Uncensored: Stories of Black professionals at Deloitte

Nates Story

I’m a big believer that if you can see it, you can be it. I think a lot about the people who have come before me, who have been role models, allowing me to use the lessons they’ve learned and apply them to my own life. Every day, I consider the person I want to be for those who come after me.

When I first got to college, I was one of only 13 Black students in my freshman class of more than 600 in the undergraduate business school. Being thrown into a sea of whiteness, I couldn’t stop from wondering if I actually deserved to be there.

That feeling is something I’ve experienced since my family and I first moved to the United States from Ethiopia when I was in the fourth grade. But it wasn’t until college that I began to realize what that feeling was: imposter syndrome.

During those four years of college, constantly surrounded by people who didn’t look like me, I had constant self-doubt about whether I really belonged or was simply satisfying a quota. While I’ve gotten better over time at reminding myself that I deserve to be where I am—and thrive in those environments—that feeling didn’t vanish once I graduated.

Growing up with a passion for technology, I knew I wanted to find a career that would allow me to solve problems in a tech-focused space. After interning at Deloitte, the summer after my junior year, I joined the organization in the fall of 2021 as a full-time analyst in the Cyber practice, where I help companies who are transitioning to the cloud to ensure all their information is secure.

Things move so quickly in the cyber space, but I think my journey coming to the US has helped set me up for success in this role. Because my parents sacrificed so much to give my four older siblings and me a new life, growing up I tried to figure things out on my own as much as I could so I didn’t pile onto everything else they had already taken on for me.

The transition to an entirely different world at the age of nine wasn’t easy. But like most things in life, I believe that what you learn out of necessity is 10 times more powerful than the things that come easily. I’m glad to have had so many opportunities and learned so many lessons at this point in my life. And I think it’s helped me excel in my current role because I can be thrown into complicated situations, quickly take in a lot of information, and make sense of it on my own.

In my first few months working at Deloitte, I could probably count on two hands how many Black professionals I met at the organization. It brought me right back to my college experiences, constantly struggling with imposter syndrome and just trying to “survive” from day to day. Always focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel and reminding myself that things will change soon.

However, over time, things have changed. And I have gained many personal and professional skills that will allow me to thrive for years to come. Although the pandemic has impacted the way we all stay connected, I have ensured my team dedicates time to celebrating successes and getting to know one another outside of work. Our virtual social hours have increased team morale and nurtured our dynamics, and I’m glad to have been able to impact my team in positive ways. I’m fortunate to have an amazing coach to support me through every step of this journey and all the mentors in my circle that have been there for support.

And to make sure other people don’t feel like I did when I first started, I’ve been working alongside the recruiter who brought me into Deloitte to encourage more Black professionals to come through the door—but more importantly, to make sure they’re coming into a space where they can succeed. Even if I can make one person’s experiences just a little better, I’ll feel like I accomplished something.

I've been working alongside the recruiter who brought me into Deloitte to encourage more Black professionals to come through the door—but more importantly, to make sure they're coming into a space where they can succeed.

Outside of recruiting efforts, what does progress for improving DEI look like in corporate America?

A lot of organizations are focusing on increasing the number of Black professionals they hire, and that’s definitely a good start. But it’s only one small step on this journey.

While they could go and recruit thousands of students from HBCUs, I’d like to see more companies ensure that Black professionals feel included and like they’re being set up for success once they’re in the door.

Although there’s a lot to be done, there are steps we can start taking today to create that change. Living in Minneapolis during the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, it felt like the world around me was collapsing. It was non-stop chaos. And every day, there was more devastation on the news. But these trying times also showed me that it is possible to create change overnight—especially when you have the power of an entire city behind you. People were willing to risk everything to stand up for what is right.

If people my age and younger can start a social justice movement, I’d love to see what powerful organizations, like Deloitte, can continue to do—and the impact they could make for people in this country.

I think we’re still in the early stages of trying to figure out how to dismantle racism in our society. But dismantling racism isn’t the only goal. People also need to be focused on becoming anti-racist.

A lot of people talk about how difficult it is to talk about racism. But how hard that might be doesn’t compare to what it’s like to live through racism and be confronted with it on a daily basis. I think a lot of people think of racism as these overt, blatant acts. But microaggressions can weigh just as heavily.

Throughout college when I was an ambassador for the business school, I received countless comments and reactions on campus tours that people—mostly parents—were surprised to hear about my accomplishments and were surprised I could answer their questions so adeptly. And while one comment on its own might not have a huge impact, hearing the same sentiment over and over affected me a lot. I believed that it was pushing forward the narrative that people don’t expect something from me solely based on my appearance.

I believe it’s a privilege that other people are able to learn about racism from the sidelines.

During the summer of 2020, I had hundreds of people asking me what they could do better—from friends to even a few of my college professors. And my response became like an automatic reflex: I don’t know it all.

I think it’s important for people to educate themselves and turn to experts in this space. Information doesn’t just have to come from people in your circle. Sharing personal experiences with racism isn’t always the easiest thing—and can be traumatic at times.

I think people should be aware of the power they hold to make a difference; because racism isn’t an issue to be solved only by Black people.

One of my biggest inspirations at Deloitte has been a partner in our Minneapolis office who is talking about what he’s doing in his personal life to help dismantle racism. It’s definitely important for people to want to make a difference within the walls of Deloitte, but when people extend that effort into their personal lives, that’s even more meaningful.

Like what that partner is doing, I’d like to see more people consider how they can use their identities to make a difference. Not just inside our organization but for society as a whole. And I hope sharing my experiences will encourage more people to reflect on how they can help drive progress.

If one person can take one small part of my story and apply it to their life in a way that’s beneficial, that’s all I can ask for.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely Nate's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Deloitte or its personnel.

Photos by Kirth Bobb

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