Karen Clark, diversity in the workplace

Karen A. Clark, City National’s multicultural strategy manager, was recently recognized by the California Diversity Council with a Multicultural Leadership Award. Ms. Clark received her award at the organization’s 2015 Most Powerful & Influential Women & Multicultural Leadership Award meeting, held in June.

We asked Clark about her experience in helping to foster a diverse workplace and client base at City National, as well as about the risks to companies that don’t recruit and maintain a colleague base that reflects the diverse communities around them.

Q: What does City National do to encourage diversity and cultural understanding?

A: The bank has developed a phenomenal mentoring program, which was piloted in 2011. It pairs each mentee with a member of the leadership team. This pairing allows for the exchange of ideas between less senior colleagues and the members of the leadership team who are making decisions for this bank. Leadership gets to hear from and understand business points of view from subordinates in other divisions, departments, backgrounds, and often from cultures other than their own. I believe that our program has created a mentoring environment here at City National and opened the door for proactive inclusion in our company.

Since the program’s inception, we have graduated 204 mentees, and the outcomes have been very encouraging. We have seen promotions, job responsibility increases, and movement both vertically and horizontally from a significant number of mentees. In fact, more than 40 percent of all 204 mentees have had job changes since being in the program.

Q: How has diversity benefited the bank?

A: City National’s multicultural initiative has paid dividends both directly and indirectly. 

  • First, it has assisted in college recruitment. We have recruited a number of bank colleagues who went to our website and reached out to me or one of our recruiters simply because of the “I Belong Here” videos on our website, which feature some of City National’s diverse colleagues.
  • Second, it helps with colleague retention. Data confirms that companies that invest in their colleagues with training, information, and career development enjoy greater retention and colleague satisfaction. The surveys we conduct after each of our multicultural programs confirm that our programs boost colleague satisfaction.
  • The number one job of City National’s caucuses (made up of individuals who share a cultural identity) is to bring in new, diverse clients. Through our partnership with organizations, event production, and branding strategies in various communities, we have introduced new diverse clients to CNB who had no idea who the bank was or how special we were until they heard it from a caucus member or at a caucus-hosted event. Our business development activities are robust, and include both caucus and non-caucus sales colleagues. Because of the success we have had, we have forged partnerships with a number of internal business partners to leverage our branding, prospecting, follow up and on-boarding of new clients. Second, as it relates to indirect benefits, several colleagues have had prospects who made the final decision to come to CNB because they asked about our diversity efforts with colleagues and community, and were pleased with the response.

Q: What are the biggest risks to those companies that don’t strive to maintain a diverse workforce?

A: There are lots of risks for companies that don’t maintain a diverse workforce in today’s economy, especially for companies that rely on consumers for revenue. If the workforce is not diverse, the risk is not having an ear to those diverse communities that you hope to win over as clients. Diversity in your workforce gives you the opportunity to understand firsthand what is important to your prospective clients as well as the opportunity to reach them directly with someone from that community.

Research also proves that diverse teams come up with effective solutions faster and more efficiently than companies with non-diverse teams. The rationale is simple: If every member of your team comes from the same background, same education, and same experience, you will continue to get the same perspective as you work through possible solutions and outcomes. That perspective may be great, but as the demographic landscape evolves, a variety of perspectives are needed to work through problems faced by diverse consumers. Diverse teams representing gender, education, ethnicity, experience, age, and culture bring a wide variety of perspectives, and possible solutions. Most communities prefer to do business with companies that have representation from their ethnic group or cultural identity. The data surrounding brand loyalty bears this out every time.

Q: What do you find most exciting about your job?

A: The most exciting part of my job is being able to interact with so many colleagues from different departments, divisions, and backgrounds. I find people fascinating and tend to be interested in everyone’s story. Once I understand someone’s story, I can figure out how to help them and how to motivate them. It is exciting to get a call or email from a sales colleague thanking me for introducing them to a prospect or for setting up a speaking engagement for them with prospects. It is exciting to get an email from a colleague enthused about a seminar they just attended where they received information that will change the course of their career. It is exciting to use my gifts and talents in a corporate environment.

Q: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned on the job?

A: Everyone has a valuable opinion and wants to be heard. The best ideas can come from the quietest people.