Name: Madonna A. McGwin
Title: Vice President and Deputy General Counsel
Company: Fannie Mae
I believe the most significant legal challenge we face today is finding the right balance between individual rights and liberties and ensuring social justice on the other. Civil rights, including equal employment opportunity, reproductive rights (upholding Roe v Wade, etc.), and the freedom to marry who you love, are among many critical freedoms, but those freedoms may be meaningless unless we also protect our society by taking affirmative steps against the social injustices of hunger, homelessness, poor/failing educational systems, gun violence, illegal drugs, and climate change. Our future depends on getting this balance right. I don’t have the answers, but I do get frustrated by the politics that get in the way of progress.
What has been your most memorable professional experience?
In addition to various litigation victories, over the course of my career as an employment lawyer, I believe that I have made the greatest contribution by educating my clients about equal employment opportunity and providing counsel on the day-to-day decisions that ensure compliance with the law. I also feel honored that my clients have asked for, and listened to, my opinion on doing the right thing in difficult situations.
Why is diversity important specifically to the legal field?
The legal profession is inherently bound by tradition and precedent—we need to break free of the unconscious biases that hold us back. The focus I have seen on diversity in law firms, in-house, and the government is a great step, but it needs to evolve into a presumption that diversity in its best and true form (e.g., diversity of thought derived from different experiences) brings a value that is otherwise missing from the homogenous practice of law. To do that, those with power must create opportunities for those who would not otherwise have them—and they must shepherd them through to fruition. Once we make the table big enough to fit us all, we need to allow everyone to have a meaningful seat at that expanded table. When that happens, I trust that women and minorities will feel more comfortable staying there.