When you think of an origin story, you usually think of how superheroes gained their powers despite personal challenges and setbacks. After one conversation with Deadra, you will instantly notice the out-of-this-world skills that have helped her through critical moments and molded her into the woman she is today.
Deadra’s origin story
Deadra and her sibling were raised by their aunt, who also raised their then-teenage mother, in Berkeley, California. Times were tough, to say the least.
“I don't know that I really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Deadra said. “In our house, there was a strong emphasis on work, but not on education. The only education-related thing I heard was that I had to go to school and get good grades so that I could get a job. I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to be.”
Deadra graduated from high school in 1986. In 1993, after a few years of working many retail, fast food, and other entry-level positions, Deadra became a receptionist at a student loan company in San Francisco. “It was my first job in a corporate environment. I started to realize I could do more, and I was fortunate that other people saw potential in me that I hadn't seen in myself,” she reminisces. “No one had ever really told me ‘you're smart’ or ‘I see something in you.’ So, that was where things really started.”
Deadra realized that, “Whether it's your job, volunteerism, or being called upon to help with something, when you do good work, people remember you and give you more.” While applying this philosophy to her work at the student loan company, the organization’s president offered her a role in marketing.
She accepted and, “Started to see the importance of [a college degree] just in listening to office conversations between peers.” While working full-time during the day, she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix through the nighttime program. That opened up more opportunities in her career.
But life changed course for Deadra when she met her husband and eventually left the student loan company to help him start his own marketing business. “It was interesting,” Deadra says, “But I kept feeling like I wanted to do more.”
In 2000, Deadra started at McKinsey as an administrative assistant and moved up to executive assistant, administrator, coordinator, specialist, and then manager of the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). “My initial plan was to work at McKinsey for a year, get settled with my husband, and then go off and do something great. That was 21 years ago, and I'm still at McKinsey. I'm happy about my accomplishments and where I am today.”
Reflecting on her early career
Looking back at her experience at McKinsey, Deadra highlights the importance of mentorship and wishes she had sought out coaches and sponsors earlier.
“I’ve had some people really ‘pound the table’ for me throughout my McKinsey career, which was a motivating factor in my growing and developing.” Fast forward to today; Deadra now mentors a few women and tries to instill in them the importance of being open to feedback, taking advantage of the firm’s learning programs, and being transparent about their growth goals. In her experience, McKinsey has been very supportive, and colleagues have been more than willing to help.
Today, as the professional development and operations manager at MGI, she manages all people- and finance-related processes, an area in which Deadra was not previously experienced. Mentorship, however, made it possible for her to take on the role and excel.
“There's no ceiling here. I love my job. I would like to continue growing MGI. This opportunity is part of what inspired me to return to school.” With encouragement from MGI leaders, Deadra recently obtained a masters of science in human resource management from the University of Southern California.
On staying motivated
It takes true dedication and focus to work your way up as Deadra has. Of course, she has faced her share of challenges over the years.
“Every time I felt low, something inspiring or good would happen, and it would motivate me to keep pushing. Then, because I did a great job on my work, I’d get opportunities to expand my role. It keeps me going. When I go through hard times at work, I always think, ‘Well, I've dealt with worse than this at home. I can get through this.’ So, I’ve just hung in there, and it has paid off. I never thought that I would be a successful leader in a global firm or in London or Melbourne on family vacation. I just never dreamed that those things would be possible for me. I'm glad I didn't give up.”
What she’s excited about
Building on her experience and education, Deadra looks forward to leading MGI’s newly formed People & Culture Taskforce. “We have a core group in addition to McKinsey consultants who rotate into MGI to conduct research and then go back to serving clients. We're focusing on improving the culture and experience for everyone in MGI, and I'm excited to lead that.”
Deadra is the only non-partner on the department's operating committee. She shares that upon joining the committee, a senior partner told her she wasn’t there to take meeting minutes but to serve as a full member. It’s receiving support like that and the obvious ways others see her potential that motivates Deadra.
Her advice for new hires
“If I look back at my own career at McKinsey, starting as an administrative assistant, and moving into this really pivotal role at the McKinsey Global Institute, I know our internal mantra of ‘make your own McKinsey’ exists,” says Deadra. She echoes her sentiments for new Black colleagues to join the McKinsey Black Network, seek out mentors, and be transparent from the start about what they want. “Those are the things I’m doing now that I wish I’d done earlier in my career and would encourage any new colleague to think about.”
On her future at McKinsey
The future looks bright for Deadra. She’s taking full advantage of world-class McKinsey training, including the Black Leadership Academy, a six-month intensive leadership training hosted by the firm. She’s also interested in getting more involved in the firm’s diversity & inclusion initiatives, like the 10 actions towards racial equity and equality, after recently receiving her D&I certificate.
“I'm in this really good space where my colleagues and leadership trust me. I have tons of flexibility in my job. There are many opportunities for me; I just have to figure out what I want and go for it.”