Ernst & Young Convenes Black History Month Events


Building on Ernst & Young‘s successful 2012 Black History Month Executive Roundtable in Oakland, the firm hosted more than 500 professionals, community leaders and students during an expanded 2013 Black History Month roundtable series in Oakland, Los Angeles and Seattle this February. While each event offered unique elements, all featured compelling panel discussions about the career progression and personal achievements of black professionals, as well as diversity and inclusiveness business strategies.

Each roundtable was moderated by an Ernst & Young current or retired partner, including Risk Partner Marcus Odedina in Seattle; Ernst & Young Americas Inclusiveness Officer Karyn Twaronite(pictured above) in Oakland; and retired Midwest Region Managing Partner and Vice Chair Tony Anderson in Los Angeles. Roundtable panelists represented leading West Coast businesses such as: Joanne Harrell, Senior Director of Public Affairs and US Citizenship at Microsoft; Kelvin E. Council, CFO of Boeing Commercial Aviation; Gregory Adams, President of the Northern California Region Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals; and Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of NBC Universal.

“Our Black History Month dialogue in Oakland was remarkable, and I’m so thrilled that business and community demand for these discussions inspired us to create an event series,” said Ernst & Young’s Karyn Twaronite. “Within our organization, I’m consistently reminded of how our black professionals are building a better working world, and these cross-company events made it clear there are so many more success stories to celebrate throughout our businesses and communities yet we must tell these stories if we want to replicate and multiply them.”

The need to increase ethnic diversity is top of mind for professional services organizations and beyond. The 2011 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants report, Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits, reported that ethnically diverse professionals represent 20% of the professional staff positions in the accounting profession, but only 5% of the partners among the 348 firms that participated in this study.

Reflecting on different career journeys

No one’s career starts at the top, and the panelists offered motivating and inspirational stories about their journeys into leadership roles and the C-suite, as well as their unique experiences as black professionals. For example, Kaiser’s Gregory Adams told the Oakland audience that despite growing up in the South in the 1960s and personally experiencing discrimination, “It never defined who I was or who I was going to be.”

During the Seattle roundtable, Microsoft’s Joanne Harrell shared her own stories and perspectives on her success and personal achievements, emphasizing the importance of feeling “centered, comfortable and confident.” Boeing’s Kelvin Council stressed that focusing on performance and technical competency plays a key role in having a successful career.

Finding common ground in taking risks, learning from mistakes

Each panel provided different takeaways, yet one recurring theme was that taking risks throughout your career is a necessary step to growing professionally. For example, during the Los Angeles roundtable, NBC Universal’s Craig Robinson shared how he is pleased that he pushed through his concerns about taking a job in Columbus, Ohio, a city he had never been to before and was not particularly interested in. “Not only was the opportunity excellent for my career, but it turned out to be the best five years of my life,” he said.

When the Seattle discussion turned to career-shaping opportunities and lessons learned, Boeing’s Kelvin Council commented that, “Everyone makes mistakes, but it is the professional who is willing to take ownership and find a solution who leverages challenges as opportunities to grow professionally.”

Ernst & Young LLP retired partner Tony Anderson noted that this thinking goes to the core of being authentic. “You have to allow people to be who they are at work not 50%, not 75%, their whole selves. Only then can people truly provide their diverse views, improve the decision-making process and help your organization realize the true value of diversity.”

Building your brand, your network and your board

Another shared theme of the roundtables was the importance of building your personal and professional reputation and continually growing and fostering your professional network. At the Los Angeles roundtable, NBC Universal’s Craig Robinson summarized it well: networking is a quality game, not a quantity game. On the other hand, Kaiser’s Gregory Adams recommended to the Oakland audience that finding a way to disconnect is important, because you can’t bring your true value if you are always connected. He walks an hour and a half a day to unplug.

Finally, the Seattle panelists emphasized how critical it is to establish professional mentors and personal accountability. Boeing’s Kelvin Council suggested building a personal board of directors to rely on for regular, candid and meaningful advice. Microsoft’s Joanne Harrell added that she focuses on being accountable for herself rather than investing time in comparing her work to that of others.

“The Seattle event was yet another validation that translating the tremendous potential of black professionals into positions of power requires both personal passion and sponsorship,” said Ernst & Young’s Marcus Odedina. “This series was largely possible because of our Black Professional Network and similar groups, and I applaud their efforts to bring this learning and networking to the community so we can close what is too often a gap between black potential and power.”

For others considering investment in a D&I event series, Neal Sornsen, Ernst & Young’s San Francisco Bay Area Major Accounts Coordinating Partner, added, “The cross-company planning and participation in this series resulted in meaningful relationship building that advanced D&I initiatives and furthered our joint business goals. I joined many firm partners in hosting and engaging in several events from beginning to end. The events may have taken place in the West, but I am confident their impact extends across the US andbeyond.”

* This article features contributed content and has not been fact-checked or copy-edited by DiversityInc.

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