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


EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

4 minute read 12 Nov 2019

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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.

Terry and Amber

Amber McColl, Manager in Advisory, and Terry Garrett, Senior Manager in Advisory, 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

  • 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 Advisory, and Sikandar Aftab, a TAS 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

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.

  • 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, Transaction Advisory Services


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

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EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization