Turning cultural differences into strategic assets
A conversation with Alex Mirkow in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with Alex Mirkow, leader, General Management service line, Federal Government Services Strategy & Operations practice, Deloitte Consulting LLP (Deloitte Consulting), to learn more about his career journey and his role as the national leader of the Hispanic/Latino(a) Employee Network (HNet) & Allies Business Resource Group (BRG) at Deloitte.
Please share a bit about your background, your family and what you like to do outside of work.
My family is from Bogota, Colombia, where I was born and spent my early childhood. My parents, brother and I emigrated to the U.S. (Washington, D.C. area) when I was in third grade, but besides my immediate family, the rest of my family is still in Colombia. I’ve developed strong roots in the Washington, D.C. area, where I completed my education, have developed my career and am raising a family. I’ve been married for 11 years, and we have a wonderful six-year-old son who has a lot of energy – just like me.
I’ve always needed an outlet for my energy. I played rugby in graduate school and for a bit after that as well. When I started my career, I decided the risk of injury was too high, so I switched to running to stay in shape. I do triathlons, too, and have now completed seven Ironman competitions. I also enjoy coaching and was a head coach for the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society Team in Training program.
What has your career path looked like?
I graduated from college with a degree in international finance, and, having come from an immigrant culture, I initially focused on ways I could give back to the community. I got my dream job, which was working at an international development bank. However, after working there for almost three years, I realized it wasn’t the right fit for me because it was more of an academic environment than I had expected. I became interested in consulting and began my career in this field with a finance project for a law enforcement client – it was a great fit for me in terms of my strengths and interests. I came to Deloitte as part of Deloitte Consulting’s acquisition of BearingPoint’s Federal practice. My portfolio of work has been around public sector, law enforcement and finance – all of which have translated well into the market we’ve helped create here at Deloitte in the Federal space.
Through my service line leader role, I have direct access to some of the incredible junior staff that we have at Deloitte, which for me has underscored the importance of living the mentorship model. Furthermore, the service line leader role has provided me with opportunities to provide hands-on support, mentorship and sponsorship to a diverse group of junior staff at Deloitte.
What are you most looking forward to in your role as the leader of the HNet & Allies BRG?
I originally got involved with HNet because I was excited about the possibility of aligning my heritage and my personal experience with my professional goals. For me, diversity is a business imperative – our backgrounds can inform our professional lives in meaningful ways that can help our clients as well. As the National HNet sponsor, I’m excited about strengthening an organization that can also contribute to the personal and professional development of the next generation of Hispanic professionals. I hope to create a conduit for strengthening our inclusive culture, in which the next generation of Hispanic professionals can develop mentorship relationships and in turn act as mentors.
As a Hispanic, have you faced any special challenges?
If you were going only by my last name and my physical appearance, you wouldn’t necessarily know that I’m Hispanic. I don’t look at this as a challenge, however, but rather as an opportunity. Because I can move back and forth between two different demographics – Hispanics and white males – I experience both a minority perspective and a non-minority perspective. This in turn means I am in a better position to provide alternative perspectives to each of these groups.
One major challenge I see for Hispanics in general is a gap in mentor and sponsor relationships. Also, we lack a critical mass of visible role models in professional fields, such as finance, accounting and management consulting; the end result is that Hispanic professionals who have the aptitude may self-select out of many opportunities. At Deloitte, however, we have Hispanic role models that are in top leadership roles – Deloitte LLP CEO Joe Echeverria and Deloitte LLP U.S. Deputy CEO and Federal Government Services CEO Maritza Montiel – which is both encouraging and inspiring.
What advice do you have for Hispanics – or anyone – for being successful at Deloitte?
First, find a mentor (someone who can help provide advice as you navigate your career) and a sponsor (someone who is willing to advocate for you to help you advance in your career).
Secondly, be a mentor and a sponsor. One way to bridge the mentorship and sponsorship gap is for Hispanic professionals to remember the importance of giving back and be role models themselves.
And finally, turn cultural differences into strategic assets. For Hispanic practitioners, there are a wealth of opportunities across Deloitte in which they can leverage their backgrounds and heritage in ways that will enhance their careers and support the organization. For example:
- In the Federal practice, immigration, education, housing and health care are all areas that deeply connect with U.S. Hispanic populations. Our Hispanic practitioners have the opportunity to align their personal and professional identities around meaningful policy matters.
- On the commercial side, our clients are seeking ways to more effectively tap into U.S. Hispanic markets as well as Latin American countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil. Our Hispanic practitioners could be at the forefront of this business.
- In many parts of the United States, there are Hispanic communities where practitioners can have a great impact. Our Hispanic practitioners have the opportunity to lead Deloitte IMPACT Day community service projects, join local non-profit broads and generally serve as community role models.
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