Building Bridges: A Reaction to ACN’s Town Hall on I&D

Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, the rhetoric that’s been uttered by news stations, protesters, political aspirants, and general citizens alike. This bombardment of opinions and views being slain through news media, and day to day operations in our local and communities abroad. Being an African American Male working for a hugely diverse company, as much as we’re apt to try and keep these local occurrences out of the work place, this was a time that even with the biggest of smiles I couldn’t hold back the frustration at work.

On Wednesday, July 27, our I&D Lead, Julie Sweet and a host of MD’s and consultants across the nation engaged in a ‘Building Bridges’ town hall discussion. With the goal of talking about the recent events, and to initiate the conversation on how to candidly deal with the emotions that come along with them. I honestly tuned in with low expectations as I originally felt this was just another formality being taken to check the box for ‘We addressed this.’  However, this dramatically took a complete 180 degree turn, when the lead opened the conversation saying, “The killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and the Dallas Policemen……”  A Caucasian woman, serving in a managing directing role, at a global consulting firm, leading Inclusion and Diversity (which is a HUGE sign of the barriers being broke at Accenture already) opened the conversations by saying their name. The chills this gave me were immediate, and it was to set the pace, and depth of discussion by not ignoring the events of recent weeks; and addressing the fact these things have happened and cannot be ignored. Likewise highlighting that the emotions from said occurrences can and do translate into the work place.

For years here at Accenture, I’ve read the ‘diversity’ numbers, and watched the what were ‘interest groups’, transform into Resource Groups.  I’ve always felt that Accenture was indeed diverse, and seemed to check all the boxes and build upon the ‘numbers’ of people of different ethnic backgrounds. These are always the goals of companies looking to ‘expand in the diversity realm.’  However, the title reads “Inclusion and Diversity.”  From the discussion that occurred last Wednesday, that was a sign of Inclusion.  I personally defined the two as mutually inclusive:  In order to spark DIVERSITY in an organization, one must ENGAGE in INCLUSION. More simply put, Diversity is a by-product of Inclusion. (Which is why I believe one it’s I&D and not D&I). If a person or group does not feel included, there can be no real strides in diversity. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that when you create a completely inclusive environment, people will pay less attention to the numbers, and more attention to the individual people. As a minority in this company, it feels better to know that leadership is personally vested in inclusion, and not simply driven by the stats, and benchmarks of counting minorities in our company to measure our true successes.

Though I haven’t worked directly for any other company in my adult professional career, I’d almost say it’s safe to assume, that Accenture is on the front line of addressing these issues and it will translate into a work environment that’s not afraid to deal with complicated PERSONAL issues, IN the workplace.

Years ago I drafted a blog that talked about debunking the notion of discussion of religion and politics in the workplace. My stance on this was that these are items that people feel extremely emotional about. Though it is a difficult conversation to have at times, knowing what truly motivates a person will absolutely help you to understand how to work with them better.  These discussion should be more of a sharing of ideas, and WHY individuals believe a certain thing, and support certain views. For the first few years of my tenure here at Accenture, these are topics that I was ‘forbidden’ to discuss in fear it would negatively affect my reviews and perception here at the firm. I was a check box in the diversity division, but didn’t really feel included as these are things I’m passionate about but didn’t feel open to discuss.

Tying back into recent happenings, on the morning that Alton Sterling was killed, I was stopped by a policeman outside of Ferguson, MO and the first thing I said was “I pray this not my last day.” It was at that moment that none of my upbringing, formal education, degrees, or great career with Accenture mattered. It was a dark and scary place to be knowing that in a country as great at America that these were real feelings, and real thoughts. The policeman didn’t come close to my window and spoke to me from the backseat window. Later that week, in the city I’m staffed in, I was pulled over late after work by another officer that said I failed to use my turning signal at a stop sign. As the officer approached my vehicle, I held out my wallet and rental agreement towards the wheel, only to witness him take a step back and grab his belt. Did anything happen? No. Are these the first times I’ve felt threatened by police officers instead of protected, absolutely not. But it’s MY PERSONAL example, that no matter how much we attempt to ignore a problem at work, there are those that feel at a disadvantage in some of these situations.

As I listened to the Building Bridges call, and saw the faces of MD’s across North America they all looked and sounded differently:  White, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, African American, Female, Male, Gay, Straight, Experienced Hire, Accenture Lifers etc…. All joining in on what we probably overlooked as a display of one of CORE values:  RESPECT for the INDIVIDUAL .It was an un-staged picture, of what our company really looks like. I listened to PEOPLE looking inwardly and outwardly genuinely seeking ways that we can BUILD an inclusive environment.  For once in my 4.5 years at Accenture, it truly felt like we’re on the edge of breaking a new barrier in what is INCLUSION, and not simply diversity. It was in those moments, I was reaching out to co-workers and former co-workers across the country all with encouraged emotions, and a new pride in our company. All because leadership choose NOT ignoring the frustrations that many of us hide in the workplace because of injustices that seemingly don’t directly affect us.

As National AAERG Core Team Member, I’m excited and proud. And post-discussion, encouraged and challenged to work at fine-tuning and building inclusion amidst those that look like me. From the discussion I’m empowered to work even more fervently in blurring the line of difference, and emboldening the line of similarity. All of us at Accenture have now been staffed on an internal inclusion development project (I’ll call it IDP since we love acronyms here), and the go-live is now. The skillsets aren’t listed in myscheduling, the roles aren’t clearly defined, the deadline has severely passed, and the performance achievement priority is number 1. There is no formal training, there’s no real subject matter expert, and yet, we all, when hired, were equipped with what we needed to get the job done. Now the question is: what will I do,  YOU do, what will WE do, to make sure no person on our project, client, DTE, local office, National Teams, or even offshore ever feel like an outcast and genuinely feel completely vested in our work community.


Building Stronger Bridges,

Trent J