By some standards, Linda Gadsby was a longshot to become in-house general counsel at an organization like the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). She had to challenge stereotypes and defy expectations just to become an attorney.
“I was just a little immigrant Black girl who grew up in the Bronx,” she says. “I had never even met a lawyer, and certainly not one that looked like me.” Not only is Gadsby leading the legal services department at NBME, she also serves as chief diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer.
Gadsby’s family is from Barbados. The second-generation immigrant and first-generation college and law school student completed her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, where she was president of the Minority Undergraduate Law Society.
Although it was an overall positive experience, Gadsby found certain aspects of her time at Cornell challenging, especially when she encountered pushback and barriers as she transferred from an engineering track to the prestigious Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. As Gadsby cut through bureaucratic layers of red tape, she vowed to one day make things easier for those coming behind her.
That passion to help others propelled her to New York University (NYU) School of Law after a stint at State University of New York at Buffalo. The two-step process was designed to save money, which Gadsby now sees as a misstep. “Don’t make your graduate school choice solely based on cost because you’re talking about a pivotal decision that will significantly impact your life and your career,” she advises. “Find the school that is the best fit for you and make it work.”
NYU Law became that school for Gadsby. She took advantage of everything that the Greenwich Village campus had to offer, including remarkable professors, dedicated mentors, a diverse student body committed to public service, and a strong Black Law Students Association (BLSA), which was founded at NYU. She served on the National BLSA Board as the northeast regional director and worked with her peers to create a program that exposed high school students from underrepresented communities to the law by bringing them to campus on Saturdays and teaching them about different facets of the legal profession.
As she left the academic hub, Gadsby took a calculated risk. Instead of accepting offers from massive Manhattan firms with large labor and employment law practices, she went to Kaye Scholer, a top-notch firm, but was in a smaller practice group where she could focus on getting immediate hands-on experience in labor and employment law. She stayed for three years before going in-house as an HR counsel with AlliedSignal (now Honeywell).
Two years later, after honing her skills and deepening her professional networks, Gadsby moved to Scholastic Inc. As she contributed to the legal strategies for the global publishing company focused on literacy, books, and education, she was living her passion. Gadsby stayed at Scholastic for twenty-two years.
By 2020, Gadsby had emerged as a respected generalist. Working as a divisional general counsel for three large divisions of the business and handling commercial contracts; education, labor, and employment; immigration; and employee benefits prepped her to run a legal department.
She would get that chance at NBME. The organization creates assessments like the United States Medical Licensing Examination and others for healthcare professionals. As general counsel, Gadsby leads a dedicated team of lawyers, paralegals, and administrative professionals who are responsible for work in a variety of legal specialties.
Gadsby has been busy since coming on board in 2020. She’s taken on responsibility for the governance, volunteer services, and disability services units, while also adding new philanthropy and DEI units. Her division includes over twenty professionals.
In 2020, Gadsby and the COO, Elizabeth Azari, worked together to institutionalize DEI at NBME, and when they realized the organization needed someone to lead the function going forward, she raised her hand to become its inaugural chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer. Those working with Gadsby are continuing their long-standing efforts to weed out stereotypes and unconscious bias from NBME assessments, diversifying the staff and leadership, creating impactful educational and celebratory programs through its recently established DEI advisory council, and facilitating courageous workplace conversations about race and other DEI topics, like how systemic racism impacts medical education and healthcare.
Strong external partnerships are helping take equity and inclusion to the next level. NBME is strengthening its ties in the community through its support of STEM programs. Gadsby’s IT colleagues volunteer their time to create lessons on coding and web design for underserved students in Philadelphia’s public schools in collaboration with the University Science Center’s FirstHand program.
Gadsby has also worked to help NBME partner with the city’s Black Doctor’s Consortium (BDC) to support its new health equity medical center and hopes to offer volunteer opportunities with BDC to her staff. “We want DEI efforts to be part of everything we do at NBME,” she says.
NBME also wants to be a leading voice in the national conversation in this space. In 2023, it will host an equity in measurement and assessment conference with several sister organizations in the medical education sector to convene assessment and DEI professionals in the same room to discuss innovative solutions to further equity.
Outside of work, Gadsby is busy with many endeavors including her service for a second term on Cornell’s board of trustees, where she was once a member of the diversity task force. She is now cochair of the student life committee; a member of the audit, risk, and compliance committee; and a member of the advisory group to the president on equity.
Gadsby is also excited to be a member of the search committee for the inaugural director of Cornell’s new Center for Racial Justice and Equitable Futures. It’s a chance for the veteran leader and lawyer to fulfill that vow that she made to herself when she was an undergraduate student.
“I hope that I can make things easier for students today,” she says. “And I hope that I’m one of many who is leading by example so young people from all backgrounds can see what’s possible in life no matter where you start out and can reach their full potential.”
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