HR Leader Spotlight

  • Please tell us your name, job title and place of work?

My name is Cinnamon Clark, a Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at McLean and Company

How would you describe your career?

My career in DEI has been a journey. I began when DEI was transforming from the compliance (EEO) to leveraging diversity and looking at how to be inclusive.

Years ago DEI work was highly niche and much less robust than it is now. I started as an outreach consultant for the United States Navy. I was charged with national outreach specifically for naval aviation, where I built a program from the ground up leveraging affinity groups, STEM organizations, and influencers of youth to include educators and community organizations to expose youth to naval aviation.

I then moved to a more facilitator role, working with local governments on training county employees on DEI, and working internal efforts to increase awareness and create an inclusive workplace that mirrored the diverse population that we served, as well as be inclusive of the cultural, ethnic, geographical and other things that made the county diverse to better serve the residents of San Diego County.

The role previous to this one, I worked with the US Navy’s Special Operations Forces. There my job was to essentially clear the path for the women interested in serving in the community. I also was advisor to the Special Operations leadership on all things DEI. Additionally, I contributed to Department of Defence policies and initiatives that influenced policy for all of the armed forces to include the Navy.

My current role is the Director for DEI at McLean and company which is a HR research and advisory firm. We take a research based approach to solving complex HR problems. Specifically, we help organizations of all sizes and at all points in their DEI strategy work to build people first DEI strategies, provide trainings, workshops and research based consultation on complex DEI concerns in organizations around the world.

What would you say are the key strategies organisation should focus on in 2021 to support their workforce?

  • Focus on the employee, leverage the diversity to build and innovate within your organization.
  • Recognize that flexibility and innovation are key to employee engagement and productivity.
  • Recognize employees as whole people, each of us are a sum of our experiences and to not “see” employees and recognize the differences, is to the detriment of the organization…the differences make us stronger. Our stories connect us, and our experiences define us.

What would you say are the key skills required to be a leader?

  • Be authentic. When you are authentic, it fosters and environment that encourages others to bring their authentic selves to the table. There is no greater workplace stressor that repressing who you are, your struggles and what makes you “you,” in the workplace where most of your time is spent.
  • Be consistent. When employees know who they are dealing with, they are more likely to be comfortable sharing and being authentic.
  • Be able to recognize your own blind spots, and be willing to learn and grow. Recognize that your experiences are not the same as those around you.
  • Never miss an opportunity to learn and grow with the people around you. Have conversations, share lived experience(s), connect with employees, and understand what motivates them….understand their “why.”
  • Recognize cultural, generational, geographical, educational differences as a good thing and work to leverage all of those to build a stronger workforce.
  • Ask questions to understand and learn, and not to solve problems or discount the experiences of those around you.
  • Communicate as best as you can, being as transparent as possible. When employees understand and can tie the big picture to their own small or large piece of the collective, they are more likely to engage and work to the greater organizational goal.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

I am most proud of the fact that I can use my skills, abilities, military and corporate experience to lead actual and sustainable change in the DEI space. For so many years, I would say I was part of the problem, because I did not want to draw attention to the fact that I am a Black Woman, often 1:1 in places, so I kept quiet when I should have spoken up. I recognize that the self-preservation response was not helpful to those who will come behind me.

I vowed to myself and my accountability partner(s) to never be complacent in my representation, leadership or moving the needle on more inclusive work places. I have vowed to be an ally to all, and work each day to be part of the solution and no longer contribute to the problem. I will work to unlearn, to learn and to educate. I walk with intention in these DEI spaces and know that I am walking in my purpose.

What would you like to see organisations do more of to promote Equity, Diversity & Inclusion?

  • Have the hard conversations. It is not easy to see that your organization is not as inclusive as you think it is.
  • Never discount the lived experiences of employees.
  • Educate leaders on structural barriers that are foundational in the country that prevent growth for underrepresented groups. Look at the structures that did not allow for building generational wealth in real-estate like red lining. Look at how financial resources were not granted to underrepresented groups in the banking industry based on race/gender. Look at the policies and executive orders that did not allow women or minorities in some areas of the business sector…until they did. Understand that just because people are “equal” and have equal opportunity on paper or policy that does not mean that there is equality in exposure or access.
  • Focus less on the diversity. Yes, I said that. Stop counting race, and ethnicity through compliance lens and look at it as how it impacts the richness of the organization, how it increases productivity, engagement, and in many cases the diversity in thought increases profits for organizations.
  • Focus on inclusion and how fun getting to know people can be. Encourage inclusive activities. Think of it as a “show and tell,” even in a virtual environment. Ramadan is coming up in just a few weeks, maybe ask someone who observes Ramadan do a quick what they would want colleagues to know about Ramadan. How about exercises introducing themselves and find someone who has a similar interest, breaking into groups and getting to know each other. Inclusion starts with the small connections and leverages the diversity.

How do you relax in your free time?

I love paddle boarding, kayaking, travelling, sleeping, and reading (lots of work reading). I am VERY intentional about self-care. So massages, walking/running, going to the beach, horseback riding, getting 7 hours of sleep, drinking water, and trying to eat right.

What advice would you give to a young professional starting a career in Human Resources?

Trust in your own abilities, naysayers are motivators! Small things you do daily add up to BIG things later. Networking with likeminded professionals is important. Working in silo is unnecessary. Protect your peace, surround yourself with people and situations that bring you joy. Everyone is not going to like you and that is okay. Be consistent, be authentic, be a kind human and the rest will work itself out.

What are your wise words to live by?

Self-care is key! Do things that bring you joy, find ways to disconnect from the world, uninstall social media apps for a weekend. Be consistent, and lead with integrity even when no one is looking. It is okay to make mistakes, because no one knows it all. The real leadership is how you overcome and acknowledge the mistakes and learn from them.

How can our members connect with you?

LinkedIn is a great way to connect, please connect with me using my name.