Why Sandra Stuart says diversity isn’t a one-woman show

Imagine you just moved to an office in a different country.

You’re in a business meeting with your new team and following along okay, though not great (you’re still learning the language, after all). Everyone around you is joking with each other – and you can’t shake the feeling that you’re on the outside looking in.

It might not be deliberate, but “it just doesn’t feel very good,” said Sandra Stuart, president and CEO of HSBC Bank Canada and the inaugural winner of the WXN 2016 Vanguard Inclusion Award.

The reason she knows how it feels? She’s been excluded before. Through her storied career that began in 1980 as a Saturday teller with HSBC, she’s held roles as far afield as Brazil and sat in meetings exactly like that.

“Your challenge is to figure out how you can belong, how you can fit into the culture,” she said.

Though she didn’t speak Portuguese at first, Stuart is thankful she found people who helped her find a way to belong. It inspired her to take action, too. “I don’t like how this feels and I know I can do something about it,” she said.

It’s been 18 years since her time in Curitiba, Brazil, but it put matters of diversity and inclusion on her radar. And for the last 9 years as COO and now CEO, she’s made great strides in making sure employees at HSBC Canada feel welcome, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Little by little

While Stuart’s proud that “balanced and inclusive is just how we are now,” it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a concerted effort that grew little by little over the last decade.

“It’s not any one thing. It’s a combination of many things. It’s a combination of spirit, people, energy level, sponsorship, education, a deliberate corporate framework,” she said.

A standout from that mix is what HSBC calls employee resource groups.

“These are groups of employees who have a specific diversity theme, and it’s an opportunity to come together,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to educate the organization in terms of not what makes them different, but what differentiates them and how we can learn about it, how we can be inclusive, how we can understand and appreciate difference.”

Within their organization, the groups are wildly successful, she added, since it’s a roots-up movement fueled by employee enthusiasm. “It was kind of lightning in a bottle and it still is on a lot of levels,” she said.

Then there’s the data. HSBC regularly reviews how specific designated groups are progressing, Stuart said, which leads to in-depth discussions about why problems exist and what they can do to correct their course.

About 10 years ago, for example, those numbers showed that there weren’t enough women in leadership and middle management. Digging deeper, they found that women often felt like it was tough to integrate back into the workforce after mat leave. HSBC changed their policies to allow for more flexibility.  They also set targets and she’s proud to report they’ve had a gender balanced board of directors and Executive Committee since 2013.

“The first thing you want to do is, you want to understand what your workforce looks like,” she explained. “Why don’t I have women in senior roles? What is the turnover and attrition rate? At what level do they attrite and what job family are they in when they attrite? That data allows you to have conversations that lead to policy and behaviour changes.”

They use scorecards to measure the results of diversity and inclusion as part of their performance objectives as well. Though the exact numbers are a trade secret, Stuart can share one thing: the goals are challenging, fair, achievable and thoughtful.

And they’ve seen results, she added – so much so that D&I is a given in their culture. Take the Pride lanyard that hangs around her neck, for example. “It’s the little things you do that continually reinforce your belief in the power of the diverse workforce,” she said.

Keeping up with changes

For Stuart, diversity isn’t just about gender.  She is trying to make her organization a place that people feel comfortable to be truly themselves at work regardless of gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability or generation.  HSBC also supports mental wellness and provide access to a broad range of resources, too. It’s both the right thing to do and good business, she said.

After all, they’re a global organization, serving people from around the world. It makes sense to reflect that within their own teams. “When you’re on a phone call in HSBC, an international phone call, you see the power of diversity,” she said.

Winning the Inclusion Vanguard award meant a lot because it signaled that her organization is moving in the right direction, even if it took her by surprise.

“I was incredibly humbled. I was honored. And I thought, ‘oh my goodness, I haven’t done enough,’” she said. “You sometimes wonder if you’re making a difference, and when the market recognizes you with something like that, the whole team gets to celebrate it.”

 

We are proud to partner with Accenture for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2016, we honoured Sandra Stuart with the inaugural Inclusion Vanguard award for her work that she has done, not only with HSBC Bank Canada but towards diversity and inclusion in Canada-wide. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

 

She’s also proud that HSBC brought home the Government of Canada’s Sector Distinction & Outstanding Commitment, Employment Equity Awards for the past three years running.

She’s of two minds when it comes to awards like this. The first: she’s excited. Positive attention helps inspire others to do good things, she said. But she looks forward to the day when diversity is so baked into our organizations that it doesn’t need to be called out.

“Bringing positive attention and positive action is a good thing. But I’m sorry we still need them,” she said.

Still, all credit goes to her team who made the win possible, because they lead by example every day of the year, she added.

“The award represented the really hard work of the team around me. So it was something super positive that I could share with everyone.” No matter where they’re from.


To learn more about the Accenture Inclusion Vanguard Award and our Top 100 Awards, visit our Top 100 page.

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