Kimberly Bullock Gatling understands the importance of support from the top when working to make an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts sustainable. And it’s more than just getting backing from leadership. It’s also like running a marathon—it takes patience, persistence, and commitment.
As a college student, Gatling studied engineering. When she pivoted to a different vocation, she took her self-discipline and willingness to dive deep into an issue’s complexities to a career in intellectual property law, a field benefiting from an engineer’s attention to detail.
Gatling is now taking her considerable knowledge, skills, and attributes to her role as law firm partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Fox Rothschild LLP, a national firm with 950 attorneys and offices from coast to coast. She has the energy and drive to take on both facets of her job: diversity and inclusion and client work.
“My job as chief diversity and inclusion officer is to develop and implement programs and policies that support our goals of increasing and promoting a diverse workforce and inclusive environment at all levels throughout the firm,” Gatling says. “At the same time, my clients’ businesses remain at the heart of what I do, and I plan to continue my intellectual property practice while managing this important new role.”
Leadership at Gatling’s firm approached her in March 2020 about taking on the newly created role. Before taking the position, she had served as chair of the diversity committee at her former firm, which combined with Fox Rothschild in 2018. She agreed to take the position of chief diversity and inclusion officer in the week leading up to Memorial Day, just before the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
So, the wheels were set in motion for Gatling’s new role before Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide outpouring and discussion on systemic racism in society—a discussion with impact within the firm. She notes that Firmwide Managing Partner Mark Morris addressed systemic racial discrimination in June by publicly stating: “Black lives matter. That statement is a truth independent of politics and debate.”
To make the various diversity and inclusion efforts effective, “buy-in from the top is critical,” Gatling says. Her advice to others in diversity officer roles is “to develop a strong and trusting relationship with the organizational leadership so they allow you to push them outside of their comfort zones.”
Gatling has advised the firm on ideas for addressing discrimination that have resulted in the rollout of several initiatives. “The firm followed through by launching a national pro bono initiative, partnering with organizations throughout the country to assist and support Black communities, including working with Black-owned businesses and assisting individuals with legal issues related to criminal justice and housing,” she says.
“Fox has also made significant donations to The Innocence Project and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, two national organizations our attorneys are already active with, that promote civil rights, racial equality, and social and criminal justice and equity,” adds Gatling.
Meet People Where They Are
Taking on the diversity and inclusion role has taught Gatling important lessons, including that solutions don’t materialize in the blink of an eye. “I’ve known this for some time, but I have now seen firsthand that sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion work is a marathon, not a sprint,” she says. “Because of this, we are taking our time to focus on structural changes that will cause lasting change.”
Gatling’s work also has reminded her of the importance of meeting people where they are. “Not everyone is at the same point with their understanding of this work, so it is important to meet them wherever they are and enlighten them on the importance and substance,” she says.
The firm’s commitment to diversity predates her position. Gatling says Fox has long had a Diversity Committee, a Women’s Initiative, and an LGBTQ & Allies Initiative. She says the firm has been public about its commitment to promoting diversity both as a moral issue and as a vehicle to better serve clients and communities.
“In creating the position of chief diversity and inclusion officer, leadership recognized and addressed the need to have an individual who is responsible for diversity, equality, and inclusion strategy across all facets of the firm,” Gatling says.
A pledge from the firm’s leadership is critical, Gatling says. “I’m extremely pleased that firm leadership has committed to intensive diversity, equity, and inclusion training, at my urging,” she says. “I see this as an essential vote of confidence in our mission, because the tone of organizational culture is set at the top.”
That commitment also will be crucial as she and others in firm leadership design a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy “to ensure the lessons we learn in training translate into improved policies and directives on how we engage in the business of the firm, what I like to think of as ‘training-plus,’” Gatling says.
Training is a key part of Gatling’s diversity and inclusion mission. “I’m currently working on developing a training plan that will include firmwide bias training and inclusiveness training,” she says. “Once that is implemented, we will assess its effectiveness and adjust our program accordingly. We plan to evaluate our efforts and seek feedback from participants and stakeholders on an ongoing basis.”
Employee resource groups are another part of her efforts. In addition to the Women’s Initiative and LGBTQ & Allies Initiative, the firm has a working parents group. “These groups provide support to members in a variety of ways, such as mentoring, continuing legal education programs, networking and marketing assistance, and promoting members’ achievements throughout the firm and beyond. We will be evaluating all of our affinity groups and may be establishing more based on demand.”