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A Sit-Down With Barnes & Thornburg’s New Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director, Brittney Lee

Barnes & Thornburg recently announced Brittney Lee as its new diversity, equity and inclusion director. Brittney was the marketing services manager in the Atlanta office and the BTBlack Talent Resource Group co-lead. The firm is excited to promote an internal teammate into this role and have Brittney help lead the charge for DEI at Barnes & Thornburg. 

Can you tell us about your career journey thus far?          
I have worked in marketing, branding, and events for 14 years. I started my marketing career working in the sales department of a radio station in my college town. I loved that job because I was able to work for (and be mentored by) the station’s promotions director, who is also an African-American woman. It was my experience there (with her) that I believe first taught me the importance of representation and cultivating belonging. 

I carried this lesson with me as I transitioned to professional life in the Atlanta market, working in the areas of brand promotion, digital advertising, community outreach and business development. In 2020, I chose to join Barnes & Thornburg under the leadership of our firm’s director of marketing services, Susan Haag. I was excited about the opportunity because I was intrigued by big law, excited to bring my marketing talents to the legal profession and, from the outside, Barnes & Thornburg seemed to be different than all of the others. I learned quickly after joining that I was right. From day one, the firm’s leaders modeled what an inclusive environment looks like and John Koenig, the Atlanta office managing partner, typified what it means to be committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. From day one, I felt seen and set up for success. At my core, I am a storyteller and I thrive on bringing people together and creating community. I have had the opportunity of doing this here at the firm from the beginning and now get to utilize those skills in an entirely different way as the new diversity, equity and inclusion director. 

What led you to apply for the diversity, equity and inclusion director role?
For the last two years, I have had the privilege of helping to lead BTBlack, the firm’s African American/Black Talent Resource Group. This leadership experience inspired me and increased my appetite for driving change, curating spaces, and developing programs and platforms that create more equity and exposure within the firm. It also gave me the opportunity to work more closely with our firm diversity partner, Dawn Rosemond. It was because of her I applied for the role. 

I’m really comfortable working behind the scenes. In fact, if I had my way I would probably stay there. But I know I was created for more and I wanted to do more. When I saw the position post, I was excited about it, but immediately talked myself out of it. I knew I was qualified and I could do the work, but got into my own head. Then Dawn called and encouraged me to throw my hat into the ring. She made no promises and made it clear that there were other applicants being considered, but she challenged me to bet on myself – to raise my hand. So I did. I love DEI work and I am passionate about using my gifts to activate change. And I love working with Dawn. My time collaborating with her through my role with BTBlack was incredibly impactful for me. So I applied because I accepted the challenge to bet on myself, to grow more under her leadership, and because I know I have a lot to offer. 

What excites you the most about the future of DEI at the firm?
That it’s a bright one. What’s already been done and how the firm is already positioned is phenomenal. And now, I get to spend my time being an active participant in our aggressive march toward better. I get to help amplify the efforts already being undertaken and to chart new territory. I get to leverage my vast marketing, branding and business development skills to help create opportunities for underrepresented talent. My role signifies the firm’s continued investment in DEI and is a set-up for more good things to come.  

What is your biggest goal while in this role?
To lessen the gap that divides us through amplifying people's stories. It is not often a person can say they are seen. My biggest goal will be to create safe spaces that allow people to simply be themselves as well as build diverse pipelines of understanding. That includes bridging the gap between our attorneys and professional staff and increasing our diverse talent pool.  

How would you describe the way you think about diversity, equity and inclusion? Has it changed over time?
My time here at Barnes & Thornburg has expanded my perception of diversity, equity and inclusion. I have learned here that this work is not about quotas, best firm lists, or checking boxes, but instead, it’s about people. Every person comes to the table with their own unique lived experience. In fact, through my involvement as a talent resource group co-lead, I had heard the stories of many of our teammates about their efforts to navigate work and a myriad of other life issues. I’ve learned here that all of that comes with them to work and informs how they show up. So we have to cultivate an environment that makes room for this reality and promotes understanding and inclusion. I have learned here at Barnes & Thornburg that change on the DEI front is best accomplished with a people-first mindset. Both Dawn and our firm managing partner, Andy Detherage, lead in this regard, which I think sets Barnes & Thornburg up for continued success.   

What is one thing you want team Barnes & Thornburg to know about you as you take on this new challenge?
That I care about people more than positions – and that I am willing to do the work it takes to narrow the gaps that separate us. Also, I believe that there is power in knowing a person’s story. There are so many threads of similarity in the human story, and more often than not (if given the opportunity to listen with open ears and open hearts), people can find similarities of connection. I care about others and have a commitment to equity. My time here and unique vantage point of working laterally across teams at Barnes & Thornburg has shown that we have so many people committed to the work of inclusion and creating spaces and platforms for the voices in our firm to tell their stories and share the experiences that have shaped their lives and understanding of the world. I believe in the diversity, equity and inclusion work Barnes & Thornburg has invested in through the years and I am committed to making it one of the best places to work in the legal community. 

What is a mantra you live by?
God, I’ll do my best. You do the rest.



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