Boston - U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz spoke at a breakfast this morning honoring the recipients of Boston Business Journals’s 2012 Leadership in Diversity awards. USA Ortiz spoke about her thoughts on diversity and inclusion and the advances that must be made as well as the challenges she has overcome during her professional career.
Good morning everyone! And thank you Chris for that kind introduction and for inviting me to speak this 3rd Annual Leaders in Diversity event. It is an honor to be here to discuss the challenges that minorities face in the workplace. With all of the outreach I do in Massachusetts – especially to minority groups of one kind or another – and my own experiences as a Hispanic woman in the legal profession, I’ve become a bit of an expert on this matter.
Serving as U.S. Attorney continues to be a profound honor. However, I must be honest, the road that I have traveled to get here, has not always been easy. When I started out there were so few opportunities for women in this field. At the time, there were few role models and few mentors who young women and Hispanic lawyers could really relate to. But there were a few. Fortunately while growing up, I benefitted from the guidance counselors in High School and professors in College who took a special interest in me and encouraged me to pursue my goal of being a lawyer.
And now that I am in a position where I can be role model – for girls, urban youth, and especially Hispanics. I believe it is my duty to enable others to realize their extraordinary potential and to open doors of opportunity.
Earlier this year I was speaking in the City of Lawrence at a small private school: Esperanza Academy - a school that is trying to offer hope to girls who really need hope in their lives. When I was speaking to them I looked out in the audience and they were all looking at me wide-eyed and interested. And I could tell by their faces they were inspired by me and they were thinking, “She grew up like us. If she can do it - so can we!” And quite frankly, I was inspired by them. They have hope, they have dreams and aspirations like all children at that age and it was inspiring for me to see them so ready to take on the world.
I encourage each of you here today to be a mentor, be a role model. Inspire younger generations and guide those who are following in your footsteps.
It is my belief that the nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all. We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society, and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges.
In the always-elegant words of President Obama, “Diversity has always been America’s strength. We are richer because of the men and women and children who’ve come to our shores and joined our union. And we are better off because of the ideas that they’ve brought, and the differences that they’ve made, and the impact they’ve had on our lives.”
As the leader of the USAO, it is my responsibility to expand and enhance diversity efforts and awareness in my own organization as well as to ensure that all citizens’ rights are protected in Massachusetts.
One of my first orders of business was to establish a hiring committee at the USAO. The committee was charged with proactively networking to find qualified and diverse candidates for attorney and non-attorney positions.
They are also responsible for organizing outreach and awareness campaigns both internally and externally. We also created a Diversity Committee, composed of volunteers who have made it a priority to create a more inclusive office community – grounded in respect and appreciation for individual differences.
As I travel throughout the Commonwealth, I see that there is ample opportunity to increase respect for diversity and to ensure that the civil liberties of every resident are protected. So within my first few months in office, I created the Civil Rights Enforcement Team, known as CRET. The CRET is the first of its kind in the District and one of only a handful across the nation.
Its mission is to invigorate and coordinate the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to enforce federal civil rights laws and to increase the number of enforcement actions generated by our Office.
CRET also aims to increase our visibility among the affected communities in Massachusetts, through targeted outreach, as well as to maintain or establish contacts with the appropriate state and local law enforcement agencies.
I know how important these issues are to all of you, not just as business leaders, but as Americans – and I want you to know that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to ensuring that the rights of all Americans are preserved.
In recent years, I truly feel as though there is a renewed sense of hope and opportunities for those of all races, creed, ethnicities, sexual orientation, sexual preference, religion, disabilities, gender and age.
Just in the last couple of years, we have witnessed many “firsts”. The first African American President Barack Obama, the first African American Attorney General Eric Holder, and the first Hispanic woman on the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. As we thing about these firsts, we also think about those that came before, paving the way for all of us.
These are just a few of the many people who have shaped the world we live in, making it more reflective of who our nation really represents.
Most people don’t know this, but when I started out with the Department of Justice many years ago, I was fortunate to work alongside Eric Holder – who at the time was one of a number of prosecutors at the Public Integrity Section at the Department.
Who would have known that someday he would go on to become the Attorney General of the United States, and I would become U.S. Attorney working for him!
At AG Holder’s swearing in he said something that still resonates with me, he said: “Nowhere but in this great country could a person like me, or the president, hope to achieve the positions we are now so fortunate to hold.” He was actually speaking about himself and the President, but I also know that he was talking about me. It is this country’s great respect and emphasis on diversity and acceptance that has allowed for people of all backgrounds, to move forward in life and realize their dreams.
Understanding and embracing diversity should be more rhetoric. You must lead by example, by making proactive efforts to make the changes necessary – and address resistance head on.
It is incumbent upon each and every one of us in this room to do our part, to help weave our nation’s fabric with the colors and textures that represent the world in which we live. As managers, we must provide leadership to motivate employees to be accepting and more tolerate of co-workers with differences. The key is to provide a setting where people can more effectively communicate with people of different cultures and backgrounds.
Congratulations to the recipients of the 2012 Leaders in Diversity Awards. Each of you are critical in incorporating diversity and inclusion into your business and organizations – reflecting the richness of our Massachusetts community.
Thank you for honoring me with the opportunity to speak to you this morning. And thank you for joining me in a commitment to cultivating diversity in Massachusetts.