Q&A: A conversation with Stephen Valrie, head of Slalom’s new black affinity group
April 29, 2015
Slalom’s Atlanta office recently launched a new black affinity group, REACH. We spoke to Client Service Lead Stephen Valrie about how REACH came about, what its plans are for the year ahead, and how the new group is raising the dialogue about diversity at Slalom.
What is REACH, and how did it originate at Slalom?
REACH is a black affinity group that started out of our Atlanta office. I wanted to bring this group together not just for personal development, but also because I felt that as our numbers grow in this Slalom office, the black population should come together to make a difference. Not only on our personal lives, but within our community and for others that could be looking at Slalom as a possible place to work.
What inspired you personally to spearhead this group?
Within the Atlanta office, I started to see a need to continue to represent the community that we're a part of. Atlanta has a diverse population, but I felt that our Atlanta office did not best reflect the diverse community that we serve, both from a philanthropic and professional perspective.
So I wanted us to be more reflective of that community, and I knew that I needed to take a hands-on approach. Here at Slalom, there's an expectation that you should apply that entrepreneurial spirit to make a difference if you see the need.
I started to see there was momentum and an increase in our black hires here in Atlanta, and I wanted to take advantage of that momentum and see how we could support that effort with this group.
Can you give me a quick overview of what the mission of REACH is?
Our mission is to build awareness; attract and retain top talent; and expand our relationships for the betterment of Slalom, our people, and our black community.
It’s not just about building awareness within the black population here at Slalom, but to build awareness within our black community about Slalom being a great place to work. Attracting top talent is about finding great people and tapping into those networks that we may be familiar with as black people. And lastly, it’s about expanding on relationships and really coming together to make an impact on our community. And that can be through philanthropic means, or just from a networking perspective with other black community groups and professional organizations that we can connect with through our clients, vendor partners, and Atlanta metro areas.
"Our mission is to build awareness; attract and retain top talent; and expand our relationships for the betterment of Slalom, our people, and our black community."
What sort of initiatives are you working on right now?
We’re looking at particular groups within the Atlanta urban environment whose mission is to serve those that may be at risk or in need. It’s about enabling others to be successful and to reach their own full potential. We’re currently evaluating a number of nonprofits that we could partner with to help particular populations, whether it be the elderly, those that are of school age, or those that may be at launching points in their careers.
What kind of impact do you think REACH is going to have, both internally and externally?
Our ultimate goal is the betterment of Slalom, our people, and our community. And if we can tap into our relationships to help others understand Slalom as a place that's focused on diversity and inclusion, as a place that welcomes people of all different backgrounds, I think that's going to be the success.
I hope the Slalom name becomes familiar to those that may have not known us before. And that can turn into new business, new consultants, and new leaders in our organization.
It seems like this is a grassroots effort that's catching on across markets. Is that true?
I think our momentum has raised the level of conversation, and it has allowed us to start discussions with other offices. That's exciting to see.
One of our missions here at Slalom is to be the world’s most connected company, and REACH is another vehicle that will allow that to happen. As we come together across offices, we’ll look to national conferences, events, and activities that we can be associated with. I’m excited about our ability to recruit at conferences, like the National Black MBA Association conference, and to elevate our brand with black professional organizations that have a national footprint.
Has this got people at Slalom excited about getting involved in other diversity initiatives?
REACH has helped raise the level of dialogue around diversity and inclusion, and I think people are finding other unique ways that they can connect and make an impact.
For example, there was a discussion with a few of us about how women from our various diversity affinity groups here in our office could come together and make an impact on women in their community. The launch of REACH has started that dialogue, and people have been inspired to come together and pursue other diversity initiatives they are passionate about.
Can you talk about why there’s a need in the consulting industry for more diversity?
I do see a need. It’s not from a point of a particular group being disenfranchised—it’s more about how we can come together and empower others.
I’m here today because somebody reached out to me at the time I was looking to make a career choice. I was in graduate school and had been involved with the National Society of Black Engineers throughout my collegiate life. It was at that time an international consulting firm sent representatives to our NSBE meeting on campus. They came out and spoke about what they did in consulting and it changed my opinion about what consulting was. This was very meaningful to me as I didn't have the benefit of uncles, sisters, cousins, etc. that were in consulting.
All it took was a couple of people taking an hour out of their day, and it put me on a different trajectory in regard to where I am today. I want to be able to offer that opportunity for others. Our black community may not have a network of friends or relatives in this industry, but it may be a perfect home for them.
That's what I really get excited about: reaching out to that untapped population and bringing them into the great family that we have here at Slalom.