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Celebrating Pride Month: Erica Richards, Special Counsel, Cooley (NY)

Born and raised in a small town in Idaho, where adventure was right outside her doorstep, Erica Richards is no stranger to discovering and forging a path of her own. Her dreams of pursuing a career in law led her to New York City where she didn’t allow the bright lights to distract her. In 2008 after exploring a range of opportunities in corporate law, Richards found her footing in restructuring and fell in love with it. Richards stated, “I am so happy that I finally landed in restructuring, it feels like the right place for me.”

Upon joining the bankruptcy bar, Richards became aware of TMA’s notoriety as being a top networking organization in the restructuring industry, which prompted her to attend TMA events here and there.  But it wasn’t until the pandemic where she realized that a stronger means of connecting would be of great value to her.

During that time, she got involved with the TMA NOW Global Committee and attended her first in-person NOW Summit this past May where she was welcomed to assist with planning one of the panels at the summit.  “It’s nice to get involved in that sort of leadership role because you get a chance to really know people,” and “It was a rewarding experience and time well spent in terms of business development.” stated Richards.

Richards would not have been as comfortable in taking the reins in leadership if it wasn’t for the community she found in being part of a New York-based networking organization for LGBTQ+ professionals called WorkOUT. Being active in WorkOUT, like TMA, has presented her with many opportunities to plan and lead industry events.  It also provided an avenue to find common ground with colleagues and make genuine connections through her LGBTQ+ identification. She believes that having organizations like these are valuable in developing trust and relationships by opening the door for authenticity.

Richards explained her process of coming out into the workplace, “When I came out to my work colleagues and employer, I started by finding a colleague that was already out and started having that discussion with her and understanding how it had gone for her. I was able to get comfortable with someone that I trusted and who understood my concerns.”

Shamina Sing, President of Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service. said, "To innovate, and to do anything successfully in business, you need to have people of different backgrounds, and people who think differently when they are looking at the same situation you are, with a different set of eyes."1 

Richards has experienced this firsthand in her line of work. When asked what she thought the LGBTQ+ community would look like in the future within the business world she said, “Companies are recognizing the business case for having a diverse team of people representing them. People come from different backgrounds and bring more creativity and solving problem which is important in restructuring where the problems are evident and creative solutions are needed quickly.” “I have received RFPs from clients who want to know who you are putting on your team. They’re looking to ensure that the firms that they’re hiring are meeting certain metrics for diversity. This applies to all different metrics of what diversity looks like including LGBTQ+.”

Welcoming diversity into the workplace starts with having an open mind. Richards made mention of some ways companies can create an atmosphere of openness and inclusivity: one way is by providing training on unconscious bias that is attended and then actively practiced by members of senior management. Another that is easy to implement is to encourage employees to identify their pronouns in their signature block. Companies can also look for and support opportunities for employees who identify as LGBTQ+ to leverage their networks, such as promoting speaking engagements and event sponsorships that highlight the achievements of those employees. And finally, by proudly sponsoring events geared towards Pride and diversity overall. All these things are great ways to embrace a culture of diversity in the workplace that will in return allow employees who identify as LGBTQ+ to know that their employer supports them in being their authentic selves. 

Richards acknowledged that being LGBTQ+ in New York City is easier than in many other parts of the country (and the world), where the threat of discrimination and outright violence in and out of the workplace is very real.  “I know that there are concerns in the LGBTQ+ community that Pride events have become too corporate and seek to exploit the struggles of individuals in that community while failing to take meaningful action to alleviate those struggles. And some of those critiques are not without merit. But I also think that those of us that have the support of our employers and professional organizations owe it to everyone living outside of these bubbles to take full advantage of the resources and platforms that are available to increase visibility and acceptance for the community as a whole. And I applaud TMA’s increased and sustained attention to diversity and inclusion issues.  Happy Pride!”

1 11 Inspiring Quotes From LGBTQ Executives For A New Generation by John Schneider and David Auten

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