15 Minutes with LeadBoston Alum Kimberly West
YW Boston sat down with Kimberly West (LeadBoston Class of 2016), Specialist Prosecutor at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, for our latest “15 Minutes With” interview. Kimberly spoke about her LeadBoston experience and her career in Boston at the Attorney General’s Office and internationally.
YW Boston: What are a few of your most meaningful professional milestones since you participated in LeadBoston?
Kimberly: Since participating in LeadBoston in 2016, I’ve had the privilege of enriching my career and broadening my perspective. One of the most significant experiences was serving as Criminal Bureau Chief as part of Governor Healy’s staff at the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) from 2015-2019. In that role, I oversaw operations of the Criminal Bureau, including the Human Trafficking Division, a crucial initiative aimed at combating a grave issue during the opioid epidemic. During my tenure, we also executed the largest State Police search warrant in Massachusetts history with the Gaming Unit, demonstrating the effectiveness of interagency cooperation in addressing complex challenges.
Beyond traditional prosecutorial duties, I also had the opportunity to contribute to policy work, particularly in the realm of gun reform. Our efforts culminated in the Attorney General instituting an enforcement ban on assault weapons, a significant achievement that extended beyond the typical scope of a prosecutor’s responsibilities. This success underscored the importance of policy advocacy and its potential to affect positive change.
One of the most remarkable aspects of my time at the AGO was being part of an administration where the Attorney General, first assistant, deputy AG, and most bureaus were headed by women. It was an empowering experience, showcasing the progress and leadership roles that women were assuming in our field.
Now as the Specialist Prosecutor at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, I transitioned into a role where I am one of three women principals, further highlighting the progress and opportunities available for women in leadership positions. This experience is both personally fulfilling and a testament to the inclusive and diverse environments in which I have been a part.
YW Boston: How did your experience with LeadBoston shape your time in Boston?
Kimberly: One of the most valuable aspects of my LeadBoston experience was the exposure it provided to various facets of Boston’s professional world. Despite having lived in Boston for 20+ years, I discovered numerous aspects of the city of which I was previously unaware. For instance, our visits to Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) shed light on the distinct challenges and approaches each institution had in serving their respective constituencies. BMC’s dedication to its community, as exemplified by its food pantry initiative, left a profound impression on me, as did the dynamic approach to healthcare at MGH. Moreover, my participation in LeadBoston allowed me to delve into critical issues facing the city, such as affordable housing. The insights gained from this experience heightened my awareness of the pressing challenges Boston residents face daily and underscored the importance of addressing these issues collectively.
YW Boston: How do issues of equity and inclusion show up in your role at The Hague compared to your work in Boston?
Kimberly: The importance of equity and inclusion have played distinct roles in my professional experiences. In the United States, particularly during my time as a prosecutor, these issues were deeply intertwined with my responsibilities. This was especially pronounced when I served as one of the original nine commissioners on the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission, an agency created by the Massachusetts legislature to oversee all police departments in the state. In this capacity, my role involved setting and enforcing standards for police departments.
Ensuring that these standards were fair and unbiased was of utmost importance, as it meant that officers who were not certified would not be able to find employment elsewhere in the United States. This was a crucial measure to prevent problematic officers from simply moving to a different state and continuing that behavior elsewhere. It was clear to me that issues of equity and inclusion were central to the work we did at POST.
My current role in The Hague involves a more limited jurisdiction, so issues of equity and inclusion do not play as prominent a role in my day-to-day responsibilities. The nature of my work here is quite different from my previous roles in the United States, as our mandate does not involve public arrests executed by police officers on the street. While I may not be directly engaged in addressing these issues in my current capacity, I still recognize their significance and continue to advocate for equity and inclusion whenever the opportunity arises. My experiences in both Boston and The Hague have underscored the importance of these issues in upholding the rule of law and pursuing justice.
YW Boston: How have you applied your experience in LeadBoston to an international context?
Kimberly: Before LeadBoston, I lived in Boston for over two decades, but never examined critical issues such as housing and medical care in the way I do now. The program opened my eyes to these issues in a new light and instilled in me a heightened awareness and curiosity.
In an international context, the LeadBoston experience equipped me with a more discerning perspective. Compared to when I last lived in the Netherlands 10 years ago, I am now more attuned to housing issues in The Hague where, like Boston, there are challenges with building affordable accommodations. The skills and insights I gained through the program have enabled me to approach housing issues – no matter their location – with a more informed and compassionate mindset.
YW Boston: What suggestions do you have for LeadBoston alums, and others, about how they can advocate for greater equity and inclusion in Boston and beyond?
Kimberly: I have found one of the most authentic and effective ways to advocate for equity and inclusion is by incorporating it into your career. When your advocacy aligns with your profession, it becomes a natural extension of your daily life. It’s essential to leverage the unique opportunities presented by your specific profession. In my career, becoming a POST commissioner provided a platform to influence policies and standards to directly address issues of inclusion and fairness within the criminal justice system.
Furthermore, I recognize that each profession offers different avenues for advocacy. If you are a medical professional, your advocacy may revolve around healthcare access and equity, while educators can focus on promoting inclusivity in education. The key is to find ways to incorporate equity and inclusion into your professional context, making it a natural part of your role.
YW Boston: What advice would you give alums interested in international work?
Kimberly: Embarking on a career in international work is a rewarding and impactful endeavor, but the path varies depending on the field. Take the time to research the specific international opportunities and organizations that align with your interests. Are you passionate about criminal law, civil law, healthcare, diplomacy, or another field? Your choice of field will significantly influence your career trajectory in international work.
Many international roles require proficiency in a language other than your native one, as well as a deep understanding of the cultural context in which you’ll be working. If you’re particularly interested in a specific country or region, consider spending time there to gain a deeper understanding of the local context and challenges. This immersion can help determine the most suitable path for an international career. Having a passport from outside the US can also be helpful to work in international criminal law. I have neither a second passport nor speak another language, but having either helps open doors to opportunities abroad.
YW Boston: As you look forward in your career, what are you most excited about?
Kimberly: I’m thrilled to immerse myself deeply in my current role and the intricate details of the work associated with it. I’m also excited to collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds and countries. Working with people from different cultural perspectives can be enlightening, revealing, and often surprising. While I cherish working with my American colleagues, the chance to interact with international colleagues adds a new dimension to my career, fostering cross-cultural understanding and enriching my professional journey.
It’s the unexpected moments in an international career that can bring a sense of joy and camaraderie to the workplace. The other morning a Polish colleague brought homemade baked goods with him to work. I lived in Poland for a year after college and I still miss the pastries from my time there. Sharing makowiec with my new colleague and relishing in the silver lining (the baked goods were accidentally made a week before his kids needed them for school) created a small, but delightful moment of connection in the workday.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Our signature leadership program, LeadBoston, supports all individual participants as they create and implement a leadership commitment. This leadership commitment is an action plan that confronts some of the systemic inequities they’ve learned about and that are showing up in their organization. This plan, and the collective LeadBoston experience, empowers leaders to create meaningful change in their workplaces, in their communities, and in the city of Boston itself. Staff work alongside alums for a year following the program to ensure participants have what they need to see their plan through. Click here to learn more.