity-focused initiatives that have fostered a culture of inclusion at Katten, a firm with more than 600 attorneys.
Under Leslie’s leadership, Katten has implemented a number of programs that have helped the firm improve its efforts to recruit, hire, elevate and retain talented diverse attorneys, putting future leaders on the path to becoming decision makers at the firm.
Most notably is the firm’s participation in the Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule pilot program. The pilot, which is modeled after the NFL’s Rooney Rule, is named after the first woman admitted to practice law in the U.S. The program ensures that law firms consider women and minority candidates for promotions, senior level hiring, and significant leadership roles in the firm by measuring whether women lawyers and attorneys of color make up at least 30 percent of the candidate pool. At Katten, the Mansfield Rule pilot program has been instrumental in helping the firm identify high-potential diverse lawyers and putting them on the radar as candidates for promotions and leadership opportunities.
With Leslie’s guidance, Katten leadership has also created strategic alliances to advance diversity. One example is the recent decision by Noah Heller, Katten’s CEO, to sign the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a business-driven commitment (with more than 400 signatory companies) to share best practices for making the corporate workplace more inclusive.
For both Leslie and the firm, diversity is valued as a high priority. “At Katten, we are empowering diverse attorneys to reach their career goals, to have a voice and to bring forward a variety of thoughtful perspectives and innovative problem-solving ideas,” Leslie said. “Without the opportunity to succeed, there’s a real risk our diverse attorneys could go elsewhere. We want to keep our talent here.”