Women and Minorities Need a Chance to be Heard
A Conversation with University of Nebraska graduate Eartha Johnson
Eartha Johnson of Houston, Texas, has a passion for helping others, whether as a business professional, volunteer or donor. She is founder and CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide (formerly LegalWatch, Inc.), an award-winning company that trains corporate executives on how to prevent lawsuits, regulatory sanctions and criminal indictments. Eartha graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1983 and the Nebraska College of Law in 1990. She then worked for Exxon and other companies before starting her own business. She is a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Share a little about your background.
I was raised in Omaha, Nebraska, and attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha. While in college, I worked for Northwestern Bell and AT&T. After earning my undergraduate degree, I continued my career with AT&T. Nine years later I enrolled in the University of Nebraska College of Law on a full scholarship and accepted a position with Exxon in Houston upon graduation. Today, I’m CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide, a company I formed in 1997 after practicing law for Exxon and working for the United States Department of Justice and Kutak Rock, an international law firm.
What experiences at Nebraska best prepared you for your career?
The education and experiences I gained from attending the University of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska College of Law are priceless and have enabled me to compete and succeed in the workplace, business and in life. I cannot overstate how the quality of the education I obtained at the college prepared me to be an astute business owner and leader.
Under then-Dean Harvey Perlman, students were provided a customized skills program designed to ensure we succeeded. I credit the program to my academic success at the University of Nebraska College of Law and at the University of Iowa College of Law as a visiting student. I did not fully appreciate the quality of education we received at Nebraska until I attended the University of Iowa, where I was not only able to compete but soared, earning the highest marks on exams and for classes.
Participating in Moot Court competitions, Trial Advocacy and the Legal Clinic enabled me to develop and sharpen my advocacy skills. My participation in student government associations helped me to understand the significance of exercising discipline and the need for order. Most importantly, I was introduced to politics and quickly learned its impact on practically every decision in life. I left law school fully equipped with everything I needed to succeed, which is evident from the things I have been able to accomplish.
Some of my accomplishments include being named as a Woman of Distinction by the Women Business Enterprise National Council and have served as president of the Houston Lawyers Association and chair of the African American Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.
What influenced your decision to pursue law and start your own company?
My enrollment in law school was a dream delayed. At the age of 27, with young children, I began to pursue a career in law. Although my dream was to practice public service law, I accepted a position with Exxon that was both conducive to a family environment and also afforded me the opportunity to do numerous things to help people who could not afford to hire attorneys. Later, after I decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I started my own company. Almost immediately and unexpectedly, the business thrived.
Why is elevating the careers and voices of women and minorities so important?
As a woman and minority, I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of promoting women and minorities and giving them a voice. I cannot count the times I showed up somewhere, and my opinion and presence seemed to have been discounted before I uttered a word. Time and again, I have been able to win over colleagues, clients and foes with my insight, perspectives and exercise of diplomacy. All women and minorities need to have the door opened and a chance to be heard. It is only by giving women and minorities a seat at the table that can we truly level the playing field.
How are companies stronger when their workforces are more diverse?
Companies are stronger when they have input that captures all cultures, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. You can provide the best service or develop the best widget only when you truly understand how your service or product will impact every potential stakeholder. When you don’t have the right people at the table, you risk excluding people, characteristics and attributions based on the lack of knowledge and firsthand input. Without having representation of all perspectives at the table, it is impossible for a company to rise to its fullest potential.
What one accomplishment are you most proud of?
Although my business has received numerous awards — I’ve gotten standing ovations from keynote presentations and served on numerous boards, what I am most proud of is that I have lived my life being true to myself and treated people with dignity, respect and compassion and have strived to demonstrate the highest of integrity in all things.
What has it meant to you to give back to your alma mater through time and financial support?
Giving, to me, means when I die my life will not have been in vain. It means I did something to help someone other than my family, friends and myself. It means I tried to be the change I wanted to see. And, most significantly, it means that every year one University of Nebraska College of Law student will not have to worry about tuition.
Why should other Nebraska graduates consider doing so?
I give, in general, because I believe that to whom much is given, much is required and, specifically to the College of Law, because it is the primary reason I have the access, contacts and resources to help others. Giving is a way to pay forward the education that enabled you to be where you are today.