What's possible if we understand each other's experiences?

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

4 minute read 17 Sep 2019

Conversations with teammates help build a culture of belonging that fuels collaboration, innovation and better business outcomes.

All differences matter and make teams stronger. In a new monthly series, Building connections through conversation, we feature conversations between EY professionals to celebrate our unique differences, build understanding across our teams and highlight how a culture of belonging in the workplace leads to better collaboration. Check this page for updated conversations each month.

Suriana and Christiani

Keith and Alysia

Kenisha and Michelle

Varick and Danielle

Darryl and Sainte

Tax Senior Sainte Jean-Baptiste and Darryl Ramsey, Associate Director in Markets & Business Development, are both passionate mentors. Darryl, the New York City Digital Divide Leader, and Sainte, a College MAP Access Director in Miami, recently met for the first time and connected over finding purpose in mentoring others.

Brett and Zohra

New York-based EY-Parthenon Senior Director Brett Shisler and Zohra Damani, CBS Program Manager- Americas Learning & Development, based in Chicago, are two EY boomerangs who recently connected to talk about their experiences as people with non-visible disabilities at work. They shared with each other how they’ve each found a sense of belonging with support from colleagues and leaders, and what others can do to advance disability inclusion.

Christopher and Dee

Christopher Page, a Senior in Consulting currently on active duty leave in Stuttgart Germany, and Dee Brown, a Director with EY Parthenon based in Dallas who is also an active military reservist, recently met via video call for the first time. In their conversation, they connected about their plans to recognize Veterans Day, the similar sacrifices of their families who support their military careers, and their individual experiences of belonging as a veteran at EY.

Breanna and Rachael

Both based in McLean, VA, Breanna Harris, a Manager in Technology Consulting, and Rachael Webb, a Senior in Business Consulting, recently met for the first time via video call, where they connected on their experiences of opening up at work. Breanna reflected on her experience as a Black woman and member of the LGBT+ community, and Rachael recalled how she first told colleagues about her neural disability.

Amanda and Eric

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we feature a courageous conversation between two of our Latinx professionals, Amanda Rivera, a Senior Manager in Business Consulting based in Kansas City, and Eric V De Leon, a Los Angeles-based Assurance Manager. Amanda and Eric recently met via video to talk about how their experiences of belonging at work have made an impact on their allyship journey in today’s world.

Terri and Darius

Terri Comer, an Associate Director in Business Development based in Washington, D.C. and Darius Thompson, a Dallas-based Assurance Senior, recently met via video to discuss the March on Washington and allyship in today’s world.

Sonya and Rummesa

Sonya Wallace, a Senior Manager in People Advisory Services based in Cincinnati, and Rummesa Abrar, a Miami-based Tax Senior in Private Client Services, recently met via video call. They each spoke about their experiences as minority women in their communities and at work, and connected on shared love for family and traditions.

Dan and Nick

Dan Hagerman, a Senior Manager in Tax based in Detroit and Nick Walcott, a Boston-based Senior Associate in Assurance Experience Management, recently met via video call for the first time. In their conversation, they spoke about their experiences as part of the LGBT+ community in a wide-ranging discussion about parenthood, coming out at work and the importance of belonging.

Diane and Scott

Diane Mei, a Manager in Advisory, FSO, based in New York, and Scott Taylor, a People Advisory Services (PAS) Manager based in Seattle, recently met via video call for the first time. In their conversation, Scott, also the US-West Region lead for our Veterans Professional Network, and Diane, a local leader in the Tri-State Pan Asian Professional Network, connected over their experiences of belonging at EY and the importance of supporting each other, especially during times of crisis.

Adrienne and Haruko

Adrienne Rutledge is an Account Support Associate at EY’s San Jose Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence (NCoE). In a recent conversation with her manager, Haruko Ueda, Adrienne expressed how she experiences feelings of belonging at EY. “I feel like I found my tribe, because I was able to work in teams with people who had shared experiences,” she says. Watch more highlights from their virtual conversation, held via video from their homes during the current period of social distancing.

Demi and Will

Chicago natives Demi Olatunbosun, a staff in EY’s FSO Technology Advisory Program, and Will Miller, a Senior Manager in Assurance, connect over their experiences as volunteer mentors in EY’s College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) program, which matches groups of EY mentors with groups of underserved local high school students to help them gain access to college and succeed in higher education. 

Constant and Luwen

Both based in San Jose, CA, Constant Djacga, a Partner in Assurance, and Luwen Zhang, a Manager in Assurance, discuss how mentorship across difference has personally shaped their EY experiences.

Brandon and Lily

Brandon Lyons, a Colorado Springs-based supervising associate in Experienced Management who is also training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, and Lily Vargas, a manager in New Jersey who recently moved from Consulting to Strategy and Transactions, discussed their new opportunities at work and in life, and how they’ve personally experienced disability inclusion at EY. Read below for highlights of their conversation.

Working at EY with a disability

Brandon: In 2014, when I had my diving accident where I broke my back and sustained a spinal cord injury, one of the first thoughts was, “Am I still going to have a job at EY?” As someone with a disability, I may need some additional flexibility to be my best self at work every single day. I see that support system in our culture within my team all the way up to our leaders. It wasn’t until I had my accident and disability, when I came back to work and was really seeing it through a different perspective that I thought, “Wow, they actually are walking the walk.” 

Lily: I agree. It’s easy to talk about culture, it’s actually walking the walk that’s important. For a while after I was diagnosed with a benign tumor, I was going to doctor visits frequently to make sure that the tumor didn’t grow. It was good to know that if I needed the support and the time to do my doctor’s visits that I didn’t have to feel bad about it.

ey brandon and lily

Brandon, left, is training for the Paralympics; Lily, right, poses with a koala on a recent trip to Australia.

  • Read more highlights from Brandon and Lily’s conversation.

    Brandon: I remember several years ago hearing a stat that 20% of people will experience a disability before they retire, whether it’s a minor injury or as severe as breaking your back like I did.*

    Lily: There are also unseen disabilities, like in my case where you may not know by looking at me that I had a brain tumor that impacted my sight. One of the things that I find reassuring is when I attend conferences, there is a box to check for any accessibility needs. I normally request a seat toward the front, because otherwise I’ll have a hard time seeing the presentation. I will also share with my team members that I need them to make the font larger when they ask me to review something, so my nose isn’t pressed up to their laptop.

    *According to US Census data 2010.

    Embracing new challenges

    Brandon: A lot has changed since we first met each other in New York back in 2015. I transferred to Colorado Springs, where I’m training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. I’m essentially training 40 hours/7 days a week to hopefully make the games next year.

    Lily: Wow, that’s really exciting. Since we last spoke, I moved out of Consulting to the Strategy and Transactions team about two years ago, and I’m still located in the Hoboken office. My two sons also graduated from college.

    Brandon: What drove the reason for you to transition from Advisory into Strategy and Transactions?

    Lily: A friend reached out and said there was a need for managers in the Strategy and Transactions practice and asked if I would be willing to go onto a Strategy and Transactions project. I did a short project, and even though it was for three weeks, I still really liked the work. After another project, I asked for a transfer. I absolutely love the work, even if it wasn’t initially what I thought I would do.

    Holiday traditions

    Brandon: My family recently relocated to Jacksonville, Florida, so it will be a new location to celebrate the holidays this year. I’m really looking forward to the warm weather. I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I’m used to snow and that cold weather during Christmas, so being around palm trees and sunshine on Christmas will have a different feeling. How are you spending the holidays?

    Lily: I grew up in Queens, New York, where my parents still live, about an hour away from where I live in New Jersey. My son’s birthday is in the middle of December, so we always have a big birthday and Christmas get-together with the family, which is a tradition I look forward to. I’m taking off a couple of weeks in December, so I’m looking forward to some downtime.

Terry and Amber

Amber McColl, Manager in Consulting, and Terry Garrett, Senior Manager in Consulting, are two EY veterans who recently met for the first time to talk about their similar experiences in the military and how it has shaped their EY experiences. 

Francisco and Therese

Francisco Loredo, Manager in FAAS, and Therese Curry, Supervising Associate in FSO Recruiting, recently met for the first time. In their discussion, they talked about fitting in on their teams and connected over personal challenges that showed them each the power of belonging at EY. Watch highlights from their conversation below.

Daniel and Dana

Daniel Schilowitz, a manager in EY Tax in Stamford, Connecticut and Dana Velasquez, a manager in EY Assurance in Atlanta, Georgia recently sat down to talk about the importance of family and how they have each found a feeling of belonging at our firm.

Feeling a sense of belonging

Daniel: What was a time you felt you belonged on a team?

Dana: In my Manager 1 year, I was part of a team working in Mexico. We had intense hours, but we all communicated and collaborated well. When you’re at the client site and sharing three meals a day, you must have deeper connections in order to really build teams where people don’t get burned out.

Daniel: I agree. Everyone is unique, and the more people can communicate, be curious and understand their coworkers, the more we can help enhance each other’s experiences here. For example, I have dietary restrictions — I keep kosher. Often when I go to meetings, I won’t even put on the request form that I keep kosher, but there will be kosher food there. People already know and took care of it. I find that when people understand you or know something about you, that’s when it’s easy to be yourself at work.

Dana: I agree. I have been with EY for seven-and-a-half years, and when I tell people that, they say, “You’re such a veteran with EY!” But I’ve been able to stay at EY because the connections I’ve made with people, which has really made the difference for me.

Daniel Schilowitz and Dana Velasquez

Daniel Schilowitz and Dana Velasquez

  • Read more highlights from Daniel and Dana's conversation.

    What’s in a name?

    Daniel: My full name is Daniel Aryeh Schilowitz. I’m Ashkenazic Jewish, and traditionally Ashkenazi Jews are named after a deceased relative — my father’s great uncle was also Aryeh. In Hebrew, Aryeh means lion, so my full name, Daniel Aryeh, is a play on the biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den.

    Dana: I was born and grew up in Honduras, and my name is pronounced in Spanish, Dăna. My parents found my first name in the Bible as well. My middle name, Ixchel, is the name of the Mayan goddess of the moon. So, where did you grow up?

    Daniel: I grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey. Now I live in Stamford, Connecticut, with my wife and three kids, but I still go home occasionally to visit. We’re going to my parents’ house for Rosh Hashanah. How often do you go back to Honduras?

    Dana: I try to go back once a year because my parents and extended family are back in Honduras. It was just my mom’s birthday, so I was there to celebrate with her. Relationships are very important to me, which I think it comes from my background. In my experience, I have found Hispanics to be warm people, and I think that has definitely influenced my life.

    Family first

    Dana: How do you typically celebrate Rosh Hashanah?

    Daniel: Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year. I would say it’s a time to recommit to your values and a time of reflection. I’m orthodox Jewish, so I don’t work on Rosh Hashanah and I don’t use electricity. We’ll typically go to synagogue in the morning and we’ll have a large meal afterwards with friends and family. Because we’re not using phones or laptops or watching TV, we spend a lot of time together — playing sports with my children, reading and just being together.

    Dana: That’s significant. Coming from a Hispanic culture, family is also very important for me, including having respect in the family and making sure we stay connected, even though we’re far apart. How do you manage family and work? I’m always curious to hear how others make it all work.

    Daniel: I believe it’s the same for everyone, no matter where they are in life. Communication and flexibility are a part of it. If there’s a day I need to work from home, it’s never an issue. Communicating my schedule with my team and just having that flexibility allows both me and my wife to have very enriched professional lives and do what we need to do outside work. To me, that is very important.

I find that when people understand you or know something about you, that’s when it’s easy to be yourself at work.
Daniel Schilowitz
Manager, Tax

Fatimata and Sikandar

Fatimata Ba, a New York-based senior in Consulting, and Sikandar Aftab, a Strategy and Transactions manager in Toronto, recently met for the first time to have a wide-ranging conversation that touched on everything from soccer to the importance of overcoming stereotypes.

Sikandar is a second-generation Canadian whose parents emigrated from Pakistan. Fatimata immigrated to the US from Mauritania when she was 13. Both observant Muslims, they share several core values, including faith, family and the importance of doing what they love. Read on for highlights of their conversation.

Fatimata Ba and Sikandar Aftab

Fatimata Ba and Sikandar Aftab

What gets in the way of understanding each other

Fatimata: I’m a triple visible minority here. When you look at me you know I’m Muslim because I wear a hijab, I am black because I’m African black, and I am a woman. So, there are a lot of stereotypes when people just look at me. I think when you hold onto those stereotypes, it gets in the way of understanding each other.

Sikandar: The sheer amount of information that’s available online today can give us the perception that we can understand each other through a Google search, like “what is Pakistan like?” or “what do Muslims believe?” I think it’s easy to lose the human element of having the conversation and understanding the nuance, context and challenges that make up who we are.

Fatimata: I agree. You must be willing to have those conversations and ask people who have been there, who’ve done or experienced it every day.

  • Read more highlights from Fatimata and Sikandar's conversation.

    Celebrating Eid-al-Adha

    Sikandar: A lot of people compare Eid to Christmas, but in my experience it’s more like Thanksgiving. It’s funny that it’s supposed to be the bigger Eid, but it’s the one I usually forget about until it happens.

    Fatimata: That’s true. How we celebrate in the US has been different from Mauritania, but we still follow the Sunnah acts, the acts that the prophet Muhammad used to follow. In our family, the planning for outfit is a couple of weeks in advance to make sure you look your best on the day of Eid. For us, that’s wearing our traditional West African clothes. We start the day with the Eid sacrifice, distribute the meat among the less fortunate via the mosque and have a meal together as a family. Sometimes we go to visit other family members or have them come over, but it’s not a three-day long celebration like we would have in Mauritania.

    Sikandar: Yes, the emphasis is around getting together with your loved ones and sharing a meal together.

    Connection to cultural heritage

    Fatimata: Do you go back to Pakistan often?

    Sikandar: I just went back in March. It was incredible, but it made me realize that I don’t belong in that culture completely. I think it’s something a lot of second-generation immigrants feel, that they don’t fully belong in either culture; they’re pulled in both directions sometimes.

    Fatimata: Yes, I feel a lot of people have that same kind of conflict. It’s an interesting dynamic, trying to hold onto your culture as well as learning to be more integrated in your current one.

    Sikandar: Being a visible minority who only knows Canadian culture, I think it’s important to understand that some visible minorities can only identify themselves as Canadians or Americans, etc. Their relationship or investment with their ancestral culture or religion can be very fluid. How would you define yourself?

    Fatimata: To say it differently, the three most important things to me are my faith and connection to Allah, having a good relationship and support from my family, and being able to do what I love.

    Sikandar: Mine are similar. Being a Canadian, my more spiritual side of being Muslim, and being a husband and a son are all things that define me.

    Fatimata: Also, from talking to me, most people immediately pick up on my love for sports and specifically soccer. I cannot go through a conversation without a reference to how soccer has impacted me in terms of the friendships that I’ve made or the confidence it’s instilled in my being. I advocate for youth — especially females — to get engaged in sports because of the confidence that it gives you, the ability to build camaraderie and the way it translates to the business world.

    Sikandar: I admit I have not followed soccer until this World Cup, and I was surprised. I had some assumptions going in that were quickly shattered. I loved it.

I think it’s easy to lose the human element of having the conversation and understanding the nuance, context and challenges that make up who we are.
Sikandar Aftab
Manager, Strategy and Transactions


This monthly series features conversations between two EY professionals to highlight our unique differences and encourage the culture of belonging at our firm. 

About this article

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization