A Celebration of the Past, Present and Future: EY's Black History Month Executive Roundtable Events

This is the third year EY has hosted its inspirational Black History Month Executive Roundtable events. Distinguished professionals, community leaders and students in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle gathered to celebrate and discuss the past, present and future of Black leaders. Through panel discussions, audiences were inspired by stories of the career paths and achievements of successful Black professionals, while participating in thought-provoking discussions and taking advantage of abundant networking opportunities. EY’s Americas Inclusiveness Officer Karyn Twaronite said: “It’s powerful events like these which both celebrate the history of Black Americans and offer concrete advice and strategies to younger professionals that help us to build a more diverse and inclusive world. EY is very proud to be a part of them.”

Sponsoring success: San Francisco Roundtable

The roundtable event series kicked off on Feb. 6, 2014, in San Francisco, moderated by Ernst & Young LLP partner Sam Johnsonwith panelists representing leading San Francisco businesses. The panel focused on the importance of mentorship and sponsorship, learning from mistakes and drawing inspiration from Black history.

Donoghue Clarke, Senior Manager, Advisory, Ernst & Young LLP, Kicking off the Black History Month Executive Roundtable Event in San Francisco.

The discussion began by explaining the distinction between a mentor and a sponsor. Most people are aware of the role a mentor plays in motivating, inspiring and coaching. However, the panel stressed the power and effectiveness of sponsorship as well. Sponsors work behind the scenes to open doors, advocate and recommend their protgs for important projects and positions. “One of my favorite takeaways from the panel was that sponsors bring ‘juice, credibility and unconditional love,'” said Johnson. “So often, we hear sponsorship described in very basic ways, but that too rarely represents the personality and strength of these relationships.”

The panelists were also candid about the mistakes they’ve made. They shared stories about roadblocks in entrepreneurial endeavors, misunderstandings among colleagues and embarrassing mix-ups all learning experiences that both humbled and motivated the panelists, who shared that every failure is a learning opportunity.

The roundtable closed with panelists reflecting on people in Black history who have been inspirational to them. Rather than talking about famous figures, they made it personal, with mothers, fathers and grandmothers named as the most influential and inspirational people in their lives. The panelists described how the accomplishments of their family members have helped shaped the ambition and values that led to their own success.

Building great relationships: Los Angeles Roundtable

The Los Angeles roundtable, held on Feb. 13, engaged attendees in a dynamic conversation that focused on the importance of building relationships. Moderated by Ernst & Young LLP Partner Gracelyn Hodge, the panel featured leaders of the Los Angeles business community.

The panel discussed the importance of building relationships both on and off the clock. They told attendees that these relationships can help you find opportunities to be influential and strengthen those all-important mentoring and sponsorship connections. In order to have credibility, panelists highlighted that you must both excel and cultivate your personal brand to grow a reputation of excellence.

Stacey MacFarlane, Senior VP of HR, Special Olympic World Games, emphasized that the best sponsors aren’t in formal programs and they can even be peers or subordinates. The most successful relationships are marked by open and authentic communication, she said, while also noting the importance of paying sponsorship forward.

Creating a meaningful career: Seattle Roundtable

The Seattle event, held on Feb. 20, was a blockbuster, attended by more than 200 professionals, community leaders and students. The event centered on creating a career path and focused on key themes such as mentorship, sponsorship and ethics. Ernst & Young LLP Partner Marcus Odedina moderated the roundtable of prominent businesspeople.

Panelists reflected on their career paths, saying that as Black professionals, they often had to blaze their own trail without role models to follow. They shared a fervent hope that they were creating a better path for the next generation.

Mentors and sponsors played an important role for all of the panelists. Melvin Flowers, Corporate Vice President of the Internal Audit Group at Microsoft, emphasized the importance of give and take in a mentor or sponsor relationship: “You have to put in the effort before you ask someone to sponsor you,” he said. A good mentor will also tell you the truth, panelists said, not just what you want to hear.

The importance of maintaining your integrity and being true to yourself was emphasized. Panelists agreed that in the end, all you have as a professional is your reputation and your word. Once that is compromised, it’s nearly impossible to recover.

Odedina said: “This has been an extraordinary experience. It’s not often you get to hear candid stories and advice from an impressive cross-section of Black business leaders. It wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of our Black Professional Network and the enthusiasm of the community and our panelists.”

The essence of these impactful events and Black History Month as a whole was encapsulated by the spoken-word poet who opened the San Francisco event by saying: “I’m an immediate product of my immediate past.”


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