Colette Cambell inspired attendees at the August 4 Virtual Ladyboss Summit with her presentation, “How to Be Something You Can’t See.” We sat down with Colette to learn more about cultivating thriving communities, finding the right career path for you (through plenty of trial and error), and measuring your diversity and inclusion “temperature.”
In brief summary, what do you do?
In my role at Bremer, I get to oversee the whole talent acquisition process and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. The work that I do falls into three buckets. I think about the workforce: how are we finding talent? I think about the workplace: what does it feel like when people are here? And then I think about the marketplace: how are we showing up outside of the organization? How are we engaging in the communities that we’re a part of?
Our whole mission at Bremer is cultivating thriving communities. As we’re thinking about the killing of George Floyd, we’re thinking about what it means to be an equitable institution. It means that everybody’s thriving in the community. So that’s the question that we’re asking ourselves: is everyone thriving? As we’re putting out statements against racism, what does this mean for us? What does it mean for our customers?
What do you love most about your work?
I love that it’s always new. There are always new problems to solve, especially in the talent equation. My job was very different six months ago when we were looking for talent. Now we have the highest unemployment rates since the depression and there’s a lot of talent out there. So my role has shifted from finding the “diamond in the rough” to looking through all of the talent that’s available, repositioning ourselves to raise brand awareness, because there are a lot of people out there now who weren’t looking to work here before.
How does your background in religious studies and counseling apply to your current work?
I’m the daughter of immigrant parents. I was the first generation to go to college and didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I went with what I was interested in. My first degree is in religious education and counseling studies, and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to do either of those things. So I ended up doing another degree in management and leadership and then some coaching work. I’ve always been really curious and passionate about human development. When you think about it, really, everything I’ve done has always been about our development in a holistic way. How do we see ourselves? How do we understand ourselves? How do we work with others? And that’s really in line with diversity, inclusion, and equity work. So even though I started out in religious education, it’s all very connected to me because it’s all about our humanness and who we are as individuals spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, mentally—all the different dimensions of who we are.
What do you think are the most important qualities in a leader?
I would say persistence, because being a leader is hard work and it’s easy to get tired. Another one is being vulnerable enough to ask hard questions. If you’re not willing to ask questions that are hard and to hear the answers too, then you’re not going to grow and you’re going to miss things that are important to your team.
What is the best career advice you have ever received, or given?
Don’t be afraid to ask. Exceptions are always being made, so ask for them! I think we are often afraid to do that, especially as women. You can’t let “no” immobilize you. You can always recover from “no”.
Another piece of advice, especially for leaders, is to create pathways. Talent is universal; opportunity is not. So what is it that you’re going to do to open a door for someone? Who can you introduce someone to to create an opportunity? That’s one of the questions we all have to ask ourselves, especially if we’re going to make a significant impact where there are entrenched obstacles impacting disadvantaged communities or minority communities.
Do you have any words of advice for individuals and organizations just beginning their diversity and inclusion work?
I think it’s doing an assessment to see where you’re at. There’s an assessment called the IDI, the Intercultural Development Inventory, that all of our senior executive team has gone through. Going through that assessment, you come out with your own report and from there you start to create an individual development plan.
It’s almost like taking your temperature and saying, “Okay, where am I? Do I have a fever?” It forces you to do that introspection. But that is just a starting point because action is key. You have to have a bias towards action, otherwise you just create more bias.