A Fond Passion for Wine
This is the first of six articles that will examine lawyers and their work practices by day in contrast to the personal interests that they pursue outside of the office. The goal of this column is to enlighten our readers about the private endeavors of attorneys with whom we come in contact in the profession. It is our hope that this series of articles allow our readers to see the other side of lawyers, who manage to pursue unique interests despite their demanding careers. Join us in reading about Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, who is an oenophile by avocation.
Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard
“I love the big red wines: the bold Cabernets and the powerful Zinfandels,” enthuses Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard, who is an executive director of both the Boston Lawyers Group (BLG) and the Lawyers Collaboration for Diversity (LCD) and an oenophile by avocation. “While I’ve always enjoyed wine with dinner, I didn’t used to like to drink wine without food; that is, until I was exposed to some wonderful sippers—especially the Spanish rosés and some white Burgundies nicely chilled.”
Hebsgaard could go on and on. A founding charter member of Divas Uncorked—a Boston-based group of professional African American women who enjoy wine—she possesses a passion for the gods’ nectar and is eager to share it, particularly with other minority women and people of color.
“Our group is about being wine savvy, not wine snobby,” says Hebsgaard. “Over the years, the wine industry has made the mistake of neglecting the buying power of women and people of color. We’re doing all we can to change that while having as much fun as possible.”
a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
Since 1999, the 10-member group has met monthly to taste and learn about wine: from the nuances of bouquet and the tradition of vintage to the partnering of wine with food. And beginning in 2001, Divas Uncorked expanded to include vintner dinners and its annual sold out “Wine, Women and…” conferences.
What began as a fun night out has evolved into an incorporated entity with its own private label with the Mendocino Wine Company, Divas Uncorked Chardonnay. And as the Divas Uncorked Collaborative Consortium, the entrepreneurial members work with wine producers, sellers, and financial advisors to promote inclusiveness as well as their marketable brand in the wine community.
“Because I do a lot of professional entertaining, and regularly go to good restaurants with friends from Boston’s chapter of 100 Black Women, I need to be comfortable with selecting wines,” says Hebsgaard. “Divas Uncorked has been the solution.”
Carolyn Golden Hebsgaard in
her 800-bottle wine cellar at home.
Wine plays a big part in Hebsgaard’s home life too: To hold their collection, Hebsgaard and her husband, Poul Hebsgaard, president and CEO of technology company cBrain, have built an 800-bottle wine cellar and tasting room in their Boston-area home.
For Hebsgaard, who is also mother to adult son Byron, her vocation and avocation dovetail nicely. Both allow her to bring like-minded people together to work on the issue of inclusiveness. A consultant with BLG (a Boston consortium of more than 40 major law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal offices) for 10 years and three years at LCD in Hartford, Conn., Hebsgaard supports both groups and their efforts to identify, recruit, advance, and retain attorneys of color. She currently splits her week between offices at Brown Rudnick in Boston and Shipman and Goodwin in Hartford.
“I’ve been advocating diversity since the 1950s,” says Hebsgaard. “I say that because I’m a product of the Brown Act. I’ve desegregated everything: the Y, the Girl Scouts, middle school, and high school.”
something a person does in
addition to a principal occupation,
esp. for pleasure; hobby.
In 1954, nine-year-old Hebsgaard was one of a number of African American school children selected from inner-city Wilmington, Del. schools to participate in a creative integration program. While she was given the opportunity to attend a public school in the Eastlake neighborhood on the outskirts of Wilmington, her family was offered new, government-subsidized housing in the same community.
“My grandmother in Georgia was not too happy about the idea; she understandably feared for my safety,” recalls Hebsgaard. “But for my mother—better school, new townhouse—it was a no-brainer. We moved to Eastlake.”
When Hebsgaard attended P.S. DuPont High School, the student body was 98 percent Jewish. Out of the 400 students in her senior class, 11 were African American. Hebsgaard remembers it as an unhappy time.
“Academically, I was more than prepared,” says Hebsgaard, “but as a minority, I wasn’t able to participate fully. I recall the dean pulling me out of cheerleader tryouts to tell me that despite my abilities, there was no way I could be on the team—it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel to games at other schools because of the racial strife in lower Delaware at the time. To that, I slammed her door so hard the glass shattered.”
For Hebsgaard, college would be different: She refused to desegregate yet another institution. So, despite having won a much-needed full academic scholarship to a predominantly white university, she was determined to find a way to attend Delaware State University, an historically black college/university.
The young woman’s single-mindedness paid off: Her father’s employer, famed Republican financier John Rollins, secured Hebsgaard a scholarship to Delaware State, where she cheered, sang in the choir, protested, and made the dean’s list. Later, Hebsgaard earned a master’s degree in social work from Temple University in Philadelphia. Despite her current involvement with diversity and the legal profession, she is not a lawyer. “I think it’s a noble career,” says Hebsgaard cheerily. “But not one I ever aspired to.”
The Boston Lawyers Group hired Hebsgaard anyway. During the interview process, she convinced management that in order to turn the corner on this initiative, the group needed someone with a business background, and not an attorney.
“Until recently, law firms have not thought of themselves as businesses,” says Hebsgaard. “Had they, the diversity effort would have moved more quickly. It has taken them 15 to 20 years longer than Corporate America to understand and value difference. Finally, Corporate America is saying, ‘I’m not going to be held to this test and not pass it along to my vendors. Law firms must also engage in the total community.’ ”
Hebsgaard’s work at BLG and LCD also requires her to oversee pipeline programming for college students of color. This includes matching students with mentors and summer jobs in law offices, and enabling them to better see themselves as law students and as a part of the legal profession. This is especially important for first-generation college students and African American males, says Hebsgaard, whose law school numbers are diminishing. Led by Hebsgaard, both the BLG and the LCD, are involved in all phases of the aspiring lawyer and young attorney experience.
Consistently, she reminds white male partners of their role in promoting and sustaining diversity: “These guys can’t just throw in young attorneys of color and expect them to swim on their own,” Hebsgaard explains. “If young attorneys are going to make it after the fourth year, they need to develop a book of business, and that requires a little help from the established partners. In addition, I continually bring in general counsel from major corporations to express their expectations.”
Hebsgaard admits that she is a nag, and a very good one at that, but it is what she was hired to do. She considers diversity in the legal profession to be a work in progress.
“When I’m feeling low, I think about all the talent out there that can fit into a pipeline program, and that reenergizes me. Young, sharp, savvy, articulate young people, all thinking about a career in law,” says Hebsgaard. “Then I see the young minority associate who just made partner, and I remember meeting him when he was still in law school, and I think ‘Okay, I can do this.’ ”
Similarly, Divas Uncorked continues to grow, routinely opening the world of wine to people for whom it was once closed. “I came up at a very interesting time,” says Hebsgaard. “Today, I feel very contemporary without forgetting my rich history of participating in change in this country. It creates a passion for creating access for yourself and others.” DB
During 2007, MCCA® will be featuring Divas Uncorked and their unique approach to wines at special networking events in Dallas, Chicago, DC, San Francisco, and New York.
From the January/February 2007 issue of Diversity & The Bar®