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Erikka Ryan
Erikka Ryan joined MSBA in January 2021. Her responsibilities include consulting and advising on DEI goals. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: MSBA’S DEI leader seeks systemic change

Erikka Ryan, director of equity, inclusion and foundations for the Minnesota State Bar Association, said the murder of George Floyd motivated her to focus her DEI efforts on the legal profession.

Ryan was working in DEI in higher education when Floyd was killed in May 2020.

“I was in my first job out of grad school and living in Hudson, Wisconsin, where I’m from,” Ryan said. “A predominantly white community, a very small amount of people of color, and I definitely felt the effects of that as a Black person and started to realize how important the legal field was, how much opportunity there was for systemic change and being part of that.”

Ryan joined MSBA in January 2021. Her responsibilities include consulting and advising on DEI goals. She does programming for underrepresented populations and staffs the Minnesota State Bar Foundation, which supports organizations offering legal services to the disadvantaged.

Name: Erikka Ryan

Title: Director of equity, inclusion and foundations, Minnesota State Bar Association

Education: B.S., communication disorders, M.S. in higher education, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: It makes a big difference when people are coming to a conversation with authenticity and vulnerability and curiosity over judgment. If you show up as your authentic self, we can have any sort of a conversation.

Q: What appealed to you about this opportunity with MSBA?

A: Seeing the heightened time for the law field with the national eye on the Twin Cities, it was a perfect time to aid in creating substantial change for especially the Black community in the legal field.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: I’m reading “The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X” by Les Payne and Tamara Payne. I was not educated about Black leaders growing up in my community. I’ve been reading a lot of Black biographies and they’ve not only helped me understand my own Blackness in my own journey but in my role as a leader in the DEI space.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: People not following the zipper merge.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: The bar staff. Everything I’m able to do is from the foundation of having a CEO and staff that not only believe in me, but believe in the work that I do, the goals that I have, and they provide me the resources needed to do the work.

Q: Most challenging?

A: Systemic change can move very slowly. It requires many people, many steps, a lot of time. One of the most challenging things is to remain patient and trust the work, trust myself and that what I’m doing is to hope to make significant change.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: My husband and I bought a home in north Minneapolis last year. We’re foodies, so we love going to cafes, restaurants, local businesses. Spending time in my community helps me feel grounded and at peace.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: For summer, walking along the Hudson riverfront. Getting ice cream at Knoke’s. In winter, eating at one of my favorite restaurants, Pier 500. They have heated igloos. We also have a lot of breweries so brewery hopping would be something to do.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Barack Obama. When he was running for president, I was 13 and that was an impressionable time to see someone breaking those barriers. Not having Black educators or legal leaders where I lived, that opened a lot of doors for where I previously didn’t think I could see myself.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work in diversity, equity and inclusion?

A: A lot of people think diversity, equity, inclusion work is programming, committees, implicit bias, trainings. Those are important, but we spend a significant amount of time working to change the culture of institutions to make them more equitable and inclusive.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: “Legally Blonde.” It continues to spark my passion and excitement for working in the legal field, especially as a woman.

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