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.

The Next Diversity Challenge: Embracing Our Natural Leadership Styles

Melanie Dunn portraitWXN’s mantra is ‘celebrate differences’ and ‘lead inclusively.’ I think both of those directives are important when it comes to inspiring the people around you.

It’s an honour to be named to WXN’s Top 100 Most powerful women in Canada list and be part of an outstanding group of leaders in their fields.

All of us have overcome challenges throughout our careers, some of which are inherent to business and some of which are gender-specific. Staying true to my leadership style has not always been easy. I’m fortunate to have been 19 years with a company that has created a business environment where women can stay true to their values.

But more broadly, I would say that despite advancements, a very stereotyped image of leadership remains. By default we tend to celebrate some leadership styles over others. Women are still encouraged to be more assertive, more confident in the boardroom, willing to take more risks and make stronger decisions. In other words, the traditional characteristics of a male C-suite executive.

But I believe that is changing.

The catalyst is that with the way the world is now, we are losing a bit of our humanity. We are going to be progressively open to a whole new kind of leadership, and I think the skills we tend to align with women more than men are going to change in value. Things like empathy, collaboration and generosity: these will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ but a must have.

Women receive a lot of advice on how to succeed in business. I would argue that instead, we should be giving advice to business on how to attract women to the workforce, and start building an environment where women can be themselves. After all, this is what diversity means. If we do the same things in the same ways and have the same behaviours, then diversity is mute.

Years ago one of my account leaders returned to the office after having a manicure with a client and she felt very awkward telling me. Like it was more of a confession than sharing a successful client experience with the boss. I said to her, “Why are you embarrassed? Do you play golf? No. Just think of the manicure as a round of golf.” The light went on.

This is a small story, but it illustrates the broader point that there are legacy codes of how to be in business that don’t work for everyone. Women can be trailblazers in many ways; not just in continuing to push against the traditional means of excluding women from leadership ranks, but also in redefining what we value in leaders overall.

This year, my status as WXN winner will reinforce the goals of ‘celebrating differences’ and ‘leading inclusively,’ that have always guided me professionally. It’s important to see other people’s views, to embrace a diversity of approaches and responses and to encourage people to be wholly themselves. It is on our shoulders to create a world that truly values the idea that there are as many ways to be successful in business as there are leaders in business.

We’re very proud that Melanie is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the HSBC Corporate Executives Category. 

Do you know a female in Canada who deserves to be recognized for her contributions? Click here to learn more about our Top 100 Nominations and how to nominate yourself or someone else. It’s free!

 


About Melanie:

Melanie Dunn is the Global President and CEO of Cossette.

Dunn, Melanie portrait

2018 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner
HSBC Corporate Executives

A highly accomplished businesswoman, Melanie has over 20 years of experience in business management and marketing communications. She is the President and CEO of Cossette and a member of the executive management team of Vision7 International, a holding company with an extensive portfolio of Communications firms in North America, Europe and Asia.

Melanie is actively involved in several professional and community organizations. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Canada Post Corporation and the Health Standards Organization (HSO). She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.

Melanie has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a Marketing Certificate from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).