The ripple effect of allyship

Syreeta Williams Director, Office of the General Counsel, PwC US February 26, 2021

Powerful effects of allyship and paying it forward

From the age of six, I took part in the METCO program, a school integration busing program in Boston that enrolls inner-city students in suburban public schools to increase educational opportunity and promote diversity in suburban communities. I experienced early on what it feels like when no one else in the room looks like you and you are “representing” your race, whether explicitly stated or not. I learned to navigate being the only Black individual in a space and eventually to hold my head high in a predominantly white public accounting industry.

And while those experiences may have prepared me better than others, I was well aware of the role race plays in the workplace, whether intentional or not. Even before I began my career, it has been obvious that there are too few racially/ethnically diverse individuals in leadership positions in corporate America, particularly Black women. I held a lot of self-doubt in the early years of my career — at times I felt like I didn’t measure up to my white male peers, or that I wasn’t positioned for opportunities.

Luckily, I found a mentor in Andrew Thorne, a Black male senior manager at the time, who acknowledged my strengths and talents early on. He became a trusted ally, identified opportunities for me, and helped me expand my network at PwC. Soon, I met Kristin Francisco, Assurance partner — who would become my long-time relationship leader and my biggest ally. For the past 10 years, Kristin has been instrumental in helping me secure the right opportunities on challenging projects that set me up to grow and build my confidence and presence.

I have found success at PwC in part because of the inclusion and support I’ve received throughout my time at the firm. I am now a Director in the Assurance Asset and Wealth Management practice completing a tour with our Office of the General Counsel. As a Black female Director in a leadership position, I’m reminded every day that we have a long way to go in making the workplace an equitable environment — acknowledging and amplifying the hard work and talents of every professional. All of us, but especially leaders, have a responsibility to create space for people to speak up, talk about their professional development and learn from mistakes, ask for feedback, and challenge behaviors that do not contribute to an inclusive work environment.

There are ripple effects to allyship: when one person believes in and advocates for you, it inspires others to do the same. I am embracing paying it forward. I understand just how much it matters to young Black girls to see someone who looks like them leading, and I know first-hand the power of those who do not look like you making room for you to grow and thrive. So, colleagues, mentors, and allies: Let’s make some waves.