“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.”~Frederick Buechner EDUCATOR, WRITER, THEOLOGIAN
After years of pursuing career paths that left her unfulfilled, Erika Walker is finally living out her dream, her vocation in life. And her dream is one our world deeply needs. Erika is the founder and CEO of The Walker Thomas Group, a consulting firm focused on leadership development, coaching, diversity and inclusion. Headquartered in Chicago, the organization represents clients across the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia. The Walker-Thomas group has been “Making the World a Better Place to Work and Live since 2010.” (www.thewalkerthomasgroup.com) In addition to The Walker Thomas Group, Erika has been the heart behind initiatives such as the Global Gender Economic Forum and her most recent platform, R3: Reunite, Reconcile, and Reimagine. With over 23 years of professional experience, and in-depth understanding of diversity and inclusion, Erika has earned an impressive reputation. However, her success didn’t come without a cost. Her story is one filled with challenges, heartbreak, perseverance, and triumph.
Erika grew up on the Southside of Chicago as an only child. Her father was a teacher, counselor, and educational board member. Her mom was a banker at the same bank for 42 years. Erika recalls diversity being a factor in her upbringing and education from early on. Recently, she connected with a childhood friend over Facebook, who pointed out her personality hasn’t changed since she was a young girl. Her former classmate encouraged Erika that diversity and inclusion has always been her “sweet spot” reminding her, “You were trying to create peace with people back when we were kids.” From a young peacemaker on the playground, Erika has built a life continuing to unite people.
As a young adult, Erika fought her innate passion for diversity and inclusion, choosing instead to begin a career in hotel management. Working in hotels left her feeling unfulfilled, so she went back to school. Erika eventually ended up as part-owner of a mortgage company. It wasn’t until paychecks started to bounce and lies were uncovered, Erika realized she was running a company with conflicting strategies and misalignment of values. Shortly after, Erika hit rock bottom, professionally and personally. She found herself with no money, no place to stay, and not sure where her next meal would come from. Erika will never forget that time in her life, stating, “There is nothing like losing everything. There is just nothing like it.” Despite her desire to figure it out on her own, Erika eventually had to call home. She recalls her father jumping on a plane and packing her stuff up to move back to Chicago. It was a humbling experience, but she never once gave up her spirit and drive to make a difference.
A SECOND CHANCE
It was her go-getter personality that impressed Erika’s boss at the time, Shari Melto, enough to give her a chance at her first temp job after moving back to Chicago. It was Melto who also took Erika under her wings, helping her get back on her feet and bringing her to Hewitt Associates, which was one of the largest global consulting firms. Her role at Hewitt remains one of the most pivotal experiences in Erika’s career, because of the company’s invaluable training and theinternational assignments that required her to be culturally competent. As colleagues were asked not to return to other countries because of their US-based mentality and biases, Erika was requested for global projects. Erika has a gift for active listening, discerning body language, and listening beyond words, that has proven valuable in diverse populations. While she was at Hewitt, the company began expanding their diversity and inclusion efforts.
CALL TO ACTION
In her next role, Erika became Vice-President of The Kaleidoscope Group, a diversity consulting firm. In 2010, Erika started her own firm focused on leadership development and DEI. The Walker Thomas Group has three main areas of practice: Diversity and Inclusion and Esteem, Leadership Development, and Coaching. However, Erika describes the work of this firm as “anything people-focused.”
Utilizing The Walker Thomas Group as a platform, Erika has developed Operation R3:Reunite, Reconcile, Reimagine. This operation is based on her dream to “take back our nation and together build a more compassionate, equitable, and safe place to live and work.” The strategy to accomplish this goal is to hold listening sessions with diverse groups of people who are committed to really listening and understanding one another’s perspectives. Based on these objectives, members are asked to take a pledge to do something different. Erika offers multiple ideas, including sending out “peace postcards.” She says, “Can you imagine opening your mailbox, and instead of seeing a bill, you receive a message of peace?”
Erika devotes time and services to support children and school systems. Her father worked for the school board, which provided opportunities for her to speak at various programs. Erika’s goal is to fill in a gap she has identified in schools, which is to provide education beyond textbook knowledge. She’s interested in sharing what she can about life and encouraging young people to be clear about who they are and what they can give.
Erika is a firm believer that all humans, in particular females, possess inherent worth and value that is sometimes “locked up in a vault.” This is the premise behind her book, A Woman’s Vault, released in 2017. In this book, she shares secrets she’s discovered to help readers reveal the treasures hidden inside themselves in order to reach their fullest potential.
As much as Erika is committed to creating a better world for others, she is also keenly aware of the need for self-care, and supports whole-person health. This idea encompasses physical and mental health, emphasizing mindfulness and self-talk. She loves walking, and she calls herself “a big spa person.” She loves her dogs, enjoys reading, and selling organic wine as a side business. And when there’s time…she sleeps!