Honoring Black History Month, The Actuary Canada’s Arthur da Silva had a conversation with actuary Max Bazile about his career journey and leadership development. They discussed the biases he’s observed and the path forward to becoming more aware and a better ally for the Black community.
Arthur da Silva: Thank you, Max, for joining me today. I’m glad to have this conversation with you, as we’ve worked together for several years at Deloitte. I’m aware that you have been very involved with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, including at one point leading the Black Professional Network, Deloitte’s Black Employee Resource Group. As such, I would love to get your career perspectives and experiences.
Max Bazile: I’m happy to join you today. I want to thank you for the opportunity to share my perspective, as well as for the work you and the Society of Actuaries (SOA) are doing around DEI.
AdS: Thanks, Max. I’d like to hear a little bit more about your career journey. How did you start your actuarial career and get to where you are now?
MB: Well, I am from Montreal originally and was going to CEGEP (a publicly funded college), studying pure and applied science. I knew I liked math but wasn’t really sure what the options were. I was lucky enough to have a statistics professor who discussed it with the class and then took me aside and thought I would fit in well in Concordia’s actuarial science program. When I did a bit of research, I learned that, at the time, actuarial students had a very high rate of employment and a good starting salary right out of school. Given my socioeconomic circumstances, it was clear that was the path for me.
AdS: It’s great to see the opportunity that an actuarial path provided you and what you’ve been able to build. The actuarial field, in general, is largely, from my observation, underrepresented within the Black community. What are your feelings on Black representation in the actuarial field?
MB: I would certainly agree that Black people are underrepresented in our field. That said, I believe this is a problem in many professional fields, especially as we start to look at more senior roles. For a long time, and maybe even still to a degree, there is a feeling of being somewhat of an “outsider.” But I guess as part of my personality, I wasn’t as uncomfortable as maybe some would have been. But there is always that challenge, especially when one is progressing in their career, and there is a lack of common experiences with the leadership group and bias can appear.
AdS: So you graduated from school, worked on your actuarial exams, went into your first job and experienced challenges along the way. Can you tell me a little bit more about your career journey after school and where it’s led you today?
MB: So my first opportunity was in pension consulting, and I have been in broad HR consulting ever since. I’ve worked with some great people and some people who’ve tried to be welcoming. That said, we, both as a profession and as a society, may not have had the consciousness or sensitivity around inclusion and diversity, especially when I started nearly 20 years ago. In the first few months of my career, I can remember chatting with a colleague about going to a rap concert on the coming weekend, and them “jokingly” asking if I was going to “bring my gun.” They probably thought that was all in jest, but for a young professional already wondering if they could fit into this new environment, those words can be really impactful. Now we’re seeing employers like Deloitte, where there is a focus on bringing your “whole self” to work. It may seem small, but I’ve grown my hair out over the past couple of years, whereas I might have been afraid to do that earlier in my career. I’ve also heard similar sentiments from Black women colleagues about being comfortable wearing their natural hair. So we’re seeing a positive progression.
Career Development and Leadership
AdS: Fast forward to now: You’ve been very involved in DEI at Deloitte, particularly around the Black community. How did your involvement develop?
MB: Around 2016, a friend of mine was leading the Canadian Black Professional Network at Deloitte, an employee resource group. He decided to leave the firm and asked me if I could take on the role, and I was honored to do so. Early on, it involved organizing our Black History Month events, setting up lunch-and-learns and so on. It was certainly an important role and one that I took very seriously. That said, I was also leading the group in May 2020 during the murder of George Floyd. There was a much different tenor at that time in terms of recognizing racism. We started having discussions right up to the highest level of our firm, including Deloitte CEO Anthony Viel directly, and we have made some really important progress since then. Over time, I stepped down from leading the employee resource group. I transitioned my efforts to formally working with firm leadership on what we call at Deloitte the Black Action Council, which is a mix of more senior Black professionals and C-Suite leadership, with the mandate of making significant changes, not just “lip service” toward ending anti-Black racism and bias within the firm.
DEI and Leadership Styles
AdS: The progress is certainly something I’ve noticed while working at Deloitte as well, with more open dialogue and uncomfortable conversations, which need to be had. With DEI issues becoming more openly discussed, has it changed the way that you exercise your own leadership, or have you observed changes in leadership behaviors from others?
MB: Sure, so I guess I’ll hit on two things. One, you mentioned uncomfortable conversations, which is key, because if we don’t have them, we don’t address the issues head-on.
In terms of my own leadership style, I always knew I had a voice. That said, with all that happened post-George Floyd and the changes we made at the firm, I really appreciated how powerful my voice was heard within the firm. Now it’s a matter of deciding where and how to use it to ensure we are making real changes, not just “lip service.”
AdS: It’s good that you bring up “lip service” because a lot of the time, historically, diversity was very much seen as “we have people that don’t look like me.” The conversation has shifted a little bit beyond just looks and more about, “We need people who don’t think like me, don’t work like me and maybe communicate in different ways.” So, on that theme, are there ways that people can adapt their working or communication styles, or should they when interacting with people within the Black community or other communities?
MB: That’s a really good question. I think, in general, we have to be more apt to listen and appreciate that not everyone has the same background, the same upbringing and the same experiences. All of these things influence how someone thinks. This goes for all diverse communities. I’ll give an example: I was out of town and about to travel to a meeting with a colleague. The morning of, he called me at least four times and I missed his calls; he left for the meeting without me. At first, I was quite annoyed but then remembered this colleague was differently abled and would have been uncomfortable running for trains and cutting it too close. So, I would say being conscious of what may be your privilege can go a long way in empathizing with others and being inclusive.
AdS: That’s an interesting point. It’s definitely hard to keep in mind and a difficult thing to solve, actually, given our diverse backgrounds. Expanding on that point, how can we be more inclusive with people in different communities from our own?
MB: I would say to appreciate that it’s a journey. We’re all on it, myself included. I remember when we had some discussions across the firm about people’s experiences. One that really resonated with me was that of a Black woman who was traveling and had somebody yell a racial epithet at her, which made her afraid to leave the hotel after that. I thought about how I was always comfortable physically in different spaces and open to walk out of a hotel room in any city at any time if I felt like it. That made me appreciate that someone is really experiencing something differently than I would. So, it’s important to be open to learning and open to recognizing that people are facing different things, and understanding that it’s a journey.
AdS: With all these observations and problems in mind, what can we do to be better allies for the Black community? How can we move the needle forward to improve the diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes for Black people?
MB: It’s important that we’re intentional. You look at gender initiatives to combat some of the biases against women—while obviously there is still work to do there, we have seen a lot of progress. I think a big part of that is that there have been defined metrics and targets in place. I think we need more similar programs for Black professionals as well. It’s not enough to say that there’s bias. There are actions that need to be taken to fight those biases. Too often, I find people talk about mentorship in the form of “go grab a coffee with a senior leader,” and then the leader talks about their experiences—at the same time, how relatable is this? That time for the leader is better served through sponsorship, working to advance that junior Black professional—i.e., what opportunities are they trying to point them to, what other leaders are they introducing them to, and are they bringing them to the larger table? Those are key things that we have to focus on.
AdS: You make a great point about sponsorship. For leaders who are sponsoring Black professionals, how can they really get into the mindset of how to help? They might not even know how to help, so what can they do to learn how to be a better sponsor?
MB: Great question. Sponsorship is a joint relationship between the sponsor and the individual. There has to be a dialogue there, and the questions asked around how can I help, what can I do, and even helping map out the plan. So, again, I feel sponsorship is active. There’s skin in the game for both sides, and it’s a joint effort in terms of helping get the sponsored to where they want to be, to help them map out where they want to be and how to get there.
AdS: That’s fantastic, Max. So, we talked about leaders sponsoring those in the Black professional community. What can other people, who are not leaders, do to be better allies or start becoming allies for Black professionals?
MB: The key is being active. I’ve heard others use the term and say that even allyship isn’t the right way to go because it’s a little bit of a passive type of approach—i.e., I sympathize with this person, or I feel for this person—where you’re not necessarily getting action for that person. I’ve heard the term accomplice, which might be more applicable and viable for the challenges that are happening. In this case, they have to go out and not just wait to hear that there’s something happening, but go out and actually get something done, help move the needle on the initiatives and help support.
MB: I think it’s really important that people listen to Black professionals, ask them how they’re feeling and what they feel they need, and to challenge the status quo. I’d also review existing behaviors and programs to see what can be improved.
AdS: Fantastic. I hope that the people reading have learned something today from this conversation and that they go back and put some of these learnings into action. Thank you, Max, again for your time and for joining us in our conversation and for being such a vocal advocate throughout the years on DEI issues.
MB: Thank you very much, and I appreciate The Actuary Canada for hosting this discussion.
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