March 15, 2024

A Journey from Guyana to the Boardroom with Kelly-Ann Gibbs Cartwright

Women in Leadership Series

Welcome to Holland & Knight's new video series, "Women in Leadership." Throughout this series, we will shine a spotlight on the outstanding women within our firm, celebrating their achievements, stories and the powerful impact of their leadership. Join us as we explore the multifaceted landscape of women's representation in leadership, sharing inspiring narratives and championing diversity and inclusion.

In this episode, Directors Committee Chair Kelly-Ann Gibbs Cartwright shares her inspiring journey from Guyana to the United States. Ms. Cartwright touches on her success at Holland & Knight, which includes becoming the first black woman to ascend from summer associate to partner at the firm. She also speaks about her parents' sacrifices and emphasizes the importance of education. She encourages future leaders to persist through adversity and remain adaptable in pursuing their aspirations.

More Videos in This Series

Episode 1: A Journey from Guyana to the Boardroom with Kelly-Ann Gibbs Cartwright (You are currently viewing Episode 1)

Episode 2: A Story of Resilience, Representation and Professional Growth with Tiffani G. Lee

Kelly-Ann Gibbs Cartwright: I'm actually originally from Georgetown, Guyana. I came to the United States when I was 11, and after living in New York for a year, we moved to Miami. Miami has been my home ever since that time, except for a seven-year stint in Gainesville, Florida, where I went to university and to law school. I became a summer associate in Holland & Knight in 1990, and I was actually the first black associate to go all the way from summer associate to partner. I became a partner in January of 1999, which actually coincided with the birth of my first child. So that was a really interesting point in my career. And during my career, I've held a number of leadership positions in the firm, including serving 12 years as the executive partner of the Miami office and serving for the past five years as Directors' Committee Chair.

My biggest inspiration has always been my parents. My parents left a country where they were fairly well known to come to a country where they were not. There was political and economic turmoil during that time, and that meant leaving their money behind, because there were restrictions on how much currency could be removed from accounts for travel. My parents worked hard. My mother, who was a homemaker in Guyana, returned to the workforce and worked weekends and holidays, and they had successful careers and were able to send both my brother and I to university. And they always underscored the importance of education. That was the number one priority in our home. Their dedication, their hard work, their sacrifices all resonated with me and were the impetus for me wanting to be successful.

I would say that I'm an introvert, and my approach initially to navigating Big Law was to just sit back, listen and observe. And I certainly didn't want to perpetuate any of the negative stereotypes out there about black women. But I did realize at some point in my career that it was also important to be heard, to advocate for yourself and to advocate for others as necessary. You have to believe that your voice is important. You have to believe that your opinions matter, and an environment that is extremely competitive like Big Law and overflowing with Type-A personalities, you aren't going to be successful unless you're willing to ask for what you want. My mother always had a saying that she lives by, "You don't ask, you don't get."

I really believe that representation matters, and it certainly matters in Big Law. Students in grade school and college and law school need to know that they can have a successful future in the law, and the future can also include one of leadership. Sometimes people can only envision that future if they look out there and they see that they aren't the only ones. I want people to know that I am appreciative of the opportunities given to me by the firm. And I say appreciative as opposed to grateful because they weren't bestowed upon me. I earned my place at the table, and I would like others to know that they, too, can earn their place at the table and be equally entitled to the benefits that any organization has to offer.

Prioritize your education. That is definitely something that no one can take from you. That's number one. I think people need to learn to push through adversity. You know, everyone is going to face it at some point in their lives and in some point in their careers. Sometimes failure means you've tried, and sometimes failure can be the mother of success. Don't be afraid to fail and pursue your dreams and pursue your goals. And don't give up. But be flexible, because sometimes circumstances change and you may need to modify those dreams and goals.

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