Leadership | Excellence | Achievement | Diversity
As we proceed with the Women’s LEAD Initiative, we are asking women in the community to answer questions around their own LEAD experiences (Leadership, Excellence, Achievements & Diversity)
Heather Claridge on Her Path to Leadership & What LEAD Means to Her
Heather Claridge, Senior Vice President, People & Culture at Nicola Wealth reflects on her journey to becoming a leader, mentor, coach, and mother and what she has learned about Leadership, Excellence, Achievement and Diversity along the way.
Tell us about a time you experienced bad/good leadership:
I did not enter a career in Human Resources in a traditional way; I did not have formal education in HR nor previous career experience in the field. Instead, five years into my corporate health and wellness career, I had an opportunity to take on an internal communications role within the HR team.
After six months on the job, I remember speaking with my manager to let him know that I planned to enroll in a post-baccalaureate diploma program in HR to acquire the technical knowledge that I felt was missing. He said to me, “Heather, I have a team of HR-trained professionals. You bring a different yet complementary set of experiences and perspectives to the team. The HR skill stuff you can learn on the job – just be your naturally curious self, and you will learn quickly.” Besides a big confidence boost, what I took away from that conversation was the importance of seeing beyond a resume. You must seek to understand the whole person, including their transferrable skills and experiences.
Tell us about a time you experienced excellence:
Being accepted into a US school for a specialized master’s program in Organization Design and Development was a personal and professional highlight for me for a few reasons:
- The global organization I worked for had identified me as a high potential employee and fully supported me financially to enroll in this program. Part of the application process included submissions of high-impact work examples to demonstrate my ability to contribute to the program in a meaningful way.
- This was a brand-new program and the first of its kind to be delivered virtually (it was the late ‘90s, so this was a big change!). As the very first cohort in this program, we were not only experiencing a new curriculum but we were also challenged to learn and collaborate in a very different way.
Leading up to our convocation ceremony, a call went out to all students for Valedictorian nominations. Criteria for selection included academic excellence, collaboration, teamwork, and contribution to the program’s goals. I received notification from the Program Dean that my peers had nominated me as the program’s first Valedictorian. There were so many moments of excellence and pride as we worked together to learn new content, shape a new program and experience education in a new and innovative way.
Your greatest achievement?
I am a mentor at heart, and I love working with early-stage career professionals to help them find their paths and launch their careers. Our Provincial Human Resources Professional Association has an annual Rising Star Award that recognizes HR professionals for significant accomplishments in the first five years of their HR career. It’s always an extremely competitive award with many applicants.
I had an early-stage career professional working in my HR team doing some really great work, and it was his passion for the job and learning and growing that shone through. I also recognized that he could use a confidence boost to take his career to the next level. So I nominated him for the award, and at the Annual Conference Awards Gala, he was announced as the winner of the Rising Star Award for 2012.
A new HR team member who recently joined our team after graduating from university was sitting at the table with us for the announcement. I turned to her and said, “this can be you too if you are willing to put in the work and the learning to make it happen.” I could not have been prouder when she had her opportunity to shine four years later as the recipient of the HR Professional Association’s Rising Star Award for 2016.
Tell us about diversity in your own life/career:
On the one hand, the Human Resources profession has always had high female representation, so I have always had a strong network of women who have helped shape my career and act as trusted advisors. On the other hand, much of my career has been in male-dominated industries, and there were many situations where I was the only female leader at the table.
I remember a conversation many years ago with the CEO I reported to. We had come out of a leadership meeting, and he said to me, “Heather, I think you need to take an assertiveness course.” My inside voice was laughing as anyone who knew me in my personal life would say that assertiveness training was the last thing I needed. However, my curious side asked him the question, “what are you observing that causes you to say that?” He told me that he knew I had good ideas and always asked good questions, yet it seemed like I lacked the confidence to express them in a group setting.
This was a pivotal moment for me because my authentic style is always to “seek to understand before seeking to be understood” (credit to Stephen Covey for that quote). I watched some of the men around the table and wondered if they were really taking in a conversation as they were not actually listening but just waiting to speak. I realized, however, that people make assumptions and judgements based on my outward-facing behaviour. If I wanted to be taken seriously and be considered an active participant on the team, I needed to find my voice and use it confidently.
This example has also shaped my perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion. If we just focus on diversity, we miss a critical element: the organization’s culture. We can build a diverse pool of talent, but no one wins if our culture focuses on “fitting in” with the existing culture. An organization needs to first lead with a mindset of inclusion, where diversity of thought, background, gender, and experiences are respected, and everyone feels that they belong.