Moss Adams Voices

Rob McGhee: Challenges with Identity

Rob shares his personal and professional experiences as a biracial man, urging us all to take time during Black History Month to revisit the challenging conversations from the racial unrest of 2020.

Rob McGhee

Rob McGhee, partner, has spent the entirety of his professional career at Moss Adams. For more than 16 years, he’s worked in our Sacramento office where he delivers excellence for our clients and mentors junior team members. Rob’s identity as a biracial man with a Black father and a white mother led to a unique relationship with his peers growing up and, later in life, his colleagues.

Can you tell me about your experiences growing up?

When I was younger, I never thought of myself as different until junior high when people would look at my hair or my features and ask me about my ethnicity. It seemed like the Black kids were hanging with each other, and the white kids were hanging with each other, so I’d be asked about myself as if I needed to choose. I struggled with my sense of identity and didn’t feel like I fit in.

Even throughout school when taking standardized tests, I’d have to choose my race. I wanted to acknowledge both my mom and my dad because both sides were important to me, so I’d rotate. On one test I’d choose Black, and on the next test I’d choose white.

What challenges did you face as you got older?

Sometimes I’d feel like I was too white to be Black and too Black to be white, and I saw that as a detriment. If I saw racial issues coming up, I’d keep my mouth shut so that I didn’t offend anyone.

Also, when I was coming up in my career, I’d look around the room and see very few Black professionals, and I didn’t see anyone who appeared to be biracial. For a long time, I felt like an outsider.

During the 2020 racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, you used your voice in an email to colleagues. What inspired you to do that, and what did you say?

I wanted to get my thoughts out to people who knew me. I was concerned that the message around police brutality was being lost because people were focused on property damage. I felt that divide and had a sense of panic over it, so I shared that people can be concerned about police brutality, racial injustice, and be disappointed about the property damage at the same time.

Since my mid-thirties, I’ve started to feel confident in my own skin and my ability to have a voice on both sides because I’ve lived on both sides. I have moments of insecurity, and I understand my limitations, but it feels amazing to finally speak up about what I feel. I’m proud to be one of the few Black and biracial partners in our firm.

Can you share what you mean by those moments of insecurity or limitations?

For example, I know there are things my sister has endured in her life as a black woman that I will never experience. She’s an incredibly intelligent and talented woman, but she’s had to endure experiences that I have not due to her gender and her darker complexion.

How can Moss Adams support Black professionals on their professional journey?

We’ve not been good at retaining Black professionals at the firm, and I believe we have a better chance if we connecting Black professionals through the Black BRG to share stories, seek guidance, and find mentorship.

The Black BRG was started in part as a result of the firm sending a team of Black employees to the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) Student Conference. Earlier in my career when I was supporting recruiting, our focus was entirely local and it was super rare to come across a Black candidate. When I went to the NABA conference, my view shifted. It’s such a refreshing feeling to see so many Black professionals in our field. There is a supply of Black professionals in NABA, and at historically Black colleges and universities. We must recruit a little differently or we’ll always get the same result.

You mentioned that you felt like an outsider early in your career due to the low number of Black and biracial colleagues. What would help other Black professionals see a path forward in their career?

Reflecting on my experiences, I know it’s so important to have someone in leadership who has a similar life experience. It makes you feel like you can strive for something.

As I made a name for myself in the partner process, I became aware of Tullus Miller. I was told by a managing partner at the time that Tullus was rooting for me. He was already a partner, so it was cool knowing someone like him was supporting me. Later, when I was a partner, Tullus shared support for the great job I was doing, and that gave me goosebumps.

Hearing that from a leader I respected so much, someone who paved a path for me, is something I’ll never forget. I keep that in mind when I’m talking to team members who are coming up now because it motivated me, and I hope I can have that same influence on them.

Black History Month this year is different following the racial justice protests in 2020. What final thought would you like to share about this year’s celebration?

When I think about the protests, the conversations I had with others gave me hope. I’m worried that dialogue has faded, and I hope Black History Month can resurrect those conversations in a substantial way.

Our firm is changing, and we’ve committed to being an anti-racist firm—an important first step. Now we have to consider what’s next, and to that I encourage the firm to make strong statements on our racial positions so it’s clear that our values include being anti-racist. We’ve done some of that, and there’s room for us all to keep getting better at it.

Since this profile was published in 2021, Tullus Miller has retired from Moss Adams.

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