When Kimberly Bullock Gatling began her college career at North Carolina A&T State University, she had full intentions of becoming an engineer and working at NASA upon graduation. This was partly due to her father, who had a lengthy career at the space program, and she hoped to follow in his inspiring footsteps. However, fate had different plans.
While attending a graduate school fair, she was introduced to a practicing attorney who explained how patent law combines law with engineering and science. Intrigued, she decided to go to law school and focus on intellectual property. As she puts it, she saw it as an opportunity to do something extraordinary while still utilizing her technology skills. Today, she’s not only an attorney with nearly 20 years of experience, but she’s also a partner and the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Fox Rothschild. In these turbulent times, she’s been a critical leader in navigating difficult—yet essential—conversations. Here, she spoke with The Ladders about what stands out in an interview, the hardest parts of being an executive, and more:
What are the trends you see within your industry currently?
The field of intellectual property law is not one that has traditionally been diverse. Registered patent attorneys must have an engineering or science background, and those are typically heavily male-dominated fields. When I finished law school in the late 1990s, there still weren’t many Black patent attorneys as compared to the field as a whole, let alone many Black female patent attorneys. However, it’s been gratifying to watch that slowly change. I’ve been pleased with how much the field has diversified over the past two decades. We have made great strides.
How would you describe your company culture?
Fox Rothschild is an entrepreneurial firm with a collegial and collaborative culture. While we are integrated and, as a national law firm, work together to assist one another’s clients in their legal matters, we also very much encourage attorneys from early in their careers to build their own book of business, to find a niche in which they can be successful. We’re also continuing to develop a diverse and inclusive workforce. We’re proud that for the second consecutive year, we received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), the nation’s premier benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality.
What can a job applicant do to catch your attention? What stands out the most to you?
I think candidates often peel interesting personal information off their resumes, perhaps to keep the content solely focused on professional accomplishments and experiences. I would encourage the inclusion of talents and hobbies because it shows diversity in unexpected and interesting ways. I love to learn unique things about job applicants through their resumes and interviews.
I once interviewed a summer associate candidate who shared that he played numerous musical instruments. When I glanced down as his resume, however, it didn’t mention this talent. I encouraged him to add that to his resume because it is part of what makes him different and unique. I think about diversity very holistically – even beyond the traditional definitions such as race, gender, etc. Diversity of life experiences and skills are also important, and such defining and unique traits always stand out to me.
What’s the most challenging part of being a leader/manager? What’s the best part?
I find it especially challenging when I don’t receive the buy-in on ideas for which I think there should be significant buy-in, particularly in areas involving diversity and inclusion. It’s interesting to me that some people are so uncomfortable talking about diversity issues, and some simply don’t want to even address the topic at all, in any context. In those situations, I have to remember that I need to meet people where they are and then apply some hopefully positive influence.
The best part and the part I’m most excited about is this opportunity to take our firm to a new level with our diversity and inclusion efforts. And to do so now, when the conversation about diversity and inclusion and Black Lives Matters in this country is at a significant and poignant moment, is particularly motivating for me.
What’s your advice for tackling big projects at a company-wide level?
First and foremost: listen and assess. Understand the organizational needs and concerns that are the impetus for the project, which importantly includes hearing from everyone involved, including employees and customers
Then, focus on people. Assemble a team of key players who can help outline a strategy and define measurable goals. And ensure you have buy-in from the top to execute the strategy.
From there, it’s on to implementation. Make sure you roll out the project to garner support and excitement while motivating people to achieve those measurable goals.
How do you keep your staff motivated? How do you motivate yourself?
Diversity work motivates me because there is so much to be done. Even if I am exhausted, I remind myself how grateful I am to be in this role. And how the work I do as the firm’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer will impact a whole generation of budding attorneys behind me, both at the firm and in the legal profession. I am a positive person, and I hope that rubs off on my staff too.
How do you find a balance between work and life demands?
It is quite challenging, but I view each day like a scale. Family may outweigh work and my other civic obligations on some days, and other days, the scale tips in the opposite direction. So long as the scale isn’t leaning in one direction too often, it’s all good. But I am happy and motivated by being busy in both my professional life and personal life.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a POC in this industry?
Mainly as a younger POC in law, I struggled with bringing my whole self to work. Many Black people in corporate America and in law firms discuss the pressure they feel to code-switch in the workplace: assimilating to the majority in terms of how we dress, how we wear our hair, what we talk about and how we talk about it. However, as I have grown older and gained confidence in my place in the law, I have felt more comfortable being myself in the workplace. Additionally, while I didn’t experience this personally, I know colleagues in the industry. They felt they weren’t given the same opportunities or weren’t cultivated for leadership in the same ways as non-diverse colleagues. Some POC also have, unfortunately, experienced micro-aggressions in the workplace throughout their careers.
How do you feel about the current climate in America right now in regards to race? Is it changing your work culture?
The work culture is absolutely changing. People are having candid and robust conversations about race and equity. They are talking about the impact of the current climate on employee morale. It’s also compelling organizations to focus more intentionally and purposefully on diversity and inclusion. We’re examining where and how we can improve our own systems and policies to boost diversity with respect to recruiting, retention and promotion. And organizations are also now recognizing, celebrating and embracing differences, so much so that diverse employees no longer feel that they have to assimilate to any majority to find success.