Justin Craigwell-Graham, one of L.E.K.’s newly elected Partners, answers questions about identity and building a lasting career in consulting. Justin draws on his experience as an African American in the consulting industry to advise and educate around being your authentic self at work whilst making professional strides.
1. Describe your career journey thus far, including when you first considered a career in consulting, and when you started with L.E.K.
My professional journey began around 2010. By this time, I had earned my undergraduate degree, and a Master’s degree in finance. I initially wanted a career in finance during school, but found it to be a bit surface level. I was primarily building models and using them to make high-level assumptions. I learned about consulting while doing recruiting, and thought that might be a good fit for me. So, I applied for an Associate role with L.E.K.’s Chicago office.
Eight years later, as a Manager, I was watching colleagues come and go from the firm and began to feel a little restless. I enjoyed my time at L.E.K., but I wanted to do something different. At the time, my sister was living in Rwanada and had started a couple of startups in the gym and coworking space. I made the decision to join her and moved to Kigali for 7 months.
During my time away from L.E.K. I started to really appreciate a lot of elements of the firm. Ultimately, I decided to re-join L.E.K. in October of 2019, and was recently elected Partner.
2. Did you have any mentors at L.E.K. or elsewhere? How did those relationships support you during the early stages of your career?
I had several mentors before L.E.K., particularly in college. I was a member of a historically black fraternity at Duke, and many of those individuals continued onto careers in law, finance, and other professional services fields. It was great to have that network for professional and social support. I also had many important mentors at L.E.K.. I think that is probably the single most important factor for someone’s success. Mentor relationships are symbiotic, if you do a good job and make people’s lives easier, they will look out for you in return.
3. What were some of the challenges of being a person of color in a predominantly white industry? What were some of the ways you dealt with these challenges?
Of course, this has been a challenge. When you are someone who has different experiences growing up, and access to different resources, it’s going to create challenges when you enter spaces with people who did not have those experiences. In addition to this, you face people’s biases against you.
To deal with these challenges I focused on my performance, allies, and community. I made sure that my work stood out and spoke for itself. Being undeniably good at your job is a great way to combat people’s perceptions of you. In addition to that, I leaned heavily on peers and mentors that looked out for me and made connections with people that shared my experience. I also realized the importance of a designated space to talk about issues like race, even in the workplace. That’s why I founded Mosaic.
4. As one of the founders of Mosaic, can you tell us what was the catalyst for creating the group? And, why do you believe an Employee Resource Group (ERG) like Mosaic is critical in the workplace?
I founded Mosaic, L.E.K.’s ethnic and racial minority ERG, because through my own experiences as a black person at the firm I identified a need for a community that was necessary across several dimensions of otherness. There is a growing sense of urgency to bring authenticity to the workplace. For many people of color, particularly the younger generation, this means being able to talk about ‘sensitive’ topics like race, safely at work. Mosaic affords L.E.K.ers an outlet within the firm to build community and address certain issues with the leveraged strength of the entire group.
Another layer of Mosaic is its influence on attracting candidates. Mosaic’s efforts help build a concentrated recruitment footprint, getting candidates that are generally harder to recruit. In other words, Mosaic helps attract other brilliant ethnic and racial minority candidates to the firm through our existing membership.
A group like Mosaic is critical in the workplace because people need to see representation. Representation becomes swim lanes for the next generation of leaders. Mosaic also provides a central meeting place for community, allowing members to be more authentic at work, and hopefully contributing to longer tenures with the firm. It’s also critical to have a space to express yourself, and work through things with your peers.
5. As a newly elected Partner, you’ve obviously achieved a tremendous amount of success in your career. What advice would you offer to someone who might not see themselves reflected in the consulting industry?
Consulting and professional services in America in general, is a place where people don’t care what you look like. They care that you are competent, can leverage resources, and do good work. Even if you don’t see yourself represented in the leadership, know that you always have the opportunity to be the ‘first’ something. Be proud and confident in the autonomy that you have and know that no one is keeping you from reaching the top.