By Afra Lucas
I was born in Tanzania, raised in Germany, and built my career in the United States. I’ve been immersed in diverse cultures for most of my life. However, it wasn’t until I participated in a Day of Understanding that I realized I still have much to learn about diversity.
Professionals in my office of Chicago participated in a Day of Understanding earlier this year, 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.
Through open and honest table discussions, we learned about our colleagues’ experiences and backgrounds. There was also a panel discussion featuring individuals with different perspectives and from various backgrounds and walks of life. Felicia Tucker, J.D., LL.M Principal at KPMG had a big impact on me. She talked about the obstacles she’s previously had to overcome as a woman of color and how she supports inclusion as a principal at KPMG.
Leaving the office that day I was inspired to continue the dialogue. The event also inspired me to apply for sponsorship to attend a diversity conference.
I was accepted to attend the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) conference held over the summer in Nevada. In tandem with the conference, I was selected to attend the KPMG African American Network’s (AAN) Leadership Essentials Series (LES), which is a unique cross-functional networking and leadership development experience with the intent to nurture career potential and growth. The program is sponsored by the African American Network Advisory Board to underscore the firm’s commitment to develop a diverse group of leaders.
LES’s programming offered useful tips on building strong relationships, effective communication, workplace savviness, and navigating unwritten rules.
The breakout sessions allowed leaders and participants to share their own journeys and the obstacles they face while rising to the top. Seeing these leaders and hearing their stories encouraged me to share some of my own experiences.
I spoke about the times I’ve been told, “You speak English very well.” It used to be something I welcomed hearing as a non-native speaker, but also something I recently realized could be offensive when not referred to in that context.
I also got a chance to hear and learn from some of KPMG’s African American leaders of past and present:
Frank Ross, retired KPMG Audit Partner, shared his experiences as the first African American Partner at KPMG and what it meant to him to be the first. He encouraged us to let our work speak for itself and how this mentality shaped his career. When asked what makes him the most proud he replied that we are his legacy.
Secondly, I got the opportunity to meet Felicia after the “Conversations that Count” women’s panel at LES. She was very approachable and I told her how impactful her words during both panels were to me. I admired her career changes and continuing education that resulted in several degrees including a juris doctorate law degree. She encouraged me to keep in touch and reach out if I ever needed advice. I intend to.
Since NABA and LES, I took those lessons back to my role on the Chicago AAN steering committee. I intend to continue engaging in meaning full dialogue and create platforms that allow people to truly listen and learn about their colleagues.
I have also launched a new business resource group in my office called Parents and Caregivers at KPMG (The PACK). This inclusive community of KPMG employees seeks opportunities for members to exchange ideas, resources, and experiences. It also provides KPMG with feedback on corporate initiatives and practices that impact working parents and caregivers. My goal for the PACK is to also provide a platform to some of the emotionally taxing topics parents face when raising children of color and/or biracial children. It’s a topic that hits home for me, since I too am raising a biracial child.
I want to thank KPMG, firm leadership and allies for their continued commitment to develop a diverse group of future leaders and opportunities to stay engaged.
Afra Lucas is a manager on KPMG's Client and Markets team in Chicago. For more information, please contact Candace Rivera.