Creating an Inclusive Culture

Joshua Berggrun Calfee, Halter & Griswold

SPECIAL EPISODE: Diversity Matters in the Middle Market. Brought to you in collaboration with the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG).


Joshua Berggrun joins us today to share his thoughts on how firms can create a more inclusive workplace and why that tends to attract and retain better talent. Josh is an attorney with Calfee, Halter & Griswold, based in Cleveland, Ohio. In this episode, he shares his career experience as a member of the LGBT community and the steps that professional services firms can take to create a more inclusive and diverse culture. Josh talks about the committees in place at Calfee that drew him to the firm and the benefits of making people feel welcome in the workplace. Furthermore, we find out what could be done at a base level in law schools to foster diversity and inclusion and set the industry standard. Tune in to discover why it’s so important to have an inclusive workplace, bring different voices to the table, and why allies should take the initiative to effect change.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Why it’s important to have an inclusive workplace and bring different voices to the table.
  • How having an inclusive culture fosters better interactions, internally and externally.
  • Josh’s experience at Calfee, Halter & Griswold as a member of the LGBT community.
  • How to foster diversity and inclusion by allocating resources and forming committees.
  • How law schools can promote more diversity and inclusion and why it’s essential to do so.
  • What organizations can do to make people feel more welcomed.
  • How male-dominated industries can benefit from hiring LGBT candidates.
  • What Calfee, specifically, is doing to foster diversity and inclusion.
  • The importance of taking the initiative to effect change as an ally.


[0:00:02.2] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast, where industry leaders share their compelling growth stories in the unseen challenges they have overcome. Our goal is to inform and inspire our listeners to take action and make diversity, equality, and inclusion a color of your organization. This is a production of The Association for Corporate Growth, ACG, and Connection Builders.

[0:00:24.7] AD: Hi everyone, welcome to an episode of the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today we’re joined by Joshua Berggrun, an attorney with Calfee, Halter & Griswold based in Cleveland Ohio. Josh shares his experience as a member of the LGBT community and how he believes professional services firms can create a more inclusive and diverse culture. All right, let’s jump in.


[0:00:51.6] AD: Josh, welcome to the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast. Excited to have you here today.

[0:00:56.1] JB: Thank you very much, Alex, I’m excited to be here.

[0:00:59.2] AD: Before we kick off, why don’t you just share a little bit about yourself so our listeners can get to know you a little bit better?

[0:01:06.0] JB: Sure, yeah, my name is Josh Berggrun. I’m an associate attorney at Calfee, Halter & Griswold in Cleveland, Ohio. Born and raised here in Cleveland. My experience is in real estate, real estate finance, so buying, selling, and leasing commercial real estate as well as borrowing and lending. We also support the MNA groups on the real estate components of major MNA transactions and private equity deals.

[0:01:32.9] AD: Awesome, thank you. Josh, you and I today, we really want to have a conversation around what does it mean to have a diverse culture, how can we create a culture of inclusivity in where firms and people and everyone can feel, I guess, more included and really helping to drive forth ultimately a more diverse and accepting workplace, right? Saying all that to start with, I would love just to turn over to you and ask you a question, why is it important to have an inclusive workplace? Why should anyone even care to begin with on that?

[0:02:02.4] JB: Sure. Well, fundamentally, I think it’s the right thing to do. It brings a lot of different viewpoints, many people go through different experiences, being part of the LGBT community and it’s just important to have different viewpoints. To bring people to the table, people have to overcome a lot of challenges to break into an industry that’s really dominated by white males, and to have an LGBT person’s voice at the table, I think provides invaluable input to how an organization treats its employees so their hiring decisions to how they serve and benefit their clients.

[0:02:48.1] AD: There’s a couple of things that I really want to unpack there I think that you said are important. The core of this if I’m hearing you is by creating a more inclusive culture and one that’s more accepting, we’re going to bring different viewpoints to the table and then the number of the other Diversity Matters episodes, we’ve talked a lot about the value of different viewpoints and I think many of us know that different viewpoints can help create better decision making, it can avoid group think, it can bring this diversity of thought that tends to have better outcomes.

What you also pointed out there that I think is really important is it also says a lot about how people treat each other and how people work together and how people work with each other both internally and externally. Can you share a little more of your thinking around that and how having an inclusive and diverse culture can actually foster better people interaction both internally and externally?

[0:03:36.8] JB: Sure. I think if you’re in a heteronormative environment all of your life, you think a certain way because you’re not exposed to people who have had different experiences than you. Those people with different experiences, it’s not that they have more empathy or sympathy or can relate better but they’re just at a fundamental level, we go through things and we take things with a different lens.

It’s important that other people recognize that not everyone thinks the same and not everyone has the same experience and I think you can better serve your clients that way, you can better serve not just in your professional career but in your personal career at home, whether it’s being more sensitive to issues that are affecting people other than yourselves.

I think that’s just very important in any type of – whether it’s a big firm environment or just a small family-owned office, it’s very important to understand where everyone is coming from and then tailor your services to them.

[0:04:40.8] AD: I totally agree with that. Why – let me just ask specifically for you, why is it important for you, how have you benefited? Because I know we’ve talked a little bit in the firm that you’re in some of the environment you and I think you’ve said you felt relatively inclusive and you felt welcomed and it felt good in some aspects. What has that done for you, what have you seen through that?

[0:04:57.8] JB: Sure, it’s great to have obviously, people that are like you at the same job. That being said, if that’s not there, then to at least have people that are knowledgeable about certain LGBT issues and that are trying to make a difference like Calfee, the firm that I work for, I think they’re trying to obtain the Mansfield Rule certification, which is basically, a firm allocates certain resources and makes certain decisions to try to foster and strive forwards towards diversity and inclusion.

That means something to the young gay law student that’s trying to figure out what firm to go to because you really don’t see many firms, at least when I was in law school 10 years ago, you don’t see diversity and inclusion or LGBT committees on every firm’s website and even if you do, kind of it could just be like a placeholder but firms that really put an emphasis on it and are allocating resources towards it possibly forming committees to foster that type of growth.

I think it’s made all the difference for me in feeling comfortable and especially the people that I work with, we obviously keep most things on a professional level but you’re at your place of employment more than you do anything else in this world and to have people that are in your corner and are excited to also get to know you on a personal level is very important as well. I feel like Calfee has done a good job of helping me be surrounded with people that are welcoming and open and are willing to talk about things and foster diversity and inclusion.


[0:06:46.5] Today’s episode is brought to you by Connection Builders. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers.


[0:06:54.4] AD: Josh, appreciate a lot of what you shared there, a couple of things that jumped out to me, one, allocating resources is important for me, and forming committees is important. I want to come back to that because I think a very distinct step that firms can take. Before we dive into that, you’d mentioned, you were a – I think the way you’d phrased, it was the young gay law student looking for where to go, right?

I take that how I want people listening to think through this is one of the number one challenges that you talked to any professional services from – what’s the number one challenge right now? Talent, talent, talent, right? Finding good talent. Ultimately, talent in the talent pool out there is growing in diversity and I think we can all acknowledge that especially with the up and coming generation, there is a greater sense of diversity as a whole and whether in all different facets of defining diversity and in your case, it was being the young gay student, young gay law student.

For you, when you were in that position and you were looking to find a firm and a place to go, what resonated, and what did you like about it. Help people hear in thinking to someone sitting in the other side of the table, help them understand what they should be thinking about why that’s important to recruiting that talent.

[0:08:06.5] JB: Sure, I think law schools do need to do a better job of fostering diversity and inclusion. I think it’s a problem just in this strictly professional, whether it’s finance or investment banking or law or any of those types of professions. I think it’s daunting for anyone that’s the minority to feel like they’re going to have a place in these types of professions. When I was in law school and I went to law school in the south.

I went on to law school at Elon University, I wanted to make sure that wherever I ended up was going to be a place that I felt comfortable being myself and I felt comfortable making relationships with people that I work with and that the environment that I was going to be in day in and day out was not only going to be good for business development but also personal development.

I think that you look for, I guess when you’re choosing a law school, you look for a career services or teachers or student groups and student organizations that put an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. I think when you are making your way through law school and interviewing at law firms, you kind of follow a similar path in the sense that I think you can get a really good idea.

I think that a good idea of a law firm’s efforts for diversity inclusion, whether they’re going to be terrible but I don’t think you can get a fantastic idea without asking those questions and really understanding what types of resources and programs and committees are out there for you.

The LGBT student groups don’t have their own career fair or on-campus interviews. I think it’s a kind of an underserved group on law schools, to be frank, there’s not as many opportunities to get in front of the major firms unless you’re top in the class so I think that one vehicle that law firms could consider adding more resources to is career fairs for diverse and minority students. I think that would go a long way and I think that would really benefit the organizations as well.

[0:10:28.3] AD: It’s a really good point, I want to dig into something for a second. You mentioned about being able to be comfortable where you’re at and I know when we had talked about when we were prepping for this, you and I had talked a little bit about showing up as yourself, being genuine, being authentic, and how that can really help you in the workplace and helping your performance and you also had mentioned that the industry, whether that be law, investment banking, private equity, some CPA, the professional services industry as a whole, can be daunting for anyone to get a job into.

It is a very high-paced, high tension, success-driven industry, right? As a whole. To begin with, we have this high-performing culture, this kind of intimidating environment. If I, on top of that, doubt myself for whatever reason, am doubtful of my own capabilities and reminding all of us that the biggest challenge as we go through in our own head, right? It’s our own confidence, it’s our own ability to show up.

That’s really what allows us to do well in life and getting a job in this case, right? In this interview process as we kind of think through it. If I myself feel unconfident because I don’t’ feel included, I feel like I’m out of place, it doesn’t feel like this is a place that I’m really welcome or that people will really want to connect with me or accept me for who I am, what’s the effect on you as a person, right?

Just think, we all know that you’re going to start doubting yourself, you’re not going to feel part of it, you’re not going to be engaged. All of those things take an individual and one, limit their ability to even maybe perform well in the interview process and even get into the organization but if they are in the organization, their ability to really engage and be a good employee, right?

Now, you do transaction type work and I know you and I have talked about this a little, you’re busy, you work a lot, right? How much time do you spend at work, right? You said you spend more time at work than many other places in life, especially early on in your law career, that’s very much part of the game, right?

You want to feel good about where you’re at, you want to feel good about the people you surround yourself with and who you spend time with, and what does that do that makes you more engaged, that makes you show up and put more effort in, it makes you be nicer to the clients when you’re engaging with the clients, all of these things are byproducts of creating this environment that people feel good about, right?

[0:12:48.6] JB: Most definitely. I think if there’s one point that I want to hammer home that people are listening, it’s that the professional services industries and careers as you mentioned, the private equity, the law, the finance, the investment banking, strictly by the numbers of people applying to these types of grad programs or applying to these types of positions or just a lot less than you would think and then you add on this professional services component, which is high-stress transaction-based area like white hetero male-dominated and driven.

I think a lot of LGBT students are not off-put but are hesitant if they’re not completely secure in who they are and just forget it completely if they are not out of the closet because these types of jobs really open you up to all different types of situations where you’re either constantly coming out and explaining who you are to people, which is great, which is fine and I do that on a daily basis and I’ll probably be doing that for the rest of my life just because it is not the straight hetero path that everyone else has taken.

If you are in the closet and you don’t see diversity inclusion or LGBT friendly or no people that are in these professions definitely becomes daunting to wade into those waters, so if there is anything that I want people listening to know is that we do exist. We are here and it would be great for there to be more resources and more programs and more committees and more opportunities and I think starting a group or starting any of those types of organizations is very important.

I would welcome anyone to reach out to me to talk about developing those ideas or developing those goals or just if they have questions about being gay in a transaction-driven career.

[0:14:40.1] AD: Josh, I really appreciate that and we’ll make sure when we get to the end of the recording we can share ways for listeners to get in touch with you. I think you’re painting in some really important points around what can organizations do. They have to make people feel welcome and I want to just talk for a minute on and specifically for the LGBT community and again, as a white hetero male, I can’t relate to this.

I can only speak to the conversations I have, the experience I have, and just my own, even our dialogue here is I have thoughts running in my mind and you point out that recognizing if someone identifies as the LGBT community, you may not know that at all and so there may be people who are to this day living with the secret that they don’t want to tell me one in the workplace. Think about if you were that person.

Think about if you had those thoughts internally like how that would actually feel to carry with you on a day-to-day basis and don’t know if that would necessarily be fun and it certainly wouldn’t be a place where you felt like you can get involved and to your point that you made, if organizations firms can create ways that are accepting, open and welcoming to it, it’s going to help people feel more and more welcome and to be and to show up more and more of themselves.

I think we’ve already hit on this, I think that will drive better employee engagement, better outcomes for clients, better effectiveness and work product and in all of the business things that make business sense but ultimately you’re also, as we started this entire dialogue, why does it matter? It is just the right thing to do because damn it, the person is going to feel better coming to work, and don’t you want to create that in its own? Everything else is just a benefit that also comes along with it.

[0:16:17.7] JB: Right, most definitely. Yeah, I mean I wholeheartedly agree. I wish that I could tell you all of the investment banks that I worked with or all of the CPA firms that we engage or the private equity firms that I do work with on a daily basis are that way. I’d like to think that most of them are, however, it is difficult for me to find out about other diversity programs that these firms have.

I think with one way to really make it known that these professions are becoming more inclusive and are becoming more diverse or to have conversations like these, so I think it’s important for it to get out there that even though it is male, you know, straight male-dominated that diversity and inclusion is extremely important and everyone should be taking the steps necessary to effectuate a change because I think organizations will be better off for those changes.


[0:17:14.6] ANNOUNCER: Today’s episode is brought to you by the Association for Corporate Growth, the premier MNA deal-making community with a mission to drive middle-market growth.


[0:17:23.4] AD: Let’s go back then, how do we make these changes happen? We know that we’re going to be better off because of what we do. Two things you said earlier that I thought were important, allocating resources and forming committees, so let’s talk through what are your thoughts. Why did those two things help drive change at firms and help kind of make diversity and inclusion a wide, I guess, just more prevalent across the organization?

[0:17:44.5] JB: Sure. Yes, so I mean, I guess I can speak for Calfee at this point or at least what I have seen that Calfee’s done. You know, they have created this diversity and inclusion committee here at the firm where the goal is to host events. With COVID obviously, it’s been put on hold in a sense for the last couple of years having in-person events but for the most part, that type of committee just gets people thinking.

A blast email to the 500 employees who don’t experience diversity at home because everyone is hetero and don’t really have an opportunity to listen to the LGBT chamber of commerce, what’s their agenda for the day, or figure out what’s going on in the State of Ohio with respect to the LGBT rights in the workplace. I think it’s very helpful to have a diversity and inclusion committee whether to just send out a blast email and let people know what legislation is currently being debated or to actually put people together and have events with something like the LGBT chamber of commerce or GLAD or The Center for LGBT Rights or something like that.

I think those types of committees really put in on people’s radar when in our fast-paced busy industry, most people don’t have time to go out on their own and learn about those things. I think firms fostering that kind of inclusion is very important and then allocating resources is similar to the committees because obviously, the committees require resources but more than anything, in hiring, in going to law schools and conducting interviews for LGBT and minority groups I think is super important.

Again, when I was in law school 10 years ago, we did not have that. I am not sure if that’s going on right now. I don’t think it is going on right now, so really just allocating the resources to make sure that we’re actually putting in the effort and trying to track down these people that are brave enough to enter these type of professions in the first place.

[0:19:42.5] AD: I think that last point is important to remember. It is brave enough to show up anyway, to be here to begin with and if you have someone that’s brave enough to do that, why would you not want to create the opportunities to get that person into your firm?

[0:19:54.1] JB: I’ll tell you people that decide to enter the profession anyways without any type of guarantee that the workplace that they’re going to be at is going to be diverse or inclusive or the law school that they are going through is going to provide them with every opportunity usually turn out to be your star players because they are very comfortable in themselves and they are go-getters and they’re ready to just take the world by storm regardless of what comes their way.

I think as long as firms and other types of companies in these heavily male-dominated industries could really benefit from hiring those types of individuals.

[0:20:31.7] AD: I couldn’t agree more. When the world is stacked against people and they persevere and keeps pushing on, those tend to be the rock stars, those tend to be the people that can blast through all walls and all barriers to continue to prove themselves daily and takes a lot of confidence to be there, so hats off to everyone that is in that situation. Josh, a question that I want to go back to quickly on the forming committees.

Because I think you made some really important points around just go and create this opportunity for your people in your firm to understand to, learn more but to create a more accepting environment. You did say Calfee has a diversity and inclusion or an LGBT committee, which of the committees was it that I hear?

[0:21:10.8] JB: A diversity and inclusion committee, yeah.

[0:21:12.7] AD: Okay and is LGBT a focus or is it something that’s an effort is made around?

[0:21:16.8] JB: Yeah, most definitely. It may be called a diversity and inclusion/LGBT committee or it may just be diversity and inclusion committee. Again, since COVID has happened it hasn’t been too active. That being said, you can go on our website and learn more about it and I think at least the goals that are set out and what they’re trying to do is in the right direction most definitely because they are actively thinking about it.

As I said, they are trying to get Mansfield Rule certified, which just means you’ve made certain hiring decisions and allocated certain resources towards diversity and inclusion, so that is something that I think is important that all firms should do.

[0:21:54.4] AD: That’s great and kind of a follow on question with that, what I am trying to ask here, what I’m trying to pull out is, is the committee filled with everyone that is diverse themselves or are there white men helping or less diverse people helping to try to foster and push this?

[0:22:10.2] JB: Yes, so when I joined, the people that were in charge of the committee were not part of the LGBT community. That being said, I think it’s great that people who are not part of the LGBT community are trying to further diversity and inclusion through that type of committee even though they’re not. They identify as an ally rather than part of that group themselves.

[0:22:33.3] AD: You hit on literally the exact word I wanted to drive towards, ally, right? This is really me speaking to I am someone who finds myself in a much less diverse group than others and knowing that the best I can do, I can’t change who I am. I can’t change my life, it is what it is but what I can do is I can try to be an ally. I can try to go out there and create greater awareness and push and strive to create initiatives that can help drive forward change and a broader acceptance and a broader awareness that is going to make it better for everyone.

All of that to say, when we talk about this idea of forming committees, if you are listening and you want to affect change, you want to build a culture that is inclusive and that it embraces diversity, take the initiative, go do it. Go start something, go start pushing to create the committee and push in your recruiting department to try to look and know that over time, being an ally is what’s going to help really affect the change long term in all of this.

[0:23:28.7] JB: Most definitely. Look, when I was looking at the firm and I saw that diversity and inclusion committee on its website, I didn’t know too much about the inner workings of it but more than anything, that immediately was like, “Okay, they are making an effort and I want to find out more about that” and when I was going through the interview process, I found out more about that and it was definitely appealing to me because most of the firms that I was looking at did not even have any mention on their website or any mention in the interview or really any thought process behind that but I think it’s the 21st century.

We’re in the 2020s now, I think a lot more firms are gravitating towards having those types of committees and allocating their resources, so I think it’s positive. Definitely not enough just yet. I feel like we have many more years before it is enough but with that being said, the effort is being made at least at some firms that I have seen and I am happy to see that happen.

[0:24:24.1] AD: Well and with that and something for our listeners, how can they get in touch with you? I want them to be able to reach out to you to ask questions about this and so you can share some of the insights that you had to help others get a running start at this.

[0:24:36.4] JB: Sure, yeah. I mean, I’m on LinkedIn, you can message me on LinkedIn, just Joshua Berggrun or you can go to Calfee’s website or you can – I don’t know if you want me to give my contact information over this or?

[0:24:47.4] AD: We’ll link it on the show notes here for people.

[0:24:49.7] JB: We’ll link the contact information in the bio.

[0:24:52.4] AD: Awesome. Josh, this was a great conversation. I really appreciate it. I think we covered some really good ground there for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you’ll take action. I hope you can go out and continue to drive change for everyone.

[0:25:02.8] JB: Thanks, Alex. Yeah, it was a pleasure being here. I really enjoyed the conversation and looking forward to the next series.


[0:25:11.8] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning into today’s episode of the Diversity Matters in the Middle Market Podcast. We hope you enjoyed our content and encourage you to take action today. While no individual will bring all the change necessary, we can all make an impact. If you enjoyed our content, please share with your network. This is a production of the Association for Corporate Growth, ACG, and Connection Builders.