Colliers SVP of people: ‘Diversity isn’t a plug-and-play’

It's about saying what you mean and meaning what you say, says people leader

Colliers SVP of people: ‘Diversity isn’t a plug-and-play’

Diversity has become something of a vilified buzzword – all sound and fury signifying nothing. In the world of HR, trying to impress the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion on a sceptical workforce is easier said than done, especially when people leaders are constantly battling against the jargon.

But what is “authentic diversity”? Does it even exist? And, if so, how do we achieve it without coming across patronizing or gimmicky?

“To me, authentic diversity boils down to the concept of ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say’,” Amy Clark, senior vice president of people services at commercial real estate giant Colliers, tells HRD.

“When thinking about the creation of diversity goals, they need to reflect the values and culture of your organization, not a plug-and-play of what other organizations are doing to simply a check-the-box exercise. 

“There needs to be intent behind creating goals and then strategies to achieve them that are realistic and attainable for your organization. You can be inspired by things that are happening outside, but constantly adjusting and catering your DEI work for success at your organization and above all else, start slow and grow. It means creating change one process and practice at a time. This creates a true foundation for transformational results.”

As Clark tells HRD, the lack of representation of women in colour didn’t just happen overnight – it was a long, painful, systemic failing. As such, it’s unrealistic to imagine the solution will be a wham bam fix – it’ll take time, but time well spent.

“When you’re realistic about your goals and they are set up correctly within your organization it allows you to avoid the cycle of attempting a DEI program, not having immediate results, and then losing momentum and giving up,” says Clark. “When you calibrate yourself in a way that is authentic to your organization, you can keep momentum moving forwards. 

“Establishing relationships with outside organizations that are at the centre of the DEI space are also very important. Making sure these relationships are meaningful, intentional, and align with your organization’s goals can foster learning and offer different perspectives to help your organization think differently, seek support, and drive meaningful and authentic change for employees, clients, and communities.”

Take notes but don’t speak

Minorities in any sub section of society will, unfortunately, always have one or two stories to tell regarding discrimination. Maybe you were overlooked for a promotion or your year-end bonus was cut or your new manager is overtly patronizing – it’s all common and it’s all unacceptable. For Clark, this discrimination manifested as a “shush”.

“Regardless of sector, bias and discrimination has been felt through my career,” she tells HRD. “Often though, I feel the bias was unintentional. Early in my career I recall being asked to join a meeting for which I had prepped all the data and research. It was with several senior leaders and my leader at the time, prior to walking into the boardroom, told me to observe, take notes but not to speak as she would be the voice in the room. 

“I know she was trying to ensure a level of control over the conversation, but it didn’t feel good. Over the years, I have overcome this by trying not to take off-side comments or perceived bias too personally and instead look at it as an opportunity to educate the individual privately on how a particular comment or action may have been perceived or felt. As my confidence grew through my growth and development, it became easier to address these challenges head on.”

Let’s Talk Tuesdays

Employee expectations around diversity have changed radically since COVID. Your people expect more – more representation, more solidarity, more accountability. And if you’re not showing up, if you’re not present, then be prepared for a mass exodus. Data from GoodHire found that 81% of employees would quit if they discovered their organization wasn’t as diverse as it should be – with 54% saying they’d willing take a pay cut to do so. As Clark says, they’re prioritizing DEI since COVID too – understanding the intrinsic link between inclusivity and retention.

“Post-pandemic, this has become even more important to us,” she tells HRD. “The war for talent is real and the talent market remains hot even amidst an uncertain economy.  Employees have a voice in how, where and when they want to work.  At Colliers, we have evolved to make diversity and inclusion one of our strategic areas of focus.  It has become a part of our DNA. We look at DEI as not only the right thing to do, but an important purpose for increasing employee satisfaction and attracting, developing, and retaining top, diverse talent from around the world.” 

Retention strategy is a large focus area for Colliers. As Clark tells HRD, it’s become increasingly important to retain, and develop, their top talent in the face of economic uncertainty.

“This has been a catalyst for us to lean into listening—to all our employees but especially to our diverse employees. We want to know what is keeping them engaged and what is creating barriers. We also leverage exit interviews to ask for this information, partner with our eight employee resource groups and create opportunities for transparent conversations such as our ‘Let’s talk Tuesdays’ which our Black Professionals ERG hosts monthly to unearth meaty issues and ensure employees feel heard and seen.” 

Give yourself a “gut check”

You can’t understate the importance of mentorship and allyship in championing diverse leadership. And while the employee desire for a coach is there, organizations aren’t offering as mush support as they could. Research from McKinsey found that while 87% of Black employees agree that having an organizational sponsorship program would help them both personally and professionally, only 33% report having any sponsors or allies.

“Mentorship, and more importantly sponsorship, are key to driving diversity within an organization,” says Clark. “Early in a career, mentorship can accelerate success by providing a sounding board, providing guidance, and building confidence as you are still learning to form and norm your own perspectives and experiences. Through my career I’ve been fortunate to have had key mentors and supporters at each stage. Having someone there to show you the ropes, to bounce ideas off, help you navigate the terrain, and be your ‘gut check’ for difficult situations can be a differentiator for success.”

Whether it’s through formal or informal mentorship, Clark advocates encouraging colleagues to collect and nurture mentor relationships.

“This means not treating mentorship as a transaction, but rather a mutually beneficial relationship that should be sustained beyond the formal program.”

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