By Milford McGuirt
There’s a quote that has always resonated with me: “Atlanta is a city that’s too busy to hate,” which has been attributed to former Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield.
I shared this quote with the professionals in our Atlanta office when we participated in a Day of Understanding earlier this month, an initiative spearheaded by the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion – a coalition of more than 500 business leaders dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
The truth is that tragic acts of violence and incidents fueled by anger, hatred or fear affect each of us differently, and too often we may feel unable to speak about them at work. However, our workplaces can be made stronger by cultivating a trusting environment that encourages increased dialogue and understanding. That’s why KPMG’s Chairman and CEO, Lynne Doughtie, committed our firm’s participation in this event, joining PwC, EY, Deloitte, and other companies in hosting sessions across our organizations.
I had the pleasure of leading the Day of Understanding session in our Atlanta office, with the goal of increasing understanding about our differences, exploring how we can better support each other, and driving an environment of inclusion—a place where everyone can bring their ‘authentic selves’ to work.
To help set the tone for the day, I began by sharing my own story, touching on some of the experiences that have shaped who I am.
This included personal experiences that I had growing up as a young black man in a blue-collar neighborhood in Michigan, with parents who placed an extremely high value on education—driving me to become the first in my family to graduate from college.
It also touched on inspiring professional experiences that I’ve had over the 30+ years that I’ve worked in KPMG’s Atlanta office, such as having the opportunity to share lunch with Coretta Scott King while working on an audit for the MLK Center for Nonviolence and Social Change.
My goal was to establish an environment of trust, where everyone could feel comfortable and empowered to have honest and sometimes difficult conversations around who we are as individuals and the value of—and strength in—our differences. This was critical considering that—after a few short videos and tabletop exercises led by our local leadership team—everyone in the room had the opportunity to share their own personal stories during facilitated, small group discussions.
At the end of the day, I asked if anyone was comfortable with sharing their feedback with the group. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of our people who volunteered to stand up and reflect honestly on the experience—with many of them commenting on how they had a new level of understanding for someone else’s day-to-day experience that they hadn’t had previously.
Ultimately, the only negative feedback we received on Day of Understanding was that many people wished their roundtable discussions could have been longer.
Fortunately, these Day of Understanding sessions are a part of ongoing discussions we will have within our firm. Because the more we understand each other, the more collaborative, innovative and effective everyone in the organization will be.
Milford McGuirt is the managing partner of KPMG's office in Atlanta. For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Candace Rivera.