Uncensored: Stories of Black professionals at Deloitte

Tanneasha's Story

I was seven years old, and it was career day in my second-grade class. I was wearing my favorite blue overalls, but it was nothing compared to the visiting attorney’s black trench coat and top hat. I was completely captivated by his presence. Before that day, I dreamed of being a figure skater or a mermaid. But from that day on, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer—and a very well-dressed one.

My desire to be an attorney carried me through my entire academic career—from elementary straight to graduate school. The only other career day that left a lasting impression on me was when in fifth grade a banker taught us how to balance a checkbook. I didn’t leave wanting to be a banker, but the importance of being able to earn money and manage my expenses was not lost on me. However, in elementary school my only “income” was allowances, and my only “expenses” were snacks and Goosebumps and Babysitters Club books. To offset my expenses, I started working in the school library throughout elementary school during book fairs and was compensated with free books from my librarian. These experiences, combined with watching my mom work two jobs, shaped my work ethic and relationship with money. I began to understand and witness how immigrants, like my mom, often had to work very hard to make ends meet, establish a safety net, and contribute to their communities—and to hopefully one day be accepted into American society.

I was in middle school when I began to intuitively believe that being Black wasn’t perceived or portrayed as valuable or desirable. Becoming a lawyer then carried a different weight for me, since lawyers are seen as valuable and desirable. As such, I applied to a high school where I could major in law and criminal justice and was thankfully accepted, which marked the start of my journey to becoming a lawyer.

Throughout high school, I had some of the most amazing teachers and was immediately immersed in the field of law, taking classes taught by practicing attorneys and law school professors, and competing in mock trial and moot court competitions. I was also paired with an experienced attorney at a leading law firm in New York City through my school’s mentorship program. She quickly expanded my world and allowed me to learn everything I could about the profession.

At that time, I realized getting into a top school would increase my value in the eyes of America and the profession I wanted to join. However, if I wanted to get into a top college, I felt that I would have to work relentlessly to compensate for not attending a boarding school. My eyes were set on Cornell University, but I had to make it through the daunting application process and a traumatic senior year.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened during my senior year. My train was one of the last ones to head uptown and pass underneath the World Trade Center before the towers fell. Just four months later, I sat barricaded in my AP calculus classroom because there was an active shooting inside my school that left two students wounded. Then on June 3, two weeks after being crowned prom queen, I lost my sister to ovarian cancer. Despite being faced with those unthinkable events, I was still able to maintain my grades and get accepted to Cornell University on a full academic scholarship.

If you are not catching any waves or constantly crashing against the current until you find yourself under water, you may not be on the intended path.

I loved Cornell University. While I knew it was the place for me, there were plenty of times when I didn’t feel like I belonged. In fact, one time, the school’s conservative newspaper wrote an article that featured a picture of Black graduating students with a big red X across their faces and the word: UNQUALIFIED. The article insinuated that all Black students at Cornell were there because of affirmative action. I was outraged and saddened by the accusations. College reinforced my belief that I needed to work twice as hard to prove myself.

By that time, I realized that even though someone can be admitted via affirmative action, it’s your intellect, grit, and work ethic that will get you across the stage to obtain your degree at one of the most intense schools in the country.

Law school was still the plan, but when it became time to take the LSAT, I was experiencing recurring anxiety attacks. I had built my entire identity and life plan off becoming a lawyer, so taking a 100-question test that would decide my future or unravel that plan started to consume me. When I communicated my trepidations to my college adviser, he suggested I stay an extra year and get my Master’s in public policy (MPA) since I was already ahead. He said this would give me extra time to prepare for the LSATs and an MPA would make me more competitive. I agreed and dove right into grad school curriculum, which was split between government policy and business school courses.

I ended up taking and acing several business school courses and joining the consulting club to learn more about the profession. Those experiences made me fall in love with consulting. I started contemplating switching career paths but then felt like I was betraying a dream. So, I went to the place I always go to when I need to do due diligence before making a decision: the internet. I typed in “law government consulting” in the search bar and one government consulting firm stood out for me. Then a series of synchronistic events took place confirming that I should switch paths and pursue this consulting firm. One pivotal event was a dinner for a conference I was attending. There were two open seats next to me, and the two strangers that sat next to me both worked for the very same consulting firm—one was a recruiter. I told her that her firm was my number one choice and she said, “When do you want to interview?” I eventually interviewed and got an offer on the same day. The way things lined up perfectly confirmed to me that I was on the right path, and I felt free to leave my lifelong dream of being a lawyer behind.

During the financial crisis, I started to wonder if it was time for me to move away from strategy. I was watching what was happening to banks and thought to myself, “If you don’t know how to manage risk, then strategy will become obsolete.” So, I went to old faithful and searched for “risk consulting” on the internet, and Deloitte was the first result. I applied, interviewed, and joined Deloitte’s Risk & Advisory practice in 2010—at a time when not many understood the importance of cybersecurity, or privacy, myself included. Not only did I have a steep learning curve, but I was also determined to find my voice within this industry.

On a spiritual level, I knew joining Deloitte was part of God’s plan. I truly believe that when walking in my purpose or God’s plan for my life it always feels like surfing and catching a wave. It takes practice and dedication to be able to do so, but when I do I know it because I am moving with the current. If you are not catching any waves or constantly crashing against the current until you find yourself under water, you may not be on the intended path.

When I entered my 30s, I realized I didn’t need to outwork everyone to validate my identity and value. I knew that if I kept pushing as hard as I was, I would run myself into the ground and be unfulfilled. I let go of the pressure to relentlessly seek my worth and identity through my role or profession.

Even though I still walk into situations where I feel like I need to shrink, I no longer attribute my value to how America or people receive or perceive me. I now empathize with people. If someone communicates something factually and respectfully and you have a visceral reaction, you may want to check your biases and why you believe they’re not in a position to have a voice in your presence. If a woman shows up confidently like every male in the room and you somehow feel intimidated or undermined, you may want to check your self-esteem.

I owe this realization to my faith and my growth to my mentors and sponsors, many of whom do not look like me. Through many direct conversations, they’ve helped me take ownership of my own story and chart my own path. Now I focus on showing up as authentically as possible and teaching racially and ethnically diverse professionals how to seek value not through what they do but who they are. I now mentor and sponsor junior professionals to help them chart their own paths and solidify their identity and worth through their character.

One program I started at Deloitte that I am proud of is Black Careers Matter, focused on raising awareness regarding the Black experience and stories like mine to move Deloitte toward authentic allyship. This also allows racially and ethnically diverse professionals to feel empowered to show up authentically and be their best selves. I want the next generation of Black professionals to succeed and for their voices to be heard. I think Deloitte is continuing to take the steps to encourage authentic conversations and address potential bias internally, but we still have work to do.

I am now a principal in Deloitte’s San Francisco office, working with technology companies on managing risk around new laws and regulations. Even though I did not end up going to law school, every day I have the opportunity to deal with laws and regulations, work with attorneys, and help clients comply with regulatory obligations and build resilient strategies, products, and operations that minimize risk. I feel like my seven-year-old self is fulfilled because I am where I am supposed to be. And I know my value.

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

Photos by Brandon Wyche

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