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REBECCA BAUMGARTNER: SPEARHEADING A SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE IN DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

A believer of resilience, adaptability, and flexibility, Rebecca Baumgarter is of the opinion that if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that nothing will go according to plan. One will have to pivot on a moment's notice. If you are slow or resistant to change or setback, you will be unable to stay relevant in any type of market disruption. Inculcating the same approach and traits, Rebecca has set a noteworthy instance of an impactful leadership. Currently, she is the Sr. Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Ogletree Deakins.

From Working at a Casino to Being an Inclusion Manager

I took a fairly serpentine path to where I am today. My first professional role was in restaurant management at a casino. I soaked up every morsel of knowledge and experience that I could. Unfortunately, I didn't necessarily have the guidance or support to really help me understand how to implement this information, how to actually be a leader in my own right instead of mimicking leadership traits of others. There were some painful times, and I became dedicated to seek out knowledge and development for myself. The more I learned, the more I realized that I didn't actually like the operations side of my job. I became extremely disengaged and didn't feel like I was where I was supposed to be. The only enjoyment I had, came from leading and developing people. I took advantage of an opportunity to assist the company's corporate training department and become a training facilitator for the local property. I felt like a whole new world opened up for me and I finally was able to be my best self at work. Shortly after, I was hired into a training and leadership development role at another casino company.

"By being inclusive, a leader is creating a culture of belonging - where people feel safe to be authentic and have their voice heard."

Because of the nature of a casino's operations, the work force is extremely diverse. From its EVS/custodial crew to table dealers to marketing professionals, there is a vast array of difference in terms of ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, education level, etc. I noticed that there was not a strong effort to take these differences into consideration in my department. I have always been focused on equitable treatment, meeting individuals where they are and giving them what they need to succeed as opposed to a "one-size-fits-all" approach. This was my first real "a-ha" moment regarding how historically underrepresented individuals were getting left behind.

After moving into a Human Resources Manager role, I began working at a law firm that was at the beginning of its D&I journey. I became the staff leader of the attorney inclusion and diversity committee and was able to work directly on issues like access to development and advancement for non-majority individuals in a formal capacity. Similar to how becoming a facilitator earlier in my career felt like a new world, this was truly transformational. When Ogletree Deakins posted a position for a diversity and inclusion leader, it felt like the stars were aligned for me.

Making a Difference

Most of my focus right now is on Ogletree's equal justice task force that the firm created in response to the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent civil unrest that followed. The belief that we have a responsibility as legal professionals to advance justice led the formation of ODACT (Ogletree Deakins Act, Change, and Transform). The group focuses on four main areas where we feel we can make a difference: Voter Education, Internal Policy Reform, Criminal Justice Reform and Pro Bono, and Local Office support and education. Even though it was only formed in July 2020, the group has already made huge steps. We organized a firm-wide volunteer effort where dozens of Ogletree lawyers and paralegals volunteered for shifts staffing the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law's non-partisan National Voter Hotline and served as Poll Watchers. We have already created and implemented new firm policies around billable hour credit for DEI work, unlimited time off for voting, creating a firm holiday for Juneteenth, and hosting open forums for attorneys and staff to have a safe space to discuss the issues that are impacting their emotional and mental well-being. We partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative and Bryan Stephenson to raise almost $100,000 for EJI through an internal fundraising campaign. We are also leveraging the firm's collective labor and employment expertise to work with clients to provide employer qualified immunity and training on matters regarding employment for those with arrest and conviction records.

This is a top priority for me and the firm. We have the ability to impact not only our Ogletree family, but our clients and communities as well.

Being Flexible is the Key

For me, impactful leadership is the ability to be flexible with your style and approach. Every single person is unique in how they learn, respond, grow, etc. You can't be effective and impactful to every one of these individuals with the same leadership style. Some people thrive under a more democratic style, others need a more structured transactional approach. A strong leader is able to dip into each of these buckets to meet their team where they are while also staying true to themselves.

There are two traits that I feel all leaders need to have in order to be effective: humility and inclusiveness. When you are humble, you are able to acknowledge and recognize your mistakes. When you don't center yourself in your leadership role, it creates trust. By being inclusive, a leader is creating a culture of belonging - where people feel safe to be authentic and have their voice heard. Numerous studies have shown that when people feel like they are valued, not only are they more engaged in their work, but the company experiences increased productivity and profitability.

A Roadmap Ahead

Ogletree has always been a leading force in DEI in the legal industry. I think our newly created equal justice task force, ODACT, will continue to provide opportunities for further growth, development, and innovation. Generally, law firms tend to focus most of their efforts on lawyers, as they are revenue generating, and fail to be truly inclusive of professional staff. One of my goals moving forward is to disrupt this habit at Ogletree and have more cohesion and support around staff diversity efforts. I envision a structure that is not only inclusive of all employees at Ogletree, where they are interconnected and collaborative, but provides holistic support from ethnicity, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, religion, mental health and emotional wellness, and more.

I am always looking to grow and develop. Ogletree has been extremely supportive of any professional development or skills training that I have expressed interest in. Not only have I been able to achieve my Certified Diversity Executive credentials, I am working towards a coaching certification this year. One of my biggest goals, however, is to increase my involvement here locally in Kansas City. There are so many great organizations fighting for and working towards racial equity and justice in our communities, and I feel that I can help make an impact close to home.

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