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12/20/2023 By Jonathan Terrell

Today, it’s often difficult to know what to say. Whether with family, friends or colleagues, we can be inclined to avoid topics — from social issues to local, national and global news — because we fear offending or appearing to take a stance. Our reluctance to enter into hard conversations isn’t helping any of us as individuals, groups, or the larger human family. But we have to talk to each other. And we must listen.

This was my thinking behind proposing a new approach to approaching diversity and inclusion at a national conference. During last year’s DRI Asbestos Medicine Seminar, I helped facilitate presentation focused on the experiences of Black attorneys. Last month at the same conference, I moderated a conversation about being a lawyer whose familial background hails from the continent of Asia.

Why would a white, British male step up to fill such a role? I did so precisely because people like me, who are in the majority population, need to enter into discussions about race, ethnicity, and other “differences.” When we step into “curious conversations” in good faith, we are likely to grow in understanding — and even enjoy the conversation along the way.

DRI has a proud tradition of leadership in this area. In the past, during their annual conference, a lunch event was devoted to a roundtable discussion about diversity. I attended a few times, but I was usually one of the only non-minority people at the events. It struck me that we could do better. So, I approached the DRI leadership about moving the conversation to the main stage plenary session last year. That approach was a success. I was proud to return again this year with my co-moderator, Mahsa Kashani Tippins of DCo LLC, Nashville.

Mahsa doubled as a panelist, sharing perspective as someone whose family roots are in Iran. She was joined by our other panelists: Macy M. Chan of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, Los Angeles; Hannah Lee Mohrman of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Los Angeles; and Raghu N. Bandlamudi of MG+M Law, New York, N.Y. (Notably, Mahsa was the only member of the panel who is American-born, though she spent her early childhood years in Iran.)

In my introduction, I shared that I am an immigrant from the U.K. I’ve been married to my wife, Ranjana, for nearly 25 years, and we have two bi-racial children. (Perhaps my daily experience of living in an Asian household does give me some insights into the subject, too.)

I then posed some questions that people may be afraid to ask:

  • How do you like to be referred to as a member of a racial or ethnic group?

  • What words of encouragement can you offer to the majority race on how to learn about you without causing offense?

  • To what extent do cultural stereotypes play a part of your experience?

  • How do you navigate and balance multiple cultural identities in your daily life?

As my colleague Shreyas Malhotra wrote recently, an insightful and thought-provoking discussion ensued. I was struck by how a lot of what the panelists shared was storytelling. Also, while each has had serious obstacles to overcome, each speaker expressed gratitude for their success and they were good humored in inviting questions. In fact, curiosity was a common theme: “Be curious about us. It will help you see where we’re coming from.”

I am grateful to all our panelists for speaking so openly and fearlessly about their experiences. There is so much joy in, and a lot to celebrate about, our differences. Discussions of diversity should be for everyone and they shouldn’t be so scary.

There are many groups within the DRI space. I hope to continue to honor more groups with specific sessions about their unique experiences in the future. And, I hope that someone reading this will be inspired to enter into their own “curious conversations” in their circles. We have much to learn from one another.

Jonathan Terrell

About Jonathan Terrell

Jonathan Terrell is the Founder and President of KCIC. He has more than 30 years of international financial services experience with a multi-disciplinary background in accounting, finance and insurance. Prior to founding KCIC in 2002, he worked at Zurich Financial Services, JP Morgan, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

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