Q&A with Kyle Williams and Kene Ejikeme, Co-heads of the Goldman Sachs EMEA Black Network
In this Q&A, we catch up with Kyle Williams and Kene Ejikeme, co-heads of the Goldman Sachs EMEA Black Network who share a bit about their backgrounds and career paths, goals for the Network and how the firm is recognizing Black History Month in the UK.
Tell us a little about yourself, your career path, and interests?
Kyle: I started out in private legal practice in New York, and after 5 years joined Goldman in New York, relocating on a mobility assignment to London in 2010—and what a great decision and change that was! feel the biggest strength of our firm is learning and really processing our experiences, successes and challenges, so that the new one tomorrow does not need to resemble today’s, and we’ll figure it out together. So my career path has gone from one interesting new idea to the next (note that I did not say one success to another as many of these great ideas have failed along the way) and I’m surrounded with my team, my peers and importantly my managers who trust me to not entirely screw it up—and that has made all the difference in my career. My outside interests lately are on race, culture and social media, so I read and think about a lot in this space—I have two children who are current heavy consumers here and learning from them and helping them navigate their own identity exploration (half-Black, Jewish, American but having lived their whole lives in London) has been a full-time challenge in itself, but grateful I can spend the time to focus on their development at this critical early stage—and learn how to be a dad, let’s not forget that little challenge nugget!
Kene: I was born in Nigeria and moved to the UK for secondary school. I studied Civil Engineering at Imperial College and while I was there I played professional rugby for London Irish. Sport has always been a big part of my life since moving to the UK and I knew I wanted to continue to compete at a high level, but my immigrant mindset kept pushing me to also “get a real job”. I got some good advice to explore finance, even though I’d neither studied the subject nor did I have any friends or family who worked in the city. I was fortunate to gain a summer internship at Goldman Sachs and the rest is history. I live in North West London with my wife and we have three daughters.
For those unfamiliar with the Network, how would you describe it’s role and how has it helped our people?
Kyle: Networks like the EMEA Black Network serve a lot of roles…it’s a place to belong to if you are Black, it is a place to learn about and experience your colleagues’ culture if you are not, and for me the most important role of the Black Network is the bringing together of those two groups. It’s great to see the diversity across the spectrum of those who get involved in the Network and I think that is important not just for those two groups, but for the culture of inclusion at the firm more broadly.
Kene: Inclusion Networks act as a forum to share ideas, successes, and identify opportunities for professional development and advancement. All of our networks are open and inclusive to all, irrespective of whether or not an individual belongs to a particular group. The majority of professionals at the firm are part of one or more networks
I would also add that membership of the Network has gone from less than 500 a few years ago to the north of 1,000 today!
How has the Black Network at Goldman Sachs and the Black community more broadly shaped your own lived experiences and worldview?
Kene: It’s been a humbling and a personally enriching experience. I have gotten to learn from so many different experiences and perspectives and one thing I can confidently say is that there is no one, true, monolithic “Black experience”. There are some challenges that are common and others are acutely unique, which is why the discussions that the Network facilitates are so important. These insights are what ultimately make us better teammates, better managers and effective professionals.
Kyle: Well, I guess the short answer is it definitely has shaped my lived experience, both in the office and outside. I have always believed – and I tell anyone who will listen to me – that understanding one’s authentic self (whatever part of yourself that that makes you different) is an endless journey, not a destination. I think this is especially true and important for people at the firm to be aware and to be supportive of. It means in the case of my own identity as a Black man at Goldman Sachs that some years it will be easy to be myself in my own skin, and other years it will hard and hurtful. It means some years I will have a voice for myself and others and advocate for places in the firm where I see room to improve our inclusion, and it means other years I won’t have the confidence to speak up at all. And importantly, it means sometimes I will say and do the right things, and other times I will get it dead wrong. When I think of inclusion at Goldman Sachs, this is one of the most important pieces for me and where the firm I think gets it right and frankly if we could all be more supportive of everyone’s diverse journeys, the world would be a much more interesting and forgiving place.
How is the firm recognizing Black History Month in the UK?
Kyle: The Black Network has a line-up of outstanding events all month long, and we’ve opened many of our events to our clients and they have opened their events to us. What is amazing is watching all of our people be supporters in their own way for Black History Month, and it’s equally time to celebrate our allies at the firm and how truly a global mix of people we are in at our office in London.
Looking beyond Black History Month in the UK, what are some key objectives of the Network for the future?
Kene: Looking forward to 2022, we will continue to increase collaboration with other networks. Roughly half of the events we have organized for Black History Month have included other networks. This is a very efficient way of increasing participation and inclusion. By pooling resources, we can put on higher quality and more targeted events for our colleagues and clients.
Kyle: Like most networks at Goldman Sachs, we focus on the culture of the firm, and that includes recruiting, community involvement and helping with career skills and tools. We are also very focused on sharing knowledge with the network so people can learn more about the firm, so we feature senior leaders in small forums to talk about their businesses and market perspectives. I think you will also see a big focus from us on our charity partners and our clients, who have really become an important part of the fabric of the Network over the last few years.
What has been the best, or most impactful, part of being involved with the Network?
Kyle: For me personally, it has been the senior relationships in the form of allies for the Network that Kene and I have formed. Whether it’s with our sponsor/head of the Black Network, my reverse mentee or the members of the Inclusion and Diversity Committees, the conversations Kene and I have with our network hats on are heard, meaningful and reflected upon. Senior management at this firm gets that the Network is an important place to take the pulse of the firm, and we’ve made considerable impact on the culture here at Goldman Sachs.
Kene: The most impactful part is watching the impact it is having too, not only our Black colleagues but all members of the Network. I have had the privilege of watching people become better in their roles and more confident in their abilities through involvement in the Network. Importantly, I have also witnessed how the Network helps bind people to the firm and empowers them to make positive changes to the firm culture.