Marwa Moaz is a Senior Consultant at Frontline Solutions
As a first-generation daughter of two immigrants, the instinct to survive and the desire to attain “prestige” were ingrained in me from a young age. For a while, I felt well on my way to success. I’d attained multiple degrees from private universities and had slowly worked my way from small consulting firms to some of the world’s largest firms. I looked great on paper—a qualitative researcher and PhD candidate with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, in reality, I felt everything but successful.
I spent years in toxic, predominantly white workplaces with no sense of work-life balance and a general disregard for the humanity of employees. These spaces became increasingly violent for me as a visibly Muslim woman of color. My mental health suffered, my self-esteem decreased, and my motivation to pursue my goals faltered. Not only did I experience violence against my personhood, but I also experienced the violence inflicted when organizations engage in disingenuous, performative diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work.
All my previous internal DEI consulting teams were majority white. One particular contract I worked on forbade us from using the phrase “white supremacy” in our reports. My supervisors often told me that my writing was “too radical” for the client — that I needed to “tone things down”. In short, the work was incredibly harmful and antithetical to tenets of DEI.
I felt devastated each day as I engaged in work that did not align with my personal morals and values; values that include centering people from communities like the ones I grew up in and around. It became increasingly difficult for me to deal with the stark disconnect between the reports I wrote for my 9-5 and the decolonial and Black feminist literature I read during evenings and weekends while completing my doctoral dissertation. Despite how successful I seemed on paper, the dissonance between my work and my lived experiences as a first-generation Muslim-American woman of color, pushed me to a breaking point.
For months, I spent countless hours reading job descriptions and company mission statements in search of my dream job. My main qualifying questions: Will the work truly honor the tenets of DEI? Will my coworkers look like me or have similar life experiences? And, are those in power majority people of color and women?
Despite my desperation for a change, I was particular about where I applied. Over a six-month period, although I reviewed dozens of positions, I applied to only two. In the Fall of 2021, when I had nearly given up hope, I stumbled across a job posting from Frontline Solutions. I could hardly believe the position was real. A Black-owned, Black-founded, majority-POC consulting firm using language like, “Mission-driven passion for work in Black communities, other communities of color, and other historically marginalized groups,” in their job description? I knew this was the exact company I had been searching for.
Fast forward to earlier this year when I secured a position as a Senior Consultant at Frontline Solutions. I finally felt like I could breathe during the day and sleep soundly at night. My first 100 days at Frontline have been a roller coaster of emotions and decompression. I now recognize how deeply scarred I was from my previous employment experiences. It has been 100 days of learning, laughing, unlearning, checking myself, and finally feeling that I can bring my whole self to work. As a result, I have done some of the best consulting work of my entire career. I credit this success to four attributes of Frontline Solutions’ organizational structure.
1. Culture of Collaborative Intuition
Frontline Solutions fully embraces collaboration at all levels. The firm doesn’t have an overly hierarchical or top-down structure. Yes, differentiations exist between entry, mid, and senior level staff. However, every employee has autonomy over their work and direct supervisors do not exist. Frontline does not use a surveillance system with a single person rigidly telling you what to do and how to do it.
From day one, I was reminded that I am qualified, competent, and capable. As a Senior Consultant, I started directing new projects within days of my employment. As a woman of color who was constantly belittled, unheard, and unappreciated in workplaces, I would be lying if I said my stomach didn’t flutter with all the nerves of imposter syndrome. No one had ever believed in and entrusted me in that way. Not only did this empower me, but it made me feel human when I had previously associated workplaces with feeling othered and less-than.
This level of trust and empowerment combined with the fluid nature of project roles allows me and my colleagues to work intentionally and intuitively without fear of the penalties or consequences of doing something “wrong.” It’s common for a Senior Consultant like me to direct one project, manage another, and work in a supporting role on a third which a junior colleague is managing.
Coming out of white-corporate spaces, I experienced a period of adjustment. I had to overcome a decent learning curve and find new rhythms. Indeed, I spent my first few weeks trying hard to grasp the “Frontline Way” before realizing it was up to me. I could rely on my own skills, experience, and intuition. Through this unlearning and self-establishment process, I found that a team of accomplished and competent consultants don’t need rigid structures to collaborate and design solutions.
2. Work-Life Balance, The Frontline Way
During my interview process, Frontline’s Lead for People and Culture and the interview panel consistently reiterated work-life balance as a key pillar in Frontline Solutions’ daily operations.
Coming from previous workplaces—where directors expected employees to work weekends and evenings regularly, and even pressured people into calling into client meetings while on PTO — hearing that work-life balance was a priority was a huge relief. In my mind, this meant no meetings before 9am or after 5pm, and that PTO was…well PTO. However, work-life balance at Frontline Solutions goes beyond this. The firm offers an unlimited PTO policy, which is a wonderful benefit. But, what holds the strongest impact for me is the firm’s day-to-day practice of empathy and its people-centered approach.
One instance of this that stood out to me occurred during my second week, when one of the firm’s partners left a meeting with a high-profile client seven minutes before the meeting ended. He left because his son was panicking at school due to losing a tooth.
Again, coming from toxic white-corporate spaces, I was in awe that the partner confidently excused himself from the meeting despite it being so close to the end. I had trouble computing, as I was accustomed to directors who would force a pregnant woman on sick leave to call into a non-urgent internal meeting (yes, this really happened!). This same director pressured me to present to a client while observing a religious holiday.
The stark difference at Frontline Solutions cannot be overstated. The simple fact that it is okay to say, “I am tired/burnt-out and will not join this meeting,” makes me feel that I am valued as a person rather than a body bringing in revenue. Here, it’s okay to say, “I am not comfortable meeting at 9am unless it is urgent.” It is okay to say, “I have to pick up my child or puppy from daycare every day at 3pm and will not be taking meetings during that hour.” It’s okay to just be human. People are generally flexible, empathetic, and productive. I have not personally observed anyone abusing this culture. On the contrary, my colleagues and I are happy, productive, efficient, and empowered because we encourage and support each other to take care of our health, families, and life emergencies. Work-life balance, the Frontline way, should be standard in all workplaces.
3. Unapologetic Approaches to Racial Equity
Another Frontline Solutions approach that should be standard in all workplaces, is the firm’s unapologetic approach to racial equity. This is particularly important in the world of research and consulting. Since the uprisings after George Floyd was murdered in 2020, it seems the whole world has been grappling with how to address issues of racial equity. Most are still “grappling” because it is difficult for some to accept that an unapologetic approach is the best approach. There is no way to work on racial equity halfway. It is either equitable and actionable or it is not equitable and impracticable.
Frontline Solutions does not shy away from reminding clients that, though we may not look like what they are used to associating with “experts” (meaning we are majority Black and brown, and majority women — and not white men), we are very good at what we do. We didn’t have to scramble to create a racial equity line of business to respond to the moment. What sets us apart in the management consulting space is that we have always applied a racial justice and liberation lens to everything we do. Frontline Solutions will choose not to take on contracts with clients who are not able to engage in difficult conversations or refuse to fully embrace a critical racial equity lens to improve the organizational strategy or internal culture of their workplace. When clients are on board for unapologetic and intentional approaches to racial equity, we make magic happen.
4. Encouragement to Bring Your Whole Self to Work
My office is painted a bright, flamboyant blue. Behind me hang many artistic odes to my Egyptian culture as well as posters related to activism and equity. You would think this would not be “problematic” for a DEI consultant…but I spent years being told to “be careful” not to show my background while moderating interviews and being on the receiving end of snarky comments about my background being very “loud” or “perhaps too radical for the client.” I spent the majority of my 2020-2021 pandemic life sitting at my kitchen table for meetings, blurring my background, or just opting to be off-camera when I was tired of censoring myself.
At Frontline Solutions, not only can I share my “radical” office background with Queen Nefertiti and Black power fists, but I can also feel confident when I need to join a meeting reclined from my couch because I am nine months pregnant and have swollen feet. I have never been made to feel less-than or “unprofessional” for any part of my identity or current life circumstance. Not only do I feel comfortable on camera with my coworkers, but our “social” slack channel is bumping with diverse meals from our diverse staff, parents posting intimate moments with their children, and me sharing my gender reveal video because I feel genuine love and friendship among my coworkers.
For the first time in my professional life, I am embraced and not othered. For the first time in my professional life, I am told I am an expert and given the space to act on my expertise. For the first time in my professional life, I look forward to speaking to my coworkers each day and eagerly want to attend all our social events. The craziest part of this? We are all fully remote. The community at Frontline is just that strong and genuine. These days, I look around and see more Black and brown and female faces than at any of my other workplaces. I’ve been on the gratitude train since my first interview, and 100 days into my employment, I can confidently say that I’ve finally found the sense of fulfillment I have long searched for in my career. What a privilege to be a part of the Frontline Solutions team.