Episode 50: Advocacy and Sponsorship in the Workplace

Portrait of Aprille BellContinuing our celebration of Women's History Month, Aprille Bell, Managing Partner of DHG's Winston-Salem office, joins us to talk about advocacy, sponsorship and overcoming barriers.

Episode 50 Transcript:

AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear the things that matter the most to us - flexibility, careers and of course, our people.

We are currently celebrating Women’s History Month and I really enjoy this month because I get the opportunity to talk to several of our amazing DHG women. Joining me today is Aprille Bell, she’s the managing partner for our Winston-Salem office. Aprille serves on our firm’s executive committee and she’s a member of our Inclusion and Diversity Counsel. Welcome, Aprille.

AB: Thank you, Alice Grey.

AGH: I knew somehow I’d rope you in to a podcast.

AB: I appreciate the opportunity, glad to be here.

AGH: Absolutely. Okay, let’s begin talking about advocacy and sponsorship, those are two really important topics as it relates to inclusion and diversity. Last year, you were presented with the ONE DHG award at our annual partner meeting for the work that you're doing in this critical area in terms of being an advocate and sponsoring the employees that are in your office and beyond.

One of your team members in particular, your wise council in support of this team member, really made a difference in his career. Can you share more about this and why this really relates to ONE DHG and all of us working together as one DHG? Picture of Aprille Bell and partner

AB: Sure, it’s funny when you ask me about that because when I think back to I guess last fall when this all kind of came about, when it was happening and as it developed and as that happened, you know, I don’t really look back at that time as having done anything unusual or different than what anybody else in the firm would have done. Which I think is part of what makes us so awesome.

I guess last fall, I had an associate who sat here in Winston-Salem that worked with me and he came to me and said that he had had an opportunity to do some work with a group out of Charlotte that works with portfolio. He said that he had really enjoyed that work that he had done and would enjoy the opportunity to do more work with the group.

He had heard that this group, a couple folks from the group, they were moving to the Tampa office. We had recruited him out of Appalachian State, he was working with us here in the Triad and had been with us for about a year, and he was looking for an opportunity to maybe expand his horizons a bit and figure out really where he wanted to focus his time and energy for his own personal career development going forward.

He thought that this group, he would enjoy getting to work with them more. So, he asked me what I thought about a potential transfer to the Tampa office, and I told them that I knew that group ran hard, that I knew that there were tremendous opportunities within that group because it is growing so quickly and I thought there were tremendous opportunities to just work in the Tampa office simply because we’re in the process of really building out that office.

So I told him, you know, I gave him some things to think about, I asked him to give all that some consideration and if he was up for a challenge and open to some opportunities maybe that he had not envisioned just a few months earlier then I thought he should pursue the opportunity. So we’ve scheduled a few phone calls with different people on that team that he would be working with and he scheduled a trip to Tampa, went down to Tampa, enjoyed the time that he had down there, really liked what he saw.

We were able to facilitate a transfer from the Winston-Salem office to the Tampa office. A great opportunity for him, of course that presented some challenges for us here in the Triad because he was a big part of several engagement teams, the best part of all that was that we were able to work together between the two offices, identify the real needs that we still had in the Triad and they were able to release him for several weeks when we had significant needs to come back and fill those needs here in the Triad.

I think it was a real win-win for the firm, it really helped both markets and most importantly, it was a huge win for him because he’s been able to expand his horizons. When I think back to the conversations that I had with him during that time, what I remember most about this conversation is that he was so excited, you know, went back to the peers that he went to college with who kind of gave him a hard time for coming to work for us and not going Big Four. He went back home and said, “Hey guys, guess what, I’m trying to the Tampa office,” and he said they all kind of looked around like “What? We were supposed to have that kind of opportunity." I think that transfer that we were able to make possible, not that I made possible, but that the entire team both in Tampa and here in the Triad made possible. I think that really – you know, just supported our mission statement because we have been able to help him develop a very successful career here at DHG.

AGH: Wow. I think that’s just such a great example of how this notion of advocacy and sponsorship about how, it really is good for business, it is good for us as ONE DHG to be able to help our people build valuable careers.

AB: Yup, absolutely. I’ve told him, I’ve talked to Hayden and said, you know, down the road, you’re not really sure where you’re going to land and what you’re going to end up doing but I have no doubt that he is going to be a tremendous asset to the firm for many years going forward.

AGH: That’s wonderful. You know, from my perspective, I consider you a very admired leader here at DHG. From our conversations, I know you as a female partner and now managing partner, have had to overcome barriers along the way and you know, when we talk about women in the workplace, we talk about barriers and overcoming barriers. Can you tell us about some of the barriers that you faced along the way or one barrier, just something that sticks out in your mind and what you’ve done to overcome that barrier or those barriers.Picture of Aprille Bell at race track

AB: Sure. I would say that most of the barriers that I have encountered throughout my career have been self-imposed barriers. When I think about you know, my career progression and what I’ve done over the years, when I stop and think about that, I realized that you know, the barriers that I have come up against have been barriers that I’ve created myself and really most of those relate to self-confidence and believing in myself, knowing that I have the ability to do really anything that somebody puts me in a position to do and I have the ability to do that.

I think it’s easy for me to kind of doubt myself and wonder, you know, “Am I smart enough, am I wise enough, do I have the skills that I need, the experience that I need to do what I’m sometimes asked to do?” And so I think overcoming that self-confidence barrier and, you know, just believing that I have the ability to do what I need to do, what I’ve been asked to do.

I think that’s a barrier that I’ve had to overcome. And kind of along the same lines, I am a very proud mother of two boys who are just about grown now, I have a 22-year-old and a 19-year-old, and so, if you do the math, you’ll see that I was working and you know, after I started working I was fortunate enough to have these two children and I think the barrier that I created of feeling like I have to be all things to all people all the time and not slowing down and realizing that it takes a village and that I don’t have to be – I don’t have to do everything.

I have had tremendous support network and you know, if I can trust that other people can do things as well as I can. Most of the time then I’ve been able to really leverage that. But that certainly was a barrier that I had to overcome, the struggle of believing that I have to be all things to all people all the time.

AGH: I think that that’s a very common barrier that a lot of women, I mean, of course, including myself, especially those of us women who are a bit type A, because it’s hard to think somebody else could do it as well as you could do it. I face that each and every day. Having a three-year-old. I want to move over to the topic of covering. I wasn’t familiar with the term covering until recently and I think it’s fascinating, a very hot topic in the I&D world. Covering often goes overlooked in the workplace because it’s such a subtle experience, happens when we mute an aspect of our identity and it’s overlooked because the very nature of it, it goes undetected.

Covering happens when we mask something about ourselves in order to better fit in. We’re hiding who we are authentically, we’re covering who we are to fit in, and as you and I talked before this, you shared with me a story about a time when you are actually asked to cover, would you mind sharing this story in your own view of authenticity and how important it is for success to be authentic?

AB: Yup, absolutely. When we were talking earlier and you ask me if I’d heard about covering, I was, it seemed like a pretty new topic, and I hadn’t heard much about it, but when you explained what covering is and I gave some thoughts to my experiences over the years. I realized that covering has been around for a long time. In fact, if I go back to an experience that I had when I was in college and actually recruiting, going through recruiting, looking for a job, goes back about 27 years, I realized that covering was around even then. It has been around I’m sure much longer than that, but my experience was that when I was going through recruiting at UNC Charlotte, we were interviewing with what was then the Big Six firms and lots of peers that were all recruiting and interviewing with the firms and I remember I was engaged to be married at the time and I remember sitting at a desk in the recruiting department at UNC Charlotte, we were waiting to go in for our interviews with the different firms, and I remember my peer looked at me and she said, “You’re not going to wear your engagement ring into that interview are you?” I said, “Well yeah, why wouldn’t I? She said, because they’re not going to want to hire somebody who is engaged to be married, they don’t want people that are married to work for them.” I remember thinking, I probably shouldn't even be going into the interview because why would I want to work somewhere that doesn’t want me for who I am because I am certainly getting married and that’s not going to change.

I told her, I am going to wear my engagement ring into the interview because I don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t want me for who I am. She kind of looked at me like I had two heads and I can tell you that I didn’t get a job offer from the firm but she got a job offer from the firm.

I had no idea what she’s doing today but I had peace with that and I was completely fine with that. Simply because I knew that what I was looking for was not a job, it wasn’t you know, two years at a firm that I can move on from. I was looking for a career, I was looking for a place that I could put down some roots, I certainly didn’t know that I wanted to be there, you know, for 25 plus years, but I also knew that I did want to place that I could grow and develop and see what comes next without feeling like I had to immediately start looking for a change as soon as that got in.

I think back to that time and realize that it was super important to me that I be true to myself and that I be true to the people that I’m working with, that I’d be as authentic as possible because it is very much a marathon, a career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The people that we work with become like family and I really don’t know how to be anything other than authentic because you know, quite honestly, we work really hard every single day and if I have to work in an environment like that and don’t feel like I can be myself, that would just be exhausting. I don’t think I could do it, so I think being authentic is just so much easier than trying to be somebody that you’re not.

AGH: Absolutely. It has served you well because from intern to managing partner, you’ve had a great career at DHG. Okay, we’re going to wrap but before we do, what’s one piece of advice that you’d like to share with our listeners who may just be entering the profession? Aprille Bell with family

AB: I would tell people to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit, I think public accounting and DHG in particular is very much an entrepreneurial environment. While gaining some degree of comfort with what you’re doing and what you're working on is important, I think more important than that is to take advantage of every opportunity that you have to create some stretch goals for yourself, maybe work outside your office or your market or even your region and explore different service lines because I think the more people you know in the firm, the more experiences that you have in the firm. The more valuable you’re going to be to yourself and to the firm. It just creates the opportunities that you can then take advantage of as you move throughout your career.

AGH: That’s terrific advice, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your background with us.

AB: Thank you, Alice Grey, I appreciate the opportunity, it’s a pleasure.

AGH: Absolutely. Thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers.

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