BY WELDON LATHAM
Lessons on Personal
Responsibility From a Top
How does change happen? Attorney Weldon Latham answers the
question in one word: leadership.
What does it take to be a leader,
and how do you get there? In this
Q&A with DiversityInc, Latham
tells us his personal story of
growth and accountability—how
he made it, and how you can make
change within your company.
DIVERSITYINC: TELL US ABOUT
YOUR EARLY EXPERIENCE.
WELDON LATHAM: I was born in
Brooklyn, N. Y., grew up in the ’60s.
These were times of turbulence and
change ... We went to integrated
schools, lived in an integrated
neighborhood. Our elementary
schools were excellent, but as
you went in the middle schools
and above, the schools got to be
questionable—the talent you
would get from your teachers,
as well as the lack of safety and
security. Our parents decided it
was time for us to move.
There were parts of New York
that weren’t segregated; you just
didn’t go into [them]. Those parts
were as risky to go into as it was
for my brother to go to junior high
school in the ghetto because African Americans weren’t welcome.
I remember going to the beach
in Rockaway with my brother and
my uncle who happened to be a
detective in the New York City
police force. When they noticed us
on the beach, we were surrounded
by a group of hostile white teenagers and adults who told us that we
weren’t permitted on the beach.
They did not move back until my
uncle drew his gun and cleared a
path for us to leave the beach.
DIVERSITYINC: HOW DO THESE
EXPERIENCES FACTOR INTO
YOUR CAREER TODAY?
LATHAM: As someone who seeks
to ferret out when you have true
hostile work environments versus
less-than-productive employees, I
have a lot to draw upon.
Through elementary school and
junior high school, I was always
in the top 1 percent to the top 10
percent of my class. My parents always held me to a high standard of
performance. In the eighth grade,
some of the less-talented kids were
giving me a hard time because I
had scored so high on standardized
tests, and they tried to make me
feel as if that was something to be
ashamed of. My training was just to
reverse that and say, “It sounds to
me like I got the best grade in the
class and you got the worst. I’m not
the one that ought to be ashamed.”
All those experiences put me
in this unique position to help
judge and assess companies as
they look to have high-quality
performance standards that, when
they’re working well, are not race-conscious at all.
Standards of performance
should not relate to whether the
person is Black/white, male/fe-male, gay/straight. The standard
should be an objective standard
that determines if this person is
preparing and presenting quality work, and [if they’re] getting
rewarded for it. Are they getting
trained for it and are we giving
them all the appropriate opportunities? When we find somebody
who’s a diamond in the rough,
are we taking that diamond and
polishing it as effectively as we
can, not for just the benefit of that
individual but for the benefit of the
company and the folks they serve?
DIVERSITYINC: HOW DID YOU
GET TO WHERE YOU ARE?
LATHAM: The thought was,
“How can I perform at my best to
position myself the best way, to do