Once elected mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney swiftly announced he would expand his cabinet to include a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Attorney Nolan Atkinson was the man tapped for the post by Mayor-elect Kenney on Nov. 18. He’s managed diversity programs at the Philadelphia law office of Duane Morris, and he founded a consortium charged with improving ethnic and racial diversity in some of the city’s largest law firms.
“My focus is going to be trying to find those barriers in government tht are slowing us down in order to be an inclusive and efficient government,” Atkinson said. “And to make recommendations so that we are more inclusive and more diverse in our government and our city way of life.
Atkinson said that the city does have some barriers in terms of diversity — both ethnic and in gender — that prevent the best talent from coming in. He feels that some changes to the civil service rules are necessary to make changes.
“There are certain rules that says you have to take the first or the second person who scores on the exam,” he said referring to the city’s “Rule of Two” and noting a need for a change in it. “Frequently, people don’t always test well, but they have great talent.
“We’re going to take a look at [the Rule of Two] and see whether that’s something that might need examination and, potentially, redrafting of better opportunites for all folks to come in,” he added.
Atkinson is no stranger to making history. In 2010, he successfully petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to posthumously admit his great-grandfather, George Boyer Vashon, to the state bar after he was denied entry on the basis of his race.
“I think that was sort of a symbolic, visionary kind of event for a lot of people,” he said. “You can let people know that in this case that African-Americans had a history back in the 19th Century and there wer folks who should’ve been and could’ve been lawyers in this Commonwealth.”
For more of Nolan Atkinson’s interview with Jennifer Lynn, including what his office plans to do about diversity in the city’s police department, Press the Play button at the top of the page.