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Embrace: Valerie Lopez on the importance of employee-led resource groups

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Valerie Lopez is Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Cision, leading global provider of earned media software and services. In her role, Lopez is responsible for providing vision and leadership to the diversity, inclusion, and equity program across Cision’s global organization.

Having established Cision’s first formal DEI function, the program fulfills the company's core values and business goals of supporting its inclusive and diverse community. She has led the creation and delivery of a global diversity and inclusion program, which has shaped the company’s strategic efforts to support, nurture and maintain a culture of inclusivity. An accomplished leader and mentor, Lopez reaffirms the company’s commitment in providing its multicultural global workforce with ongoing professional development and personal growth opportunities.

Under her leadership, Cision has seen growth in several new ERG chapters and initiatives including EMPOWER, focused on female leadership, PULSE, dedicated to LGBTQ+, PRIDE month and Global Diversity Awareness month and most recently Embrace, a multicultural resource group raising awareness of the company’s multicultural community. The mission of these ERG groups is to initiate conversations that inspire diverse viewpoints, resulting in colleagues drawing upon each other's unique personal strengths to work toward a common goal.

Lopez continues to build upon the company's work in the DEI area through strategic programming that further expands Cision’s workforce worldwide. Cision’s DEI program encourages employees to bring out the best in each other by participating in opportunities that build upon their knowledge and skills, allowing them to excel in their careers.

Lopez holds a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism and Gender Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. She is a certified diversity professional through the Society for Diversity and is a member of the National Diversity Council, the Illinois Diversity Council and the National Association of Asian American Professionals.

Valerie, only a few companies can take pride in as many successful diversity and inclusion initiatives as Cision. What does diversity hiring mean to you?

Cision is an equal opportunity employer and we're now working across the globe to roll out a hiring process that helps remove any biases. We want to ensure our candidate pools are as diverse as possible and that we're hiring based on merit. Every person is more or less unconsciously biased, so we want to work harder to ensure that these biases are challenged during the hiring process. Every company should be hiring the best person for the role based on skills and competencies. Age, gender, sexual orientation, race, etc., shouldn't play a role in the decision-making process.

That’s impressive! Once you hire people having diverse backgrounds, life experiences and world views, you probably face the next challenge – to make them all feel at home and work as a team. How do you address inclusion?

We can hire as much and many diverse talents as possible but once they come in and feel not valued as a part of the team, they will just leave. So, ensuring that company’s policies are aligned with the diversity hiring objectives is as key as team training and activities.

You mentioned Asia, and I’ve lived in South Korea for 5 months. Asia is amazing but the culture is completely different if compared to the US and Europe. Often, people feel excluded and not accepted by the other team members due to cultural differences. How do you address such cases?

Cultural diversity and innovation go hand in hand. I just came back from Asia where I visited our offices in Hong Kong and Beijing. I can’t imagine doing business in China without having our Chinese colleagues on the table. They know the market and approach the same challenge from a completely different angle. What we here in the US see as a problem, our Chinese colleagues may see as an opportunity.

Diversity and inclusion have to be on the top of everyone’s head, not an afterthought.

Absolutely. Transformify is a 100% remote company and we always have someone locally when expanding to new markets. Looking at a market from the outside gives you only a vague idea who your target audience is and what their needs are.

Cultural diversity inevitably leads to diversity of thought which is of utmost importance to all innovative companies. How do you nurture diversity of thought at Cision?

A lot of people think that diversity is about gender or race. In reality, the members of your team may have different skin colors but the same thoughts. It is the life experiences, world views and cultural differences that lead to a diversity of thought. People who traveled a lot and lived in more than one country are likely to approach the same challenges from different angles.

Some companies started using personality assessments that can give you a holistic view on what a person can bring to the organisation.

The ‘’old school’’ definition of diversity around gender, race and ability is not what people have off the top of their heads in many countries around the world. What is your opinion?

I just came back from China. Diversity has a completely different meaning there. It is about geography, education, work experience, etc. Which part of China you come from, which school you graduated from, which company you worked for, all matter when speaking of a diverse workforce. Naturally, people tend to hire candidates who went to the same school or who came from the same part of China as them.

Having people who have the same experiences, look, speak and act the same never leads to innovation. I know that at Cision you empower people to challenge each other’s biases. Can you share some best practices?

If we notice that a recruiter is bringing only the same candidate profiles we will immediately say ‘’ Hey, you are bringing only women who previously worked in the marketing industry. We want to see more diverse candidates.’’

The same is valid if a hiring manager asks for a very particular profile like a person aged 30-35 who graduated from an Ivy League university and has 5-7 years of experience in the marketing industry. In such case, the recruiter would ask ‘’ Why do you limit your choices?’’.  It’s challenging to understand ‘’Why?’’. Starting that dialogue is the first step in encouraging people to challenge their own biases. Often, they simply follow the status quo unconsciously and without any particular reason.

A diverse industry background also adds value as there may be some practices that are applicable to us but not common in our industry. Having knowledge about them and applying them may result in a competitive advantage. We are looking at the skills that can be transferred.

What about internal mobility? Is it possible for a person to move across geographies or departments?

Internal mobility may motivate people even more as they know that there are always new opportunities for them within the same organisation. Off the top of my head, I have an example of a manager who was moving to Australia for personal reasons. At the same time, Cision was considering opening an office in Australia and we asked her if this opportunity would be of interest to her. In a different situation, we would be looking to hire someone locally, but she had a big advantage as she knew the business. She had unique cross-functional experience in the US and that was super important.

Do you have experience with hiring veterans? Despite all the efforts, many companies still find it hard to source and retain people with a military background.

My brother is a military man, and when he sent his CV over to me, it was full of acronyms. Unless you have a trained recruiter on board who understands the specific terminology used in such cases, you could hardly understand what unique skills and competences veterans can bring to the table. You may be missing on highly qualified individuals who were managing cutting-edge technology projects in the past. To me, as a person who has a relative with a military background, it is important that recruiters think outside of the box in such situations and consider the skills that can be transferred.

Out of all successful diversity and inclusion initiatives, is there one you would like to share? Our ‘’Diversity Hiring’’ series is followed by many D&I experts who learn from each other.

I am really proud of our employee-led resource groups. Not only they are employee-led, but also it was the employees who proactively asked for them. Employee resource groups work with the community to support community organisations and partner with them. Giving employees the opportunity to foster an inclusive workforce and be part of a community has a very positive impact on the organisation as a whole. We genuinely wanted these groups to be initiated by employees and led by employees.