Fiere Habte Woldebruk, SEO London alumna, 2015 cohort
I love London. I truly believe it is one of the best cities in the world. One of my favourite things about London is its diversity but growing up in Islington and attending school in Hackney meant I was not prepared for the lack of diversity in the corporate world.
I was born and raised in London, but my parents came from Eritrea in the late 80s during the Eritrean War of Independence. They worked extremely hard to start their lives in the UK and provide for my brothers and I. From a young age I have always loved mathematics and this love of maths came from my dad as, due to his limited English, maths was the only subject he could help my brothers and I with. So, it was unsurprising when I started studying Mathematics at University of Birmingham in 2013.
During university, I struggled to get a corporate internship. I recall in my penultimate year, the 2014/15 academic year, trying to get a summer internship and receiving many rejections. I never made it further than a few telephone interviews. In August 2015, after hearing many testimonials from friends, I decided to apply for SEO London. This decision completely changed the trajectory of my career.
SEO London provide many resources, but what helped me most was the guidance and support with application processes. I went from struggling to getting telephone interviews to making it to partner and final-round interviews at large firms, such as EY and KPMG. SEO London not only provided an insight into the application processes but also helped me overcome the mental barrier of believing I wasn’t good enough for these companies.
In 2016, I started as at KPMG in their Pensions Practice in the Actuarial team. I was extremely excited. I was at a Big Four firm and working as an actuarial consultant, I thought the rest of my career would be smooth sailing!
I attended my first client meeting two months after joining, I was attending with a partner and director and 15 other attendees, most of whom were financial directors. I was excited for my first insight into client meetings! Before the meeting, the partner decided to remain at his desk and asked us to email when the attendees arrived. The director asked me to wait in the meeting room and welcome attendees as they arrived whilst she would welcome them at reception. I recall the first attendee walked in the room and, before I got to introduce myself, she asked me for a tea. Suddenly the excitement disappeared, I realised that as she saw a black woman her immediate assumption was that I was there to serve tea and coffee … not to deliver actuarial advice. I didn’t know how to respond so I awkwardly went and made her tea. Luckily the other attendees arrived shortly after, and the director walked in and asked: “Have you all met my colleague Fiere?” … there was a very awkward and prolonged silence before introductions were made.
The reality is that there will be assumptions, microaggressions and challenges if you are from an underrepresented background. In that meeting, I was the only non-white person and sadly this has been the case in many meetings I have had since. Fortunately, I have seen many firms put an increased focus on diversity.
I had the opportunity to be a mentor in KPMG’s Black Heritage Reverse Mentoring Programme. My mentee, a senior partner in KPMG, was very open-minded, genuinely committed to learning more about diversity, and helped challenge me to grow and become more confident talking about race in the workplace. KPMG continues to progress in this area through its Black Entrepreneur Award, African and Caribbean Network and transparent diversity targets. In 2020, the department I worked for in KPMG was sold to a private equity firm and became its own standalone company, Isio. Like KPMG, Isio also has an African and Caribbean Network.
Right now, I am an MBA Candidate and Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. London Business School, as well as being one of the best business schools globally, is known for its unparalleled diversity. I am so excited for the next two years at London Business School not only for they the breadth of knowledge I will gain from the exceptional faculty but also to learn from the diverse and extraordinary cohort I will share this journey with.