During February and March we are shining a light on inclusion and diversity at DHG. I am thrilled to have Alpa Patel, Co-Leader of our Inclusion & Diversity Council and partner in our Atlanta office, join me this month to share her passion on the topic as well as her thoughts on authenticity, confidence and juggling priorities as a working mom.
Matt: Inclusion and diversity is a top priority for us at DHG, and something I know you are very passionate about. Talk about where your passion stems from and why it is so important for us to have inclusive teams with diverse perspectives.
Alpa: People naturally tend to be guarded against things that are different. Spending my teenage years in Alabama, being a woman and ethnic (Indian) was not always easy. It was a great place to grow up, but let’s just say I didn’t always look like everyone else. I know how difficult it can be to not necessarily fit in on the outside or culturally, but through my experience, I’ve learned that that doesn’t impact what you can do professionally or personally. Breaking through adversity is challenging, but very much worth the effort. I would not be here today if I had not had thick skin and embraced the challenge. Talent comes in many shapes and sizes, and adding diversity to a team can take the firm to the next level in our ability to serve clients. Inclusion and diversity offers different perspectives and makes the team more adaptive and strong. Moreover, our clients place importance on inclusion and diversity; we must also meet that expectation in the marketplace to continue competing for great opportunities.
Matt: The two of us attended the AICPA Women’s Global Leadership Summit last year and we heard a lot about the topic of “covering.” What does the term mean to you and what can we do to eliminate covering in the workplace?
Alpa: Covering is accepting the status quo and not speaking up for fear of standing out or being afraid of having a different perspective or opinion. We can overcome this as a firm and leadership group by genuinely valuing others’ ideas and opinions and continuing to promote opportunities for everyone to share their individual differences and be valued for doing so. By exhibiting open thoughts, inclusive actions and continuing to embrace change, we can minimize covering in the workplace.
Matt: Along the lines of covering, have you had someone in your career who has encouraged you to step outside your comfort zone in order to find the confidence to be your authentic self?
Alpa: Jennifer Hargett, a former Senior Business Development Manager in the Atlanta office, was a big influence on me. As a new Senior Manager, I started participating in networking efforts, which was a nightmare for me; I was surrounded by men and all they did was talk about sports – I’m not much into sports. Long story short, she spent time with me sharing her experiences on how she handled similar situations. Each experience she shared had a common theme – she was simply herself. A few months after I started this journey with Jennifer, we won a large tax engagement stemming from a relationship in which I was consciously testing the “be myself” theory. That was truly a turning point for me.
Matt: When we talk about Life Beyond Numbers at DHG, we often talk about career/life integration – being there when DHG needs you and DHG being there for you when you need to focus on your family or things outside of work. How do you juggle it all?
Alpa: Career/life integration is incredibly difficult and I’m not perfect, but having an internal support network and a husband who supports me (he has a similar accounting background which has certainly helped along the way in terms of understanding the career demands). I have learned that I must integrate work and life much better, especially now that I have a three and six-year old at home. Organization and communication at home and at work are important. Investing the time to identify and develop the right talent at work also enables me to have flexibility when I need it.
Matt: How would you encourage our people, or even those outside the firm, to get involved with inclusion and diversity efforts at DHG and beyond?
Alpa: Getting involved can be easy — look around and embrace the differences that are around us. You can start by simply getting to know someone on a team or in an office better. Attend Inclusion & Diversity events, or raise your hand to volunteer with an Impact Committee or a Common Interest Group such as Atlanta’s African American Network (AAN) or Women Forward. Becoming involved begins with a mindset that permeates everything you do, from your day-to-day interactions with people, to recruiting, to client interactions. Striving to embrace differences is a paradigm shift for many, but when you do, it’s very rewarding and opens up opportunities you never knew existed.
Be sure to check out our 2018 DHG Inclusion & Diversity publication, Greater Together.
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