Black colleagues from across North America and Western Europe recently met in Chicago for a conference filled with professional development, networking, and connectivity. Two attendees – Andrea, an associate principal, and Sara, a partner, both from Atlanta – have developed a reputation for their mentoring relationship. We interviewed them to learn how they cultivated such a strong relationship, what they’ve learned from each other, and what advice they have for those of us looking for our own mentors.
Interviewer: How did you first connect with each other?
Andrea: I was participating in a recruiting event for the Atlanta office in 2008. Everyone kept telling me, “You have to meet Sara.” I felt like I knew her before she even knew my name.
Sara: When we met, Andrea, very poised, said to me, “You’ve been doing this job for a while now and you’ve been successful. Do you like what you are doing? How do you make it all work?” It was unlike any interaction I had experienced. She was so bold and honest.
Andrea: It was powerful for me to see another Black woman thriving here. It was important to me to be part of an organization where I could be myself, feel supported, and find mentors and sponsors.
Interviewer: Why were you able to form such a special bond?
Andrea: Sara and I didn’t connect solely because we are part of the Black affinity group. We have a lot in common – we are both women, invested in the Atlanta Office, and interested in our families.
Sara: Sometimes, mentor seems too formal – we’re friends. Our mentoring relationship grew because we had such a natural connection. Andrea has always shared her challenges and joys in a very real and honest way. Our relationship has evolved due to genuine caring – about each other, our office, McKinsey, and our clients – not because we worked together or could create specific professional opportunities for each other.
Interviewer: Andrea, what is something you have learned from Sara?
Andrea: Through office and Black colleague events, I got to interact with Sara and her family on a personal level, which reassured me I didn’t have to separate my professional and personal lives at McKinsey. It was inspiring to see her make it work, especially with her son Ethan. Even if I don’t make all the same decisions as Sara, she has shown me a range of choices I could tailor to my own situation. Now I have a daughter of my own, and I don’t think I would have explored asking my mom to travel with us as a child care option if I had not seen Sara do it.
Interviewer: Why did you become a part of McKinsey’s affinity group for Black colleagues?
Sara: This group has provided me and my colleagues with another set of networks and connections for building friendships, personal support, and professional assistance for client service. It’s a valuable group congruent with our apprenticeship approach. During times when my energy is lagging, I soon remember the community that’s behind me. I get that support from the Marketing & Sales practice, from the Atlanta Office and unequivocally from my fellow Black consultants.
Interviewer: What is the best part about the conference for Black colleagues?
Andrea: We are dispersed across McK, so the conference is a special opportunity to connect with our broader community all in one place.
Sara: The conference occurs about every other year and offers great professional development; but, it’s the connectivity that’s invaluable. It provides a space to genuinely connect with each other. At the last Black colleagues’ conference, Vivian Hunt made a comment about her desire to do meaningful research around diversity and performance. It sparked my interest even though it didn’t sit square in the middle of what I do in marketing and sales. Had it not been for that conference, I would not have been able to hear about Vivian’s vision and start a conversation with her about what we could do next. Our work resulted in the Diversity Matters report.
Many believe that if you have a more diverse workforce, you will have better company performance. Now we have data that shows what the relationship is between diversity and a company’s performance.
Andrea: In that work, we created something from nothing. It was genuine, blue sky problem solving. It was really exciting to start that journey and, with our team, publish our report in February. Our Diversity Matters research shows that companies with diverse leadership are 35% more likely to have above average financial returns.
Sara: Now, I regularly receive calls from colleagues and clients saying, “No one’s ever done anything like this before. You need to come speak to us. We want to partner with you to make sure everybody knows about this.” The impact we can have here is quite significant.
Read more about the creation of the Diversity Matters report and Sara here.
Read more about mentorship at McKinsey here.