In 1978, Cliff Ensley ’69, ’70, G’71 had an idea to start his own business and just $2,500 to do it. He was used to taking on challenges—there was no stopping him. Growing up, he struggled with a learning disability—at…
Syracuse University Bay Area Alumni Join Roundtable Discussion on ‘Leadership in a New Diverse Dynamic’
Syracuse University’s San Francisco Regional Council held a virtual roundtable on “Leadership in a New Diverse Dynamic” for Bay Area alumni on Oct. 6. Regional Council Co-Chair Peter Su L’94, chief IP officer of Moley Robotics and co-founding partner of Radlo & Su, moderated what he called a “dream team” panel, comprising University Trustee Elliott Portnoy ’86, Global CEO of Dentons; Kathi Vidal ’92, managing partner, Silicon Valley Office, Winston & Strawn LLP; and Craig M. Boise, dean and professor of law, College of Law.
Su convened the roundtable at a “key moment for leaders to articulate their visions and to set their organizations on the right path.”
The roundtable explored how the “new dynamics” of diversity are evolving organizations, universities, law firms and the economy, and how disruptive forces are challenging universities and the legal profession in particular. Panelists agreed on the imperative of diversity and inclusion as an essential component of a thriving economy and discussed what key policies could unite the United States after the November 2020 election.
“The issues of diversity and leadership in this new dynamic are very much at the heart of SU’s initiatives for 2020 and beyond,” observed University Trustee Portnoy, who leads the one of the world’s largest law firms, operating in 75 countries. “As a University, we have navigated our share of campus leadership opportunities and challenges, and we continue to redouble our efforts to create an inclusive and diverse environment on campus and to use our reach and resources to really improve communities around the world.”
Acknowledging systemic challenges for leadership in the 21st century, Vidal—a nationally recognized IP litigator and federal circuit strategist—observed that “as we re-shape, we need to look to all our leaders, and we need to look at potential, not just past experience.” She noted that at Winston & Strawn, an international law firm with nearly 1,000 attorneys, “We all value diversity and inclusion, but being aligned in values is not enough. We really have to work through action and be accountable for results.”
Dean Boise called attention to the “tremendous pipeline issue” when it comes to fostering leadership diversity. “That goes back to a systemic problem in society—we have hollowed out the middle class, particularly the Black middle class, and there’s been a stagnation of wages for decades now.” Nevertheless, he continued, across industries organizational and procedural changes continue to put values of equity into practice. “At the College of Law, I’ve made diversity a preferred qualification for hiring staff and faculty. That places the focus on diversity and inclusion within our process.”
Addressing national unity after a tumultuous 2020, Portnoy said change must start “with leadership at the highest level listening with a more empathetic ear and focusing intently on the needs of communities of color that have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, including their health care, economics, housing and employment.”
At the conclusion of the moderated discussion, Syracuse University alumni leaders in the audience—which included captains of industry in technology, trade, banking, law and medicine—engaged the panelists during a Q&A session that focused on the practice of diversifying leadership in law firms and boardrooms.