2024 International Women’s Day: How Inclusive Organizations Develop Talent

By: Marissa Dyck

As we commemorate International Women's Day, I was asked to share my journey from Communication Coordinator to VP, People and Operations at The Humphrey Group (THG). This request made me a little uneasy, and I immediately thought that my story wasn’t worth sharing. After some reflection, I realized that I had an opportunity to connect the dots on what went right in my career and shine a light on the actions that organizations can take to ensure that women, and other equity-seeking groups, are given the opportunity to step into leadership roles.

I started my journey with The Humphrey Group a year after finishing my biology degree. I knew I didn’t want to start a career in science, so I was exploring options. When I was hired for the Communication Coordinator role (now titled Client Experience Coordinator) I thought I’d work here for a few years while I figured out my next step.

What I didn’t know then was, thanks to the environment at The Humphrey Group, my path of growth would be made possible by just one company. I feel incredibly lucky to have been invested in and given opportunities to shine. Looking back on my journey today I see how four key themes set me up for this success as a woman in leadership:


1. Develop Skills Equitably: adopt a small business mindset

Throughout my time with The Humphrey Group, I’ve had the chance to immerse myself in a diversity of projects and to collaborate with colleagues across different teams. This was especially valuable when I was new to the workforce, as I was able to learn from others with different perspectives and get exposure to all parts of the company. Our small business environment fosters a culture where everyone actively contributes and can explore new opportunities that may be considered outside their realm in a larger organization.

So how does this connect to International Women’s Day? Societal norms often influence men to be more assertive in seeking leadership positions, while women tend to be socialized to be supporters. This difference can impact how people pursue opportunities, ultimately leading to disparities in skill development and career advancement.

Any organization can take on this practice by prioritizing exposure to different levels and insights across departments and being intentional about offering these opportunities to all individuals, rather than relying on proactive self-nomination.


2. Everyday Leadership: facilitate learning

One of the most invaluable aspects of my journey has been the opportunity to be surrounded by leaders who truly embody the principles of effective leadership. As a company that specializes in leadership training, it's no surprise that our environment is filled with individuals who understand how to lead with clarity, conviction, and authenticity.

Leadership isn't just a title at THG – it's a way of life. I had strong role models who demonstrated how to navigate challenges, inspire others, and drive meaningful change. Before joining the company, I didn’t imagine I would be leading a business function less than ten years into my career. However, the culture here instilled in me the belief that I could pursue leadership roles, and that I was equipped with the skills to do it.

Developing talent can be done at any workplace, even without a significant training budget. There are opportunities to implement mentoring programs and to foster a culture of feedback so all staff are getting the input they need to continue learning and growing.


3. Promote from within and remove barriers to entry

I was fortunate in my career to be given opportunities to step into new roles when there were changes in the workforce. After a few years with The Humphrey Group, there was a need for someone to fill an HR role. I didn’t have any formal training in HR, but I was interested and was given the chance to try it. If the company had required that education, I’m sure I would have left the organization within a year to pursue other opportunities for growth.

I share this example, because removing barriers to entry is paramount in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce. By re-evaluating traditional job requirements and considering alternative pathways, we can attract talent from diverse backgrounds and experiences, enriching our organization. It can be tempting to have strict requirements to help filter either internal or external candidates, but you will likely lose out on exceptional talent just because their background is unconventional.

By broadening criteria and embracing a more inclusive approach to workforce planning, businesses build a reserve of internal talent that represents diverse perspectives and experiences. It’s also a way to retain talent and hold on to institutional knowledge! Not only does this translate to a workforce that can meaningfully contribute, but it builds a pipeline of diverse, internally-developed leaders for future leadership roles.


4. Embrace Adaptability: making space for inclusivity

In the wake of the pandemic, as most businesses did, our organization made the decision to transition entirely to a work-from-home model. While there were challenges to operating a business during a pandemic, our team flourished with our more inclusive remote work model.

Working parents, particularly mothers, can benefit significantly from the flexibility of remote work. The ability to balance professional responsibilities with childcare duties has allowed many working mothers to thrive in their roles without sacrificing family obligations.

This is just one example of how, by embracing adaptability, we've created an environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds can excel (it’s also worth noting that this model can provide work accessibility for individuals with disabilities as well).


Inspiring Inclusion

When I reflect on my career journey to becoming VP, People and Operations at The Humphrey Group, I recognize the significant role my company has played in my professional development. I also recognize I was starting with the privilege of being a straight, white woman with a bachelor’s degree. BIPOC women, queer and trans women, disabled women and other equity-seeking groups may face additional barriers to success, and the ideas I’ve shared here will be especially beneficial in their career development.

By promoting equitable opportunities for growth and advancement, prioritizing learning, removing barriers to entry and embracing adaptability, organizations can create environments where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let us recommit to building inclusive workplaces that empower women to thrive and lead.