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Using my voice—and my camera—to champion equity

A senior graphic designer reflects on her favorite moments from supporting the Black Economic Forum and Institute for Economic Mobility and from her 20 years at McKinsey

Shelly had to stop for a moment and take it all in. As the senior graphic designer walked around a beautiful event space in Martha’s Vineyard in 2018, taking pictures and talking with Black leaders from across North America who were gathered for our first Black Economic Forum, she was nearly overwhelmed with a sense of good fortune.

“I had been at McKinsey for almost 20 years (now 21!),” she said. “It’s been an amazing ride—the work, the relationships, the travel. It’s incredible to know I have a voice here, and that I can use it to discuss issues that matter deeply to me.”

Shelly, a senior graphic designer, is based in McKinsey's Washington, DC office
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Shelly is based in our Washington, DC office, but she tries not to sit still for too long. That tendency to move around and get involved is how she ended up in Martha’s Vineyard, where she designed and photographed the Black Economic Forum—an event sponsored by the McKinsey Black Network  to bring together Black executives to talk about the racial wealth gap and other issues. Now, that event has expanded into our recently launched Institute for Black Economic Mobility.

We caught up with Shelly to talk about how she’s forged her own path at the firm, and how she’s passing along the lessons and kindness that others have shown her along the way.

How has graphic design at McKinsey changed in the last ~20 years?

It was a different organization when I joined, particularly for designers. Back then, we had individual graphic departments in each office. It was great because I worked so closely with my colleagues and the consultants. I really got to know them and their individual work styles. Thinking through problems with them and forming those relationships helped me develop as a designer.

And now?

It’s evolved. I’ve evolved. The firm opened shared service centers in Florida, Costa Rica, India, and elsewhere, which have been really cool to see develop. I even got to go to India to help train and grow our teams there.

The downside is that I feel one step removed from the team, and it has gotten a little harder to develop deep relationships, but we’re working on it. We’ve got some amazing new tools to collaborate, communicate and problem-solve remotely, and that’s really exciting.

What’s your day-to-day like?

Right now, I work with the group that serves public sector clients out of the Washington, DC office. A few colleagues and I put together infographics, websites, photography, and PowerPoint presentations. It’s our job to help consultants and their client teams communicate their findings and recommendations efficiently and effectively.

But that’s just part of my work. I like to get involved all around the firm, from photographing events, to serving as an unofficial office historian, editing McKinsey Black Network newsletters, and more.

What’s a favorite work memory?

One consultant with whom I had worked got stopped in the middle of her presentation to a client. The client was upset that the people in the imagery didn’t reflect the diversity of their organization. I helped her get things back on track. I created some communications to share that experience with my colleagues to bring awareness to the importance of showing diversity in our presentations.

McKinsey Black Network Global Conference in Washington, DC
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It was a great change, and it only happened because the colleague trusted me as a partner.

Overall, I love how the people I work with stretch me to be better. I remember when I was asked to be the designer of the 2019 McKinsey Black Network Global Conference in Washington, DC. It was a reality check when I had to come up with the conference theme—that’s not easy! My experience working with so many smart and creative people gave me the confidence I needed to get the job done. That will always stay with me.

How did you get involved in the Black Economic Forum?

In early 2018, I was talking with Jason Wright, a former partner in DC who was very involved in the McKinsey Black Network. I raised my hand, wanting to be more involved. I was passionate about it because I’m Black; I felt I needed to move the pendulum somehow, some way, for Black people. He told me about the forum McKinsey was co-sponsoring. I said absolutely, please sign me up.

Jason Wright, president of the Washington Football Team and McKinsey Alum
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I ended up doing the design and photography for the event that year, and then again in 2019. I was so proud to be there, so proud to be at McKinsey. The first year, we blew them away. The following year, they were just completely floored.

Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood, an organization that fights poverty
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Everywhere I went, people were talking. These CEOs, entrepreneurs, and executives saying, “Did you see the data [from the recent McKinsey Global Institute report]? A trillion-dollar economic opportunity in addressing racial equity. What are we going to do about it?” They were exchanging numbers, networking, and thinking about how to make a difference. It was exhilarating. As sad and alarming as that data was, there was hope because everyone knew about it. And once you know, you can do something.

James Lowry, one of the first black consultants at McKinsey
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More recently, in 2020, the Black Economic Forum gave birth to the McKinsey Institute For Black Economic Mobility (BEM), which is a think tank dedicated to advancing racial equity and inclusive growth in the US and globally. The impact BEM is having in accelerating Black economic development is tremendous. That's why I was thrilled when Nick Noel, an engagement manager fellow for BEM, invited me to convene and lead its design team. I quickly went to work finding and inviting other Black designers to join the team. Now Alicia, Schaumin, D'Etta and I collaborate to design custom presentations, digital assets, image collections, type faces, and online/social media publishing pieces. We are doing what we love and contributing to a cause about which we are all deeply passionate.

Pictures taken by Shelly at the Black Economic Forum, plus some personal reflections on who she photographed and what it meant to her
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What have you learned from your involvement? What is something you can do to create change?

I don’t have any children, but I have lots of great nieces and nephews. It inspired me to make sure all of them had savings accounts. I need them to know and appreciate what wealth, financial literacy, and education can do.

I have lots of great nieces and nephews
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I realized I’m a role model for that. My great niece wants to do what I’m doing and be like me. I didn’t have the single aunt traveling the world and living her best life. I’m so happy to be a living example for her.

What might be ahead for you?

Someday, I don’t know when, my second act is going to involve photography and travel. I’m going to set up my own photography business in Italy. I’ll take family, friends and tourists around Rome, around Florence, around Sicily, and capture their treasured moments.