S3:E8 – Understanding Inclusion & Diversity in the Workplace
Join us for another episode in our Conversations That Count series as CRI Human Capital Partner Sandi Guy, Supervising Senior Andrew Clavin, and Staff Accountant Shakyla Cooper discuss inclusion and diversity within the accounting profession. In the current business climate, commonly referred to as the “Great Resignation,” it’s no secret that employers are overwrought with issues of employee retention. Listen in as we characterize some of the inclusion and diversity essentials in an increasingly divergent job market.
From Carr, Riggs and Ingram, this is It Figures: The CRI Podcast, an accounting advisory and industry focused podcast for business and organization leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone who is looking to go beyond the status quo.
Good afternoon, and welcome to another episode of the It Figures podcast. My name is Sandi Guy and I’m the Human Capital partner at Carr, Riggs and Ingram.
And today, I am really excited to moderate a discussion exploring inclusion a little bit more. As we’ve seen, no industry is immune from the great resignation. People of all demographics are leaving either the workforce all together or making their side hustle a full-time hustle or just changing employers, pursuing their passion, whatever it is. Nobody has been immune from this, and it’s really been a challenge for people like myself who are accountable for recruiting and retention of organizations.
And so, as I think about the great resignation and why people are leaving and how, hopefully they’re going to come back, keep praying they’re going to come back and I think in terms of what makes somebody choose an employer and then stay with an employer nowadays, if somebody stays with an employer seven years, God, that’s a long time and I’m of the generation that, “Hey, you’re second employer out of college. That’s where you’re going to retire from.” I’m not at my second employer. I think I’m on my third or my fourth at this point, but still, how can you recruit and retain people and engage them? And the more I think about that, I just keep coming back to inclusion and I’m not trying to exclude diversity. Diversity is important, but I always think that if you don’t have an inclusive culture, you’re just creating a diverse revolving door and not really ultimately solving the problem. For me, ultimately, inclusion is the key.
So what I thought I would do is have a discussion with two individuals who, at least in public accounting, come from that very sought after demographic, that everybody is trying to recruit, everybody is trying to engage, so I’ve asked a experienced staff accountant and a supervising senior to join me today, as we explore inclusion and what it is and what it means and creating an inclusive environment and all that great stuff.
With that, we’ll take a moment and I’ll ask my two guests to introduce themselves, starting with Andrew.
Hey everyone. So thanks for joining us. My name is Andrew Clavin. I’m a Supervising Senior in audit based out of our New Orleans office and I have been with CRI for five years, this coming August, so happy to be here.
We are so happy to have you. And then Shakyla?
My name is Shakyla, I’m a staff at the Atlanta office. I’ve been here for about a year and a half in our audit department.
Well, I’m thrilled y’all were willing to do this today and both my guests, I said, “Look, I just want to have a really open and honest discussion around inclusion,” and I very much appreciate both of them being willing to do that.
When I think about inclusion, I thought, “Okay, let me go see what the actual definition is or the workplace definition,” and SHRM defines inclusion as the practice of providing everyone with equal access to opportunities and resources.
When I think of inclusion, I certainly think about that but I thought about a couple of other things, but I wanted to start with my guess. I’m curious what both of you think, how you would define inclusion or what you think inclusion is. And Andrew, I’ll start with you. When you think inclusion in the workplace, what do you think about.
Yeah. For me, Sandi, I would say inclusion is just making sure that everyone feels welcome regardless of sexual orientation, gender demographic, where they come from, just making sure that everyone feels welcome and safe and also, I would say, related to work or professional environment, that they feel like their own beliefs or where they come from or their demographic won’t affect their advancement in the workplace as well. Yep, that’s it for me.
What about you, Shakyla? When you think of inclusion, what do you think about?
When I think of inclusion, I think about everybody being able to bring their differences to the table and feel like they belong at that table and that their differences are also celebrated. Sometimes, I feel like when we’re trying to be inclusive, we ignore the fact that people are different and act like we’re celebrating the fact that we have differences, then we’re not actually creating an inclusive environment. So for me, inclusion means I can come as myself and you also celebrate for who I am.
I would say for me, it’s the same thing. I think it’s being able to bring your whole self to work or your authentic self to work. When I think in terms of whole self, some people, they don’t like to bring their whole sales to work. They like to keep your private life private and I don’t want to talk about what’s going on in my private life. And listen, there are days I feel that way too. But as long as people feel comfortable coming to work and bringing whatever part of their authentic self, that’s always what I thought about when it comes to inclusion. And I think it’s been interesting to me as CRI has gone down our journey of diversity and inclusion and when we were doing unconscious bias training that oftentimes, people…
I’m a naturally curious person, so I’m just going to ask questions. I’m Jewish, if somebody’s Christian, not only do I welcome them asking me questions about my faith, I love to ask them questions about theirs and we did an internal conversation that counts with Phyllis Ingram where she and I spent a lot of time asking those questions of each other. To me, that felt very inclusive of both of us. I’m kind of curious, are there things that you have experienced that made you feel, let’s start with positive, that made you feel more inclusive or things during your day or is it just, I don’t know, in this regard I feel inclusive? I’ll put you both on the spot. Do both of you feel comfortable bringing your whole selves to work at CRI?
I would say definitely, I do. And funny enough, when I was interviewing and came in for my interview with CRI, at the prior firm I was at, I actually came out to everyone like after I had started.
And when I came to CRI, I was kind of young and thinking in my head, “Wait, do I have to come out again? How does this work? What do I do?” And so, when I first started at CRI, I was like, “You know what? During the interview, I’m going to somehow casually drop, oh, I have a boyfriend,” and just see how it plays out, because I want to see their reaction because a lot of time, people’s faces will tell you what you want to know without them even having to speak, so just their reaction to it. And during my interview with a partner, I said, “Hey,” I was casually working in. I just said, “Oh, my boyfriend and I are renovating our house, whatever,” and her reaction was just so chill and just so casual. It didn’t give me any red flags per se. Whereas, sometimes when you say that with some family, friends, or even some family members, like growing up saying that, you get this weird reaction and you automatically know, “Okay, the conversation stops here,” or you just feel uncomfortable. You don’t feel comfortable being yourself around those people.
For me, that was something very important and I feel like specifically, in the New Orleans office, I want to give a shout out to Kath and Becky who have been super inclusive just from the very beginning and just simple things like asking, “How is my partner doing or how’s everything going with you guys?” Just simple things that you would ask anyone else, those kind of things go a long way for me in just feeling included in inclusive environment.
That’s so interesting to me because I couldn’t imagine going into an interview and in my mind going, “Okay, let me casually drop my husband,” or something like that to sit there and to bring it up in an interview, absolutely but to have that moment of, “Okay, I’m going to do this.” I would never think that. It wouldn’t cross my mind.
I put you on the phone, push Shakyla on the spot because I want to talk about balance a little bit and your perspective as a member of Balance. So Andrew, you were talking about if you are LGBTQ and that, you can’t outwardly see. You’re coming in for an interview and okay, “Let me drop in and see what the vibe is,” but Shakyla you’re African American and you’re actually a member of Balance, which is our employee resource group for Blacks and African American. I’m kind of curious about that, through the interview process or just even Balance in general because the only members in there are Blacks and African American Employees, I was on there once it got started and I rode off.
I think for me, feeling included started before I actually started at CRI.
I know. Exactly. So I think a lot of people know the story, but when I was recruiting, I was a non-traditional student, I had already been through college, got a degree, worked a full time job, and then decided to go back for accounting and I didn’t even know accounting recruiting was a thing until I was in the master’s program.
We’re in this big gymnasium and all the firms are there and CRI is like, “Absolutely.” I didn’t even know who they were. I hadn’t been by the booth, I was about to head out and my friend who was like, “Go see this firm. You’re going to really love them.” And I walked up and I saw Shanny who was also a member of Balance.
In that moment, I knew the inclusion was there. It was like I fixated on CRI. It was like, “This is where I want to work. This is where I feel like I’m going to be able to bring myself to the table,” and it has not disappointed since that moment. I came in through the internship, so I had a interview with Matt Gunning, which was a phenomenal interview. I absolutely adore Matt. And when I came on this staff a year later and then, I think a month into being staff, Kendra in the Atlanta office sent me an email about Balance and I’m like, “I don’t really know what this is but I’m going to join in because Kendra sent the email and Kendra’s phenomenal.”
Lesson number one, always do what Kendra asked me to do. Lesson number one.
I learned that lesson really quickly, so I joined Balance. And I think from there, it’s been a part of my identity at CRI. We all come together, we recognize that we have something in common and how we want to change and how we want to make it more diverse and we get an hour a month where we just kind of get to experience each other, we get to celebrate our differences, and I think it really does help like when you are thinking about, “Do I feel like I belong at this table?” Well, I do. And Sandi, you were in Balance for a while too. I was there, so that was my introduction to you and I thought that that was extremely amazing.
So I think seeing it from of those perspectives, you’ll see companies and firms say that they’re diverse, but it’s hard to actually see it in action and I always felt like CRI was walking that talk.
Well, I want to explore that for a minute and we’ll start with you. But Andrew, I’m going to want you to respond to this as well. I guess, what my question is, and then I’ll give a little background is can you feel included if you don’t see anybody who looks like you or shares whatever your dimension of diversity is? For example, when we were starting Balance, one of our primary objectives, which, and it’s still our one of our objectives today is to increase the number of Blacks and African Americans that we have in the firm. During one of the meetings, we were talking about our recruiting strategies and being more visible on HBCUs and things like that. But at one point we got on the discussion of, we have some offices in CRI where there’s not a single black or African American. We have some offices in CRI that I think, I don’t know, Because we don’t track it, that we don’t have anybody who falls into the LGBTQ community.
Shakyla, if you were being recruited and you didn’t… Listen, Shanny’s awesome. She could have recruited me no matter what. She’s fantastic. But if you didn’t see somebody who looked like you, would it have been a deal breaker and if so, where do we start? Because that’s what I always tell people. If we have an office that doesn’t have much or any diversity or doesn’t have a Black or African American, we have to start somewhere, so let’s be honest when we go to an HBCU or somewhere and say, “Yeah, unfortunately, I don’t have somebody from this office because we don’t, but here’s who we do have, and we’re welcoming,” we have to start somewhere. So I’m curious, how would y’all feel if there wasn’t somebody, I hate to say like you, because I think everybody’s so different, but like you in that office?
I think for me, I don’t necessarily think that it would’ve been a deal breaker, it just made the decision a lot easier. I think I recruited maybe four or five firms and I didn’t see anybody who like me but I still took part in the recruiting process like they were still… I don’t know if I could say candidate because that fixated on CRI but I was still feeling it out, trying to make a decision. But I think having somebody who does represent whatever population that you come from does make it easier to feel like there is a chance that you’ll be included. And like those little nuanced things, they do make you different, won’t make you feel out of place in the workforce.
So we were talking about Kendra a minute ago, who is… Full disclosure, Kendra locked arms with me, we both said we need to start an ERG and did it together. She’s a founding member, she’s a chair and she is just a ball of fire. But she and I had a long discussion one day about, we feel like we’re teetering and that we want to be genuine and authentic and we don’t want somebody to be, I hate this word, but I’m going to use it, “Here’s my token African American that I’m going to send to this recruiting event or here’s my token, African American that we’re going to take a picture of him and put on our website.” We want be genuine and authentic but at the same time, we also want to attract people to the firm and it was just an interesting discussion. And I said, “Well, fortunately, we do have a great mix of people. Let’s get them engaged and involved,” but it is interesting.
Andrew, so I’ll come to you to answer because you are working with me on some recruiting materials and we were talking about some of the graphics that we were using and we were like, “Wow, we want to be authentic but everybody in that picture is a white man and can we at least find a picture that is diverse, but not overtly like we were trying…” So I’m curious, your thought, what would you do if there wasn’t somebody… If you didn’t meet Jordan Pageant, and there’s so many more people like you than Jordan Pageant, and how you feel about that since you and I were working on that market, that recruiting piece?
Yeah, for sure. I definitely think, like you said earlier, you can’t necessarily tell if someone is a member of the LGBTQ plus community just by their appearance. But I think a lot of it goes with whenever you first meet the firm, whether that be meeting virtually, like going to our website or LinkedIn life page, or going to a career fair and meeting someone, even if they’re not like you, like Shakyla said, if they have that just welcoming presence or just the kind of tone that comes from the top of the firm, just based on your interactions with someone, I think that actually does go a long way. And like you said, I think there’s a fine line and you do have to actually sit down and think about it. Like we said, having a picture of like all white males as a cover photo, that doesn’t really work nowadays, especially when you’re recruiting college students.
And honestly, that’s not representative of our firm, so I feel like just finding images or things to make people feel welcome, also displaying on LinkedIn or on our website, “Okay. Maybe there’s not a black or African American at our office, but hey, we have this resource group that you can be a part of and we have these things available for you.” I think just showing those things actually also goes a long way without actually seeing someone just like yourself, because at the end of the day, everyone is their own unique individual with their own unique beliefs and values and how they look both from an outside perspective and their beliefs personally, so I think it’s just about setting that tone, a welcoming tone.
Yeah, I think we need to do a whole podcast on intersectionality because to me, nobody is one diversity bucket or dimension. Everybody is this whole mosaic and I’ve said before on previous podcasts and anytime we’ve done stuff in diversity and inclusion, I’m like, “Okay, I’m a Southern white female, but statistically, you could sit me at a table with all other Southern white females,” and I probably have more in common with the men than the women because I don’t have kids. But more likely than not, they’ve probably started a family and all these kind of things and I love talking about cars and sports and all that kind of stuff. So intersectionality to me is fascinating because the stereotypes don’t apply, unless you’re a Southern white female. Just kidding. It’s the stereotypes don’t apply but you, there’s so much about people that you can’t see and you don’t know and nobody’s just one thing. But Andrew, I’m going to put you on the spot and… I put people on spot a lot today. That’s probably not making y’all feel very included.. hahah.
That’s what we’re here for, Sandi. Don’t worry. We signed up for it.
I was about to say, both of you have already worked with me, so you knew I was going to put y’all on the spot anyway.
So you and I have been working on our recruiting materials and our branding and things like that, especially as it relates to younger people and you and I have had some really good conversations about that, about being authentic, but definitely putting a brand out there to where somebody like Shakyla is like, “Oh, I’ve seen their brand. I’m interested. Let me go to their booth and bring them in,” so I’m curious about when we think about authenticity, so when you see… It’s very commonplace for employers to change their logo during pride month, to issue a statement during black history month. We saw it was very common in the Summer of 2020 that a lot of firms were making external statements and things of that nature.
So I’m curious how you feel about that. Because listen, Shakyla, I’m trying to think if you were in Balance when we had this discussion. Black history month, one year, and then the next year, I was following Google to see what they posted Summer 2020, Black History month 2020 and Black History month 2021. And Black History month 2021, radio silent. There was barely anything. I think they had one or two images that day and we had a whole conversation around it, that are you only putting things up when it’s trendy. So anyway, back to my question. I’m curious about that type of marketing. Where does that play with inclusion? Does that make somebody feel included or some of internal stuff?
I think it definitely does. I’d say just from my perspective, I don’t necessarily think a company has to change their logo for each month or for Pride month. But I do think a post at minimum on any form of social website or anything where you would normally post something, just to acknowledge it. Because honestly, silence does speak quite a lot, so when you see a company that maybe doesn’t post something, it does raise some red flags. But again, it’s also important that if you’re within the company, you do feel comfortable and just those around you also make you feel comfortable. But I think from an outside perspective, at a bare minimum, a post or just acknowledging it does actually go a long way.
That’s interesting. Any thoughts from your perspective?
I agree with that. You don’t have to change your logo because I think that’s for like people… If I look at a company and they change they logo, I’m wondering, “Are you doing this because its trendy or are you doing this because internally, that’s what you truly believe? So I think anything that you could give to people who work there to let them know that they’re included, I think that’s important because if I go out to somebody and I’m talking to them about CRI, I can say out my mouth, “Oh yeah, they’re diverse or they’re inclusive,” because I work there and it’s my personal experience. You don’t have to really question my personal experience because we’re having a conversation, but I think I’m questioning the company’s stance if they just change their logo and I don’t know anything else about them. So if the people who work there aren’t saying, “Oh yeah, it’s an inclusive environment,” then I’m least likely to believe that they actually believe it and they’re mostly just doing it to make sales or to be trendy or whatever the case may be.
It’s interesting. This was probably a year ago, it’s been a while. I was talking to somebody. We were actually talking about women’s initiatives and we were talking about one organization that is very well known for its women’s initiative. It’s considered the gold standard for women’s initiatives and we were talking about it and this individual was a former employee of that organization and she said, “It’s not genuine.” Yeah, there’s all kinds of labels on the program and the marketing budget that probably goes into it is crazy. But she said, when she was there, she said part of why she left, she said, “I don’t necessarily feel that I was discriminated against because I was a woman, but I didn’t feel that they were there championing some of the things that were important to me as a woman.” She was talking about the hours she worked when she first had her first child and was trying to come back and all those kind of things.
She was like, “Yeah, great program, great whatever but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel that those parts of me as a woman really mattered. I just felt like I was somebody come in, get your work out and go home and we don’t care, work harder.” And I thought it was really interesting and I’ve said since the beginning of our diversity and inclusion strategy, and Shakyla, you probably heard me talk about it in Balance meetings and Andrew, you and I talk about it all the time is that, I just want our culture of inclusion to be authentic and if there’s a way where we aren’t our best selves, let’s just own it and openly acknowledge.
Just a few minutes ago where I was like, “Blacks and African Americans are underrepresented at CRI.” They’re underrepresented in our industry as a whole, so instead of us waiting to see, well, what’s the industry going to do to attract more Black and African Americans public accounting? Well, I don’t care. I can’t wait on them. You know what? Kendra, Shakyla, let’s go figure it out, let’s do what we can and at least impact CRI but if I’m going to be on a campus and if somebody says, “Well, what percentage of your partners are Black or African American, and it’s one,” then I’m going to say it. I’m not going to run and hide from it, but I’m going to say it and I want to say “Here’s what we’re trying to improve it. Why don’t you join the firm and be part of the solution and help us understand what we can do to get better.”
It’s always interesting during again, Black History month or Pride month or these different celebrations when you see… For me, I always keep a watchful eye on Google. I do think they’re kind of hypocrites. I keep a watchful eye on Google and some of these other employers to see how their ex-employees feel, how the current employees’ feel and things of that nature.
Yeah. I think too, Sandi, a lot of companies like Shakyla said, they’ll change their logo and then as soon as July 1st hits, Pride month, it didn’t exist. It’s about finding that balance. I think just acknowledging it and saying, “Hey, look, we have an inclusive environment. We welcome everyone. We celebrate who you’re.” Just even a little statement like that goes a long way and then seeing employees and their testimonials and how they actually feel, that means more than just changing a logo as well.
Agreed. Agreed. I can sit from my perspective and my job and what I do and talk about barriers to inclusion all day, but I’m curious, again, to very sought after individuals, if you’re listening to this and you’re not with CRI, please don’t call these people and try to recruit them. I’ll be very upset, but if I’m making you feel included, you won’t take the call. But from your perspective, are there any barriers or challenges that you see whether in our industry or in our firm, any barriers to being inclusive? And I’ll just open it to either one of you.
I would say for me, one of the biggest barriers to being inclusive is that it doesn’t exist yet. We were just talking about a second ago. If I don’t see somebody who represents me, then it’s harder for me to commit to that firm or that company or whatever.
I think for me, one of the biggest barriers is I feel like I’m going to be underrepresented here, so I’m not sure if that’s a space I want to be at and I think the next barrier that I would consider would probably be, from a company perspective is, if I do this, how will it make me look to the people who are here and have been here? How will they take this, will it shake up the company so much, say, “Now, I’m creating a hostile work environment for everybody involved.”
Oh, that’s interesting. That’s interesting and that ties to the barrier that I see. The barrier that I see with anything around a diversity and inclusion strategy or any type of cultural strategy is when you have over 2000 employees, that’s 2000 individuals with their own experiences, their own values, their own bias, because we all have bias to some degree, an unconscious bias and I can’t control 2000 people. So while, I don’t know, 90% of our talent could be completely inclusive and aware and engaging and all that stuff, Shakyla could end up working for the one person I wasn’t aware of that had some bias and doesn’t make her feel inclusive… So to me, it’s that human nature or once you get so big, you can’t control everybody. It’s a barrier. It doesn’t prohibit, but it’s… What’s that analogy, I can’t save all the starfish, but I can save this one, so it’s okay. Well maybe, let me just start ticking away at the starfish one at a time.
What about you, Andrew? Any barriers that you see?
I think the barrier for any organization also would be the tone at the top, or if senior leaders, partners, managers, if they do not create an inclusive workspace, it’s hard for people below them to step up because they feel like not only are they stepping up, but they’re also stepping out and putting themselves in the spotlight and potentially could be detrimental to their career. And just like Shakyla said, they’re causing an uprising or they don’t want to cause arguments and things like that.
I think just the tone at the top, it just needs to be inclusive and welcoming for all people. Some companies, that may be harder than others, but I also feel like it goes a long way and when you have, like you said, so many employees, that has to trickle down from the top because without that, it’s very hard to establish the inclusive environment.
It’s interesting. I think over the years, because people have used the terms diversity and inclusion so interchangeably that they see them as the same thing and they’re very, very different. Shakyla, earlier you were talking about being a non-traditional student and I’ve heard some others in the firm talk about a concern and it’s a concern I have that, there’s so many people that decided, “Hey, I’m going to go back and I want to go become a CPA. I want to go into accounting,” and so, you might be five, 10 years older than students coming in and if you get past the bias, because there is a bias towards nontraditional accounting students. I’m sorry, I’ve seen it. There is a little bit of a bias, but do they feel included?
There was a Robert De Niro movie with Anne Hathaway. I think it was called The Intern where he’s a whole lot older. He was retired, but it was interesting because when you were talking about that, I’m like, “Inclusion, it’s not just what that diversity dimension is.”
Andrew, yes, you’re gay, but you’re also a white male, so as a white male, do you feel include… Does everybody feel included, that non-traditional student, the female, the Black or African American employee, the Indian employee, it’s fascinating to me because I think when people think in terms of inclusion, Atlanta is a fairly diverse practice office for CRI, “Oh, well, Atlanta clearly is inclusive.” Is it? It could be, but just because you have a diverse mix of employees doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inclusive. I don’t know. It’s always kind of interesting to me.
As we start to wind down, I always love advice for myself, so I am curious, I’m going to ask y’all if y’all have some advice for a couple of people. First, do either of you have advice for leaders or managers, somebody supervising? Or Andrew, you were talking about the tone at the top, so somebody who is at the top setting that tone, any advice for them on creating an inclusive culture?
I think it’s just being cognizant on not only what you say to others, but also your body language like when you’re talking with people. Because you might not realize it, but say someone comes to you and they mention they have a partner, they have a boyfriend and they’re LGBTQ, just making a face or something, even if you don’t necessarily mean it subconsciously, maybe it’s the way you grew up or your parents reactions or just things like that, just noticing those little things when you’re interacting with others, so I think body language goes a long way.
And just again, trying to create that inclusive and welcoming workspace, even if it’s at your individual say, SPU level, even if something doesn’t come out firm-wide, but sending out an email and say, “Hey, we’re celebrating this, this month.” I know our office, we have a little bulletin board where we do different holidays, different celebrations and ask people like, “Hey, bring in pictures, let us see your family.” Just things like that, just to make everyone feel included, that definitely goes a long way.
That’s interesting. The body language, that’s a good tip. I hadn’t even had never really considered that. What about you, Shakyla? Any advice for leaders or managers?
I think I agree with Andrew 100%. I do feel like if somebody’s saying something to you, your reaction is more than what you say out your mouth. It encompasses a lot, so I think it should be mindful of how you’re reacting, but like in a organic, genuine way. If you’re saying to yourself and you’re saying I have these biases, explore why you have them and then maybe like, educate yourself on why they might not be effective in the workplace or why yours are actually not 100% accurate and you can form a better relationship and create a genuine, organic, equal environment.
Because I think if you just force it because CRI say you have to, then it’s not really genuine and I think we can tell when things aren’t genuine. We can tell when somebody’s not being 100% genuine with us. I also think for Balance, we did a meeting where we did like with the allies and there was some leadership that came to the meeting and I think showing up in spaces like that is super important. So if you get opportunity where there is an ERG out here that’s saying, “Hey, we want to talk to you. We’re trying to foster more inclusive and diverse environment.” If you show up in those spaces, I feel like it goes a long way. I feel like then, you’re walking the walk. It’s not like, “Oh, I just think you’re inclusive,” but you actually showed up and you showed the people who you work with every day that you actually do value them and their difference.
That’s a really good point and it reflects back on Andrew. When you said earlier, sometimes silence says more. In the Summer of 2020, I had a partner call me and I just went and go in his office, there were two Black and African American employees and he said, “God, I feel bad and I want to reach out to them and just, Hey, are you okay? Or whatever, but I don’t want to offend them, so I didn’t say anything, blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Okay. Not saying anything is worse, so why would you not just go up to him and go, Hey, I hope this comes out right. Are you okay? I saw this on the news. I saw whatever.”
Listen, that’s how my friendship with Kendra started. I called her one day and I said, “Hey, it’s not my experience and I would love to pick the brain of somebody who it’s been their experience, can I ask you some questions?” And she was like, “Absolutely.” And right then, it was formed.
Listen, I’ll even say Bill Carr, one thing for the rest of my career stand out in my mind is Bill Carr, he’s Christian and he walks very strongly in his faith because he likes to quote Proverbs here and there and he called me one day and wanted to talk about it. He said, “Okay, I don’t offend anybody but you’re Jewish. Can I just ask you a bunch of question?” And I’m like, “Oh God, yeah.” If you come to me in that spirit of, I’m not being offensive, I’m curious, and I have questions, ask me whatever you want to ask me.
And it’s just so interesting that I think if the tone at the top… Because listen, whether conscious or unconscious, we all have biases, but I think if you recognize you are ignorant to a topic, meaning there’s an absence of knowledge and you don’t know and going to Andrew and saying, “Hey, I heard on podcast and I know you have a partner. Can I just ask some question? How does that work or what are the things I can do?” I think if people come in that spirit of, Hey, I acknowledge, I don’t know, what can I do? I think that alone is an inclusive act too.
And I think something off of that too, Sandi, that I wrote down while you were talking that came to mind is try not to make assumptions about people. I remember, just a quick story at another firm when I was out at a client in the middle of nowhere, out in the country, the client asked me, he’s like, “Oh, a good looking guy like you must have a wife waiting for you at home, huh?” And I was just like, “Uh…” Don’t know how to answer that. And based off of other things I heard you say, I’m just going to pass but that was a younger me and now I know, I would speak up for myself.
But I think things like assumptions and making sure that people aren’t put in uncomfortable positions too, also goes into that creating an inclusive environment because just someone looks a certain way or acts a certain way doesn’t mean that they fall into a certain category.
That ties into the next piece of advice to peers. So you said, “Hey, I’m a little older now, so I might respond,” so any advice to your peer group or employees on anything they can do to also create an inclusive culture, but if they don’t feel like it’s inclusive?
I think speaking up, like if they hear something or if they feel that someone is not being represented or feel welcome, that just because you aren’t part of a group doesn’t mean that you can’t speak up and be like, “Hey, I didn’t like what you said.” We had a meeting one time and someone said, “That’s gay,” like isn’t that stupid? And a manager who was sitting next to me, she actually spoke up and said, “Excuse me? That’s completely inappropriate and you owe an apology for that.” Just because she wasn’t a member of the group doesn’t mean that you can’t speak up and take up for someone.
I would say speak up. On another side though, for me, I would say speak up for myself. Like me and Hayes in the Atlanta office, we were talking the other day, we were talking about my niece and nephew and she asked me question because I think culturally, that’s where it comes from so don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, I’m different from you, and it comes from my cultural background.” Instead of just saying, “Oh, because that’s just how it always was.”
For me and Melissa, also in the Atlanta office, we talk a lot and we’ll talk about the differences in our hair and we’ll talk about all these things that make us so different and she’ll ask questions and I’ll ask questions, so we’re just getting to know more about the other person.I recognize that we’re different. We’re also very connected at the hip at work, so naturally, these differences will come up, so let’s just talk about it.
And I think for me, I’m saying speak up. Don’t be afraid to let your differences be a part of the conversation on your side, because if you run from it or you hide from it, then everybody else will. I kind of fell of the same way when I first started. I was like, “Oh my God, do I say my wife, do I not say my wife?” And it’s like, no. Just say it because if you show that you perceive that there’s an issue with it, then it’s going to make an uncomfortable situation, so I would say speak up from your own perspectives.
Speak up naturally. And by the way, I too have lots of questions about Melissa Wyatt’s incredibly long hair. I have so many questions on how she manages her hair. She has crazy long hair.
I will tell Melissa, it is washed every Sunday and I encourage her, go have somebody else wash your hair, please.
I follow her TikTok. She had a hair tutorial on her TikTok the other day.
But I think that’s so true about being yourself and casually saying things, but picking up on body language. And then again, coming back to Andrew, I think it was you that was talking about assumptions, you don’t want to jump to conclusions with anything. I’ve told this story so many times. We were at a partner meeting and it’s the night where everybody can go eat on their own and so, people gather in the lobby. And most times, it’s partners from one office going to eat dinner with partners from their office, which I never understand. Go eat with people from other offices. You see each other all the time, but whatever.
The next day, this one girl called me beside herself because her partner group didn’t invite her to dinner and she knows it’s because they hate women and she was hurt and worked up and I’m like, “God, that seems out of character for that office.” And so, I went and talked to that practice leader and I’m like, “Hey, yeah. Why didn’t invite her to dinner?” And he’s like, “Oh my God. We got to dinner and realized it was a small group that every year, second night, just always went to dinner.” They hadn’t admitted a new partner in a long time, and nobody said, “Hey, I’ll be sure and call her and invite her. It was just habit. We all show up in the lobby and go,” and he felt terrible.
And I’m like, “Well, has anybody called and told her that that’s what happened? Please go tell her.” Sometimes it’s just, people are human and we forget things or we don’t think about it. Don’t always assume it’s because of that but when you feel like it could be, speak up. Speak up to a manager, a partner, call your HR professional, whatever it is in your organization, or just somebody you trust to be able to work through that.
I want to thank the two of you for letting me include you. See what I did there? To include you in this discussion. I really appreciate it. It was very insightful to me. I would be remiss if I closed this without taking a moment to celebrate Shakyla for passing the last part of her CPA.
Very excited to see the balloons behind you and hear about that. That’s a huge accomplishment. Very, very excited for you, but I really appreciate y’all being a part of today and being willing to speak so openly and candidly, especially in this kind of format. And hopefully, it was helpful to everybody listening in, so thank you very much.
Thank you, Sandi.
Thank you for having me.
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