Episode 58: Celebrating Our Diverse People and Perspectives

Portrait of Lori CochranIn celebrating Pride month and our diverse people and perspectives, Lori Cochran discusses her role on DHG's Inclusion & Diversity Council, why having diverse teams is a business imperative and why it's critical for DHG to recognize and celebrate our people's diverse backgrounds.  Lori is an Assurance Partner in our DHG Richmond office.

Episode 58 Transcript:

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

Inclusion and diversity is an important focus area for DHG. We believe that everyone should be able to bring their very best self to work, regardless of what that best self might look like. As we celebrate Pride Month, I thought it'd be interesting to talk with one of our partners who serves on DHG’s Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) Council.

Lori Cochran is a partner in our Richmond Virginia office and she's been very, very supportive of all of our I&D efforts, and I'm super excited to have this conversation with her today. Welcome, Lori.

LC: Thank you, Alice Grey. I appreciate it.

AGH: Okay, so let's just start by talking about our I&D Council. It's fairly new to DHG. Our focus on I&D is not new, but we shifted gears on how we approach things, formed an I&D Council I think about a year ago. What exactly does this council do?

LC: What we try to do is provide some strategic direction to the firm that will help us foster a workplace, where everyone can be his or her true self, without regard to any differences that we may have. What we do is develop a strategic plan that can help us implement that and look at the best programs to do that; some of the things that you can look forward to such as implicit bias training and common interest groups. In fact, we already have one out there running in our Atlanta office. Then we also try to look at do we have practices in our recruiting that allow us to attract the diverse talent? We have a lot of different strategic plans that we're working on currently.

AGH: That's great. I think it's interesting, our focus on implicit bias, because I've never even heard this term as of about three years ago when we started talking about it; unconscious bias is what some people refer to it as. Now that seems to be common vocabulary. I believe even Starbucks just had a training for everyone.

LC: That’s exactly right. It’s something I can tell you about two years ago, I never heard of it either, but it's really come to the forefront. I think it's important, especially because people now get so much information from things like Facebook and social media, where there's not a chance to have dialogue. Sometimes the words that people use can have unconscious meaning to them. It's important that we consider that both in written and verbal communication.

AGH: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so I look forward to learning more about how we're going to approach this and focus on it as an area that I think we all can learn from. Quite frankly, everyone's guilty of that in some way, shape, or form. We were laughing on a call earlier today, somebody's talking about they had an unconscious bias for Chunky Monkey Ice Cream.

LC: That’s exactly right.

AGH: Okay, so you've been involved with Diversity Richmond, and I believe that we even had a group of interns who volunteered with this organization. Can you tell me about this organization and how they are making an impact on diversity and inclusion in your community.

LC: Sure. Diversity Richmond is primarily a LGBT-focused organization. It's basically a community organization that provides resources, again primarily to the LGBT community. If a teen gets kicked out of their home, because they've come out to their parents they can go to Diversity Richmond and find resources available to them.

Broader than that, they also work with the low-income community around Richmond. They have a thrift shop there that helps sustain their operations, but they also do things like right before school year starts. If you're from the low-income family, you can bring a grocery bag and fill it with clothes. Thinking about young kids going to school, they might not have anything to wear, anything new to wear, so it gives them an opportunity to freshen up their wardrobe, maybe so they don't get picked on at school, that kind of thing.

It's a good organization. They do a lot of good things here locally. I was fortunate enough to be on their board of directors for a number of years. When we had our interns who are looking for a community project, I connected them with the Diversity Richmond. Our interns went out and they actually painted the thrift shop and they also helped bag some clothes and things like that. I think it was a very good experience for them.

AGH: We even had one of those interns do a blog for us, and I loved what she said. She said, DHG doesn't just talk the talk, they walk the walk. I thought that that was just – that just made my heart sing. As somebody who definitely is the biggest cheerleader here, to hear somebody else say such things just made my heart glow.

LC: What was interesting was what the president of the organization did in his newsletter; he actually included a reference to us in his cover letter for that month’s newsletter. We had a lawyer who's a very good referral source for us here in Richmond reached out and thanked us for doing that. He was very appreciative of our support of that community, and it made an impact beyond just the interns, so that was something very positive to see.

AGH: That's super. You mentioned clients, having diverse teams has become a business imperative. Have you encountered in your day-to-day interactions an example of how this has made a significant difference in how we were able to work as a team because of the diversity that we had on the team?

LK: I was thinking about that, and I think it's hard to come up with one example, because I think it's almost on a daily basis that you see that. The easiest one is the male-female dynamic and certainly tend to interact a little bit differently and with different clients; just different personalities. It doesn't even have to be a male/female thing. They interact better. They work together better. Having that right mix; an assurance partner on the audit team is important. To be able to have different personalities and different traits that can make people relate to one another is very important.

AGH: I totally agree. One of the things that we're going to be doing in the next year is looking at our own DiSC profiles and seeing the differences in how we all bring these different and unique attributes to the team. Having people not just look different, but how they think different on a team is truly critical today.

LC: It was interesting. I'm a board member at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden here in Richmond, and we're planning a new event space. We were looking at plans for it and they were talking about a bridal suite, where they change and get ready for the ceremony. I said, “Well, one of the things that we’ve, in the last few years, done is focus on same-sex weddings. If that's the case, then should we have two bridal suites?

AGH: Wow. Yes.

LC: The executive director who’s a friend of mind, he just looked at me and he said, “That’s why I like to have you here.”

AGH: That’s exactly right.

LC: Not many people would have thought of that. It's always good to have somebody that can offer a different perspective.

AGH: Absolutely. When we think about different backgrounds, why do you think that it's critical for us at DHG to recognize and celebrate our diverse backgrounds?

LC: One of our very first I&D meetings, we had a picture and it was an iceberg. It had different types of diversity on it. There were some things on the iceberg that were above the water and they were the more visible things that you think about when you think of diversity, whether it was race or sex, that kind of thing.

Then there were those things that were below the line, whether it was your religion, or if you have a military background, that type of thing. I think that's always resonated with me, that diagram, because you never know the person across from you, where they could be on that spectrum. I think the opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate them is important, so that for some – especially some of them less visible ones, people know we accept you the way that you are and we're here to help you in any way that we can.

AGH: Absolutely. Okay, before we conclude our call, I always love to ask our leaders for a little advice. Most of our audience are DHG team members, as well as college students and prospective experienced hire people. What is the key piece of advice that you might give an intern? We have a new intern class coming in or a new college grad.

LC: It's okay not to know everything. I think when I started 25 years ago, I can remember going home and feeling like I was not qualified for this job. I think that after 25 years, I realized I can't know everything, and I’m done doing everything. That's the part I love about this job is that I learn every day. Once you embrace that and know that it's not that you don't know something; you have the capacity to learn it and you just need to make sure that you ask the right questions and take every opportunity you can; you'll succeed.

AGH: That is super advice. I couldn't agree with you more. Well, thank you so much for joining us.

LC: All right, thank you.

AGH: 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.

Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.

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