Novartis - Talent Visionaries

Novartis’ Charlesiah McLean on upskilling DEI acumen in 2023

SeekOut's Talent Visionaries series features innovative leaders and their extraordinary work in creating and scaling high-performing teams. The personal philosophies and invaluable insights of these workplace champions offer new perspectives in an ever-evolving talent landscape.

Dr. Charlesiah McLean is the Head of Diverse Talent Workforce Acceleration at Novartis, a leading global medicines company that employs 108,000 people worldwide. He's responsible for building DEI capability, consultation, and external engagement to support the attraction, retention, and advancement of diverse talent. He brings over 20 years of cross-sector experience to the table and has a Doctorate in Education from Argosy University.

On how helping others led to HR and DEI work

I’ve always had a passion for helping others and that is the common thread throughout my career. Early on, I spent summers introducing youth from underrepresented groups to careers in healthcare. I then made my way to Vanguard as a Client Services Manager, and it was here that I discovered my passion for recruiting and HR. I was asked to recruit other individuals from underrepresented groups at a career fair and loved the experience. The lightbulb went on, and I realized it was something I wanted to do full time.

I started recruiting at a nonprofit that creates career pathways for underrepresented college students and, later, Target Corporation recruited me on to their US diversity talent acquisition team.

At Target, I entered the corporate space once again, but this time with a different sense of purpose. Now, my career has come full circle; 23 years after leading a K-12 career pathway awareness program in healthcare, I'm advancing a similar mission at Novartis.

On navigating uncomfortable situations with a learning mindset

At Novartis, we pride ourselves on being curious—asking how we can learn from each other’s lived experiences.

“As an HR leader, you don’t have to be a DEI practitioner to develop a culture where everyone can thrive and do their best work. Anyone can do this if they adopt a learning mindset. “

When you come across tension or discomfort with someone, reframe your mindset and reflect on the following:

What can I learn from this situation or experience?

What does this person do well?

What are ways that I can be more inclusive as a colleague and as a leader?

How can I model what inclusive collaboration and partnership looks like in practice?

Don’t focus on what’s not working. Stay centered on the mission and the team members who depend on you to move diversity, equity, and inclusion forward.

On what’s ahead in 2023 for DEI and talent acquisition

Candidates are pushing talent teams to upskill their DEI acumen and capability. It is essential for talent teams and hiring managers to have a high-level of awareness and comfort communicating our commitment to DEI.

“Candidates—from junior entrants to senior executives—are coming to the table with expectations and are asking more precise, in-depth questions. They want to know specifically what you’re doing to advance DEI initiatives for every community.”

To help our team confidently articulate Novartis’s commitment, we're first defining the core competencies needed to build an inclusive talent team, and then build their capabilities and skillsets.

Your candidates want to see clear, tangible DEI commitments. In fact, one of the things that drew me to Novartis as a candidate was our Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) Pledge to achieve gender parity across the globe by 2023. It helped build my trust and confidence in our DEI commitments across the globe.

On the value of building an internal network of HR leaders

The importance of building a strong internal network of business leaders in your company and nurturing those relationships cannot be overlooked. My network has been a huge help as I’ve moved across industries, from nonprofit, finance, retail, defense, and now the pharmaceutical space.

“There’s a learning curve when moving between industries, but I’ve thrived in each experience because my network has helped me navigate challenges along the way.

My internal network includes HR generalists, HRBPs, workforce planning, talent management, and talent acquisition leaders, and I prioritize quarterly check-ins to keep a pulse on key initiatives and priorities and our business continues to evolve.

On must-read books and podcasts for inclusive leaders

How to Be an Inclusive Leader by Jennifer Brown is an incredible book where she details the attributes of being an inclusive leader and the four stages of the inclusive leadership continuum.

The Inclusion Paradox by Andrés Tapia is another great one that focuses on the importance of making inclusion relevant to all.

And for podcasts, On Purpose by Jay Shetty led me to implement many practices that have improved my wellbeing and relationships.

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