Dawn Elizabeth Siler-Nixon
Diversity & Inclusion Partner, FordHarrison LLP
What do you consider your greatest strength, and how do you think it benefits your business?
My ability to communicate with people, and across differences. I believe open communication allows people to feel comfortable sharing their perceptions of the challenges the firm may face. The knowledge I gain from these interactions allows me to provide valuable input to the firm’s Executive and Management Committees, where I serve as a member.
Who inspires you? What did they motivate you to achieve or accomplish?
My parents inspired me. They were honest and hardworking people, who were “overcomers”—people who loved the Lord, one another, and their family. They encouraged and inspired me to do the biggest thing I could dream of as a child—become a lawyer. I am the first lawyer in my immediate and extended family.
How do you motivate others?
I endeavor to determine what inspires them, what they love to do. And I help them use that passion and direction to excel and reach their goals.
What do you think is the greatest issue or dilemma facing the African American community today?
Complacency. There is no sense of urgency to ensure that our world continues to move in the right direction. Our communities and families are fragmented with no clear direction or inspiration other than what we may think is best for ourselves in the moment. We are programmed to hate ourselves and who we are, when, instead, we should live outside the stereotypes society gives us.
How do you give back to the African American community?
Through a number of organizations, including the George Edgecomb Bar Association (GEBA), the Divine Keys, and Seminole Heights Baptist Church (SHBC), I help to feed the homeless—physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I help provide actual food through SHBC’s Cooks Hat Food Pantry. I help provide emotional food through GEBA’s mentoring program and the Devine Keys’ outreach and connection efforts with African American women. I also provide intellectual food by giving my time to train and assist people with legal issues. I try to use my degree, position, and title to open doors for those in our community who want to change and grow—especially our youth.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned in the course of your career?
To listen, really listen to what someone is saying (or what they are not saying). You cannot be a good leader unless you are a good listener.
What advice would you give to someone just beginning his or her career?
Determine what you want to do with your life, outline a strategy for success, engage those successful individuals around you to be your champions, and follow your dream. Establish incremental goals that you can attain and celebrate your accomplishments. It is important to continue to progress, move forward, learn, and grow. Anyone can receive accolades, but it is the person who continues to progress who is successful.
What is your favorite quote, and why?
“The people you surround yourself with tell the story of your character.” I believe that the way you live your life will tell more about who you are than anything you say. My character is more important to me than any accolade or achievement. It tells you who I am, what I stand for, and what I won’t stand for. If you surround yourself with people who are deceitful, disloyal, and hateful, you will be too. The people in my closest circle are honest, fiercely loyal, and loving—all traits that tell the story of my character.