A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Rudene Haynes is a pioneer, part of her family’s first generation of college graduates and one of the youngest partners at the mammoth Richmond law firm Hunton & Williams.
At age 31, Haynes became the first black, female partner at the venerable firm to come up through the ranks, having started her career there in 1999. She represents the Government National Mortgage Association, or Ginnie Mae, which provides funding to mortgage lenders.
But more important, Haynes looks out for others — particularly young people growing up in disadvantaged homes. As a volunteer at the William Byrd Community House, which offers Head Start classes for children younger than 5, Haynes is witness to a stark difference in development of language and other skills.
It’s not that her children — Rabbie, 7, and Rachel, 2 — are more gifted than the children at William Byrd, she says, but they’ve always had access to books, swimming lessons and other opportunities. “I think a child’s success is dependent on their exposure to a lot of things,” Haynes says. “I want to even the playing field.”
That sense of justice also applies to teenagers and young adults; she belongs to the Midlothian chapter of Jack and Jill, a group of mothers who are working to create the next generation of African-American leaders. And in the national Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s first class of fellows, Haynes and her colleagues mentored minority law students to bring more diversity to the profession. The numbers are improving, she notes, but conversations about gender and race bias are long overdue in many law firms.
“The idea behind the mentoring program is that we have to give them the tips” that will help them find success, Haynes says. “If legal jobs are hard to find, period, think how hard it is to distinguish yourself as a minority candidate.”