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Keita Young

Senior Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion


New York, New York

Past employment includesVice President & Assistant General Counsel, JPMorgan Chase

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School JD

Spelman College, BA

Attorney and mom manages multiple transitions

keita young.jpg

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ex judicata: If I remember correctly, you were a law firm attorney, founder of a children’s specialty boutique, an in-house counsel, and lead manager of outside counsel for one of the biggest banks in the world, and now you just moved into a new role at FanDuel. Can you walk us through the journey?

Keita Young: So, I was practicing law for about six years. I was in New Jersey and then I got pregnant with my first child. I think at that point everybody said, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going to go back to work and I’m going to hire a nanny or have a babysitter or do daycare like everybody else does.” I never thought that I would be someone who would be a stay-at-home mom raising my kid. I had gone to Spelman. I just knew that I was going to be a partner in a law firm. That was going to be my career trajectory.

When my son was born, I went back to work part-time. I worked for a great firm, but you didn’t come back part-time. During those early years of my son’s life, I just had this yearning to stay at home, at least for a little bit. I wanted to be the mom that took her kid to the park and did all the wonderful things that you do with your kids when they’re young. I had my grandmother living with me, which was wonderful. I didn’t have to hire a stranger because I had my grandmother, But I had a yearning to stay at home. My husband kind of agreed. I figured I’d stay home for a year or two, which ended up turning into 11 years. I had two other kids, three children in all.

ex judicata: So you went from law to staying at home. What got you to the next stage, starting a children’s boutique?

Keita: Although I loved being a stay-at-home mom, I also wanted to do something else.

I didn’t know what that was, but I wanted something that would make it easy for me to bring my children with me to work. So I was talking to a couple of moms and they asked, “What about a children’s consignment store?” I didn’t even know what that was. One of them explained that people who have gently used clothes or gifts that others could use bring those items to a store and resell them. So I did my research and thought it was a great idea. I live in Jersey City, which was up and coming with lots of families and moms. I met a woman and we became really good friends and we opened the store. She had been in the retail industry and was very much about beautifying the store. I handled the lease and made sure we were up to code. I did all of that and she did all of the retail stuff. We opened up this children’s consignment shop called “Acceptance.” We had the store for five years and were able to bring our kids to work. The boutique was near my home, which was great. We were really flexible and it was just a wonderful outlet and a great opportunity for us to contribute to the Jersey City community and do something we were really passionate about.

ex judicata: So you had the boutique for five years. What made you move on from there?

Keita: Jersey City really started to pick up and real estate became a hot commodity. Our landlord wanted to double our rent, which was not what we wanted. So I ended up saying, no, and decided that maybe it was time for me to stop doing that. I did a little bit of educational nonprofit work, something again that would enable me to be flexible with my children. And I was doing it from home. When my daughter, my youngest, started first grade, I thought I might want to go back to work. I had a friend at JPMorgan Chase, who’s a very senior lawyer. She told me that they were doing a re-entry program in the legal department and she thought I’d be perfect for it. Even though I had no background in the finance industry and I had no idea what it was like to work for a big bank, I had worked for a law firm and had done employment work, I decided to go for it. I remember going to the program’s inaugural kickoff reception, and there were hundreds of people, women and others who had been taking time off from work or from the industry. The JPMorgan Chase people said they were going to hire five people.

ex judicata: Wow. That’s incredibly competitive.

Keita: Yes. In fact, I was thinking I’m not going to get this. But look at all these fabulous people who’ve done great things. I started networking that night and meeting people and I guess the JPMorgan Chase people liked what they heard. I ended up getting into the re-entry program and that’s what started everything for me.

ex judicata: What gave you the confidence to go into an entirely new field?

Keita: I think you need to have a story. I stopped working in the legal profession and opened my own business with no experience in opening or operating a business. But I used the skills and techniques that I had learned, the basic skill sets, to open a successful business and everyone loved it. It became a staple of the Jersey City downtown community. When I wanted to go back to work full-time I was able to show that I was a go-getter and that when I put my mind to it, I can get it done. Basically, I said, “If you hire me at JPMorgan, I promise you I’ll be successful. I will learn the financial industry. I will learn whatever group you put me in.” They hired me and placed me in the legal department doing root cause analysis. I didn’t even know what that meant, but it was able to learn it and master it.

ex judicata: How did your transition into a DEI role come about?

Keita: JPMorgan is a very big company. While I was there in the legal department, I was always doing diversity work. It wasn’t my job, but it was something that I was passionate about. I was interested as a member of the Legal Diversity Committee. I ran this group and that group. Then an opportunity arose for me actually to lead the legal department and go into HR. Jamie Dimon had just started this new program called “Advancing Black Leaders.” It was part of a global diversity strategy. He set up a department to advance the strategy. I left the legal department and joined HR and became the program manager for that global strategy.

ex judicata: It sounds like you saw what you wanted and went after it. What skills helped you transition successfully?

Keita: I utilized my legal expertise and analytical thinking, and my skills in building relationships with others. Whatever I’ve learned throughout my career, I’ve been able to transfer those skills into an HR position. That’s where I really got my understanding and expertise around diversity and building a strategy and what that looks like. Then I met Carolyn Renzin and she lured me back into the legal department. I became the head of outside counsel engagement in the legal department and served in that role for three years.

ex judicata: It’s a great story. When you left the law department and went into HR, was that totally putting the practice of law behind? That’s another leap. Our audience loves to hear these types of success stories. We interviewed a woman who was the Audible General Counsel before founding a very successful bakery chain. She had no experience baking. All she knew was that she was a really hard worker, and if she put her mind to it, she was going to succeed. That sounds so similar to your story. What a great message for those transitioning out of the practice of law—that those skills aren’t wasted. Utilizing those skills and finding you another job is what ex judicata is about.

Stories like these give people the courage to go out there and find a job they’ll love.

Keita: I think a lot of people are afraid. They think, “I know the legal profession. I know how to be a lawyer. But will those skills be transferable or helpful for me?” They will be! We’re used to reading documents. We’re used to analyzing and solving problems. Those are skills you can transfer into other areas. I just utilize my passion for things I really enjoy doing to find a way into areas that weren’t typically areas of law practice, like where I am now, in the diversity space. I had a passion for it, and I loved working around that and building a strategy, helping others, and moving the business culturally in a way that embraces diversity and infuses it into the culture of an organization. It was something that I loved and I’m doing, and I think it has made me a more well-rounded, better person.

ex judicata: That raises another point that our audience is going to be extremely interested in. Some say that if you leave law you’re not going to be able to go back and practice law again. That obviously was not the case for you.

Keita: I was thinking that too. I was gone from practicing law for 11 years when JPMorgan hired me. I was in the legal department, had this great job, and was well respected. I remember talking to the head of my division when I was debating about whether to leave and worrying about whether I’d ever be able to practice law again. He said something that has stuck with me to this day. He said, “Keita, we hired you after 11 years of not working in a legal profession. You worked at home, you did stand-out work. If you want to go and do HR work, if you want to follow your passion, do it. You will always be a lawyer. You can always come back to it.” I thought to myself, he’s right. What am I doing? I’m debating this thinking that I have a degree, finally got back into the workforce, I’m practicing law, so I should stay here. The head of the legal department at JPMorgan Chase said to me, “This is a wonderful opportunity, but we want you back and you can always go back to being a lawyer.”

ex judicata: Do you think that’s really so?

Keita: Yes. I do. You’re always going to be a lawyer. Nobody’s going to take that away from you.

ex judicata: We’ll have big quotes around that.

A lot of women find themselves at a law firm and want to have a family. They feel that they must somehow figure out how to do both these things, that they have to stay in the law or they’ll lose that ability to practice. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Keita: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. While I was a stay-at-home mom, I did a lot of things. I was president of a social organization called Jack and Jill. We have local chapters, and I was responsible for about 60 women, the agenda, and the strategy around that. I had to learn how to do Excel and PowerPoint, things that kept my skill set alive. When I had my business, I had a whole data program associated with how we tracked our inventory and how we did our budget. So all through that time, I was honing my skills to make sure that they were relevant. I think that was why it was a little bit easier for me when I went back to work. I knew an Excel spreadsheet and I knew how to do PowerPoint presentations. I knew all of that because I was active at my kids’ school running events.

Thinking analytically, being able to argue a point and be persuasive is tough. You learn a lot and it never goes away. So, I think in getting back into the workforce, you need to have a story. You have to be able to talk about how you were able to cultivate your skill set. Even though I might not have been practicing law, I was still doing things that made me a more well-rounded person as opposed to the me I would have been if I just stayed in a law firm for 12 years.

ex judicata: So even if you’re not practicing, you were developing your skill set in many other ways that benefitted you in your next position.

Keita: Exactly!

ex judicata: I think you were especially fortunate because you had a husband and some financial support, which would have made it easier to do something else. For our working mothers who may be the prime breadwinner, for any primary earner, the financial aspect poses a significant challenge.

Keita: That’s true. You’re right. I feel very blessed that I had a husband who financially took care of me. I was able to do all these other things that didn’t generate any income but still allowed me to hone or continue my skill sets in whatever I decided to partake in.

When I went back to work, another thing that was really important to me was that I had my grandmother living with me. So I had a support system. I didn’t have to worry when I went back to work. My grandmother took care of my kids, fed them, and bathed them. She made dinner for them too. So the transition back into the workplace was seamless for me. I didn’t have to worry about what was happening at home because I had my grandmother there. That was a special 19 years. She passed away recently at 97 years old. She had a beautiful life, but the loss is still very raw for me. She really helped me. I wouldn’t have been able to do this better.

ex judicata: And that’s yet another message that our audience needs to hear because there will be a certain percentage who face pushback. How can you possibly leave your good career and do something where you’re going to be making less money and all this other stuff?

Keita: Well, I got that when I wanted to quit my job. People couldn’t understand. My father is a lawyer and he couldn’t understand how I could have a law degree and quit my job. I told him that it was just something I had to do. And then this is funny, when I wanted to go back to work 11 years later, they all couldn’t understand how I could leave my kids and go back to work. It’s like you’re never doing the right thing.

ex judicata: How was the adjustment for your children?

Keita: I will tell you a story about that. When my daughter was in preschool, her teacher asked to speak to me. She said that my daughter asked her if she was a mommy. When she said yes, my daughter said she couldn’t be a mommy because mommies don’t work. The teacher explained to her that some mommies work and some mommies stay at home, and that there are all different types of mommies. So I had a discussion with my daughter and she really couldn’t understand it.

When I went back to work, everyone had to transition and not have mommy there at home. My daughter just graduated from eighth grade and is now in high school. At her eighth-grade graduation, each of the graduates gave a speech. In her speech, my daughter said that when she was growing up, she always wanted to be the president of the United States, but now she wants to be like her mother, me. She said she got to see me as a stay-at-home mom and also experienced me as a working mother. It was so impactful! I mean, I was bawling. Wow.

ex judicata: How do you hold it together? That’s beautiful. What a wonderful compliment!

Keita: I know.

ex judicata: So much of what we’re talking about goes into what I want to ask you next. What advice would you give to those struggling with that decision to leave law practice—those asking themselves if they can make the leap?

Keita: I think two stars need to align. You need to have a financial plan to sustain yourself. You also need support if you’re going back to work to take care of the responsibilities you have at home. Still, I know it’s so cliche, but I think everything works out. As long as you have a plan, as long as you have support, and as long as you have the wherewithal and the drive to get it done, it’ll happen. You need goals and aspirations of what you’d like to accomplish.

I tell people all the time that I went to law school, A degree will not hurt you. If anything, it enhances you. People think you’re smarter because you have a law degree. Even if you’re not. But it’s like an extra something that provides opportunity.

ex judicata: People look at that credential. A very good contact of ours at Marsh McLennan has a son with an MBA and a master’s degree in international affairs. This son spent a few years embedded in the Middle East and is now going to go to law school at night. Not that he ever has any intention of practicing law, but he absolutely feels that the degree will give him that much more credibility when he steps into meetings. To your point, a law degree is an extraordinary educational achievement that’s always going to carry weight.

Keita: I kind of feel like I’m able to accomplish any task. When my business partner and I wanted to set up an LLC, I knew I could do some research and figured it out because I have a law degree. I could figure out what to do and I did it, like in dealing with taxes. Having a law degree gave me confidence and maybe made me think that I could do anything. I felt that I was smart and I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. I figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I could read and understand contracts and all of that. I could do it and I did it.

ex judicata: This will all hit home with our audience. Twenty-two years ago, my business partner and I built a company and then sold it. Now, 20 years later, we’re at it again, but we know what we don’t know. So we’re working with this really spectacular group around social media and digital strategy. One of the ideas they gave us is that after we go through all of these interviews, there may be a few sentences, a 10-second clip that we might want to go back to somebody and say, “This was extraordinary. Can we film you just for these 10 seconds?” And then that becomes the teaser. So, Keita, you’re stuck with us, just like I told you!

Keita: I’m happy to help. Feel free to reach out.

Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

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