Cinnamon Clark is the new Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Services at McLean & Company. In this Q&A, Cinnamon opens up about her background, what drew her to this role, and why self-care is key for DEI and HR professionals.
Cinnamon Clark, Director of DEI Services
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
For the past decade, I worked for the US Navy and supported the implementation of its Inclusion and Diversity strategy.
The reason I do this work is because I know what it feels like to be excluded. I know the importance of being included. DEI isn’t just a job for me. It’s something I live and breathe every single day, in all aspects of my life – I try to embody that. Do I fall short? Absolutely. But, in this space, it’s important to recognize that, keep learning, and continue to do the work.
What do you do in your current role? What drew you to this role?
I’m excited to have taken on the role of Director of DEI Services at McLean & Company. We have the opportunity to lead the way in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space internally and within our members’ organizations. What drew me to the role is the research-based approach to addressing DEI in the workplace, and the impact that cultivating an inclusive workplace has on the DEI landscape as a whole. It is very exciting to be part of the overall solution.
I was also drawn to McLean’s culture of inclusiveness. Before I started here, I pulled up McLean & Company’s LinkedIn page and saw posts and a banner about Black Lives Matter, and that meant a lot to me. It showed me how McLean is committed to leading the way, and it was very impactful.
As a DEI leader, what has been the highlight of your career?
The highlight of my career has been paving the way for equitable treatment for historically underrepresented groups – specifically in the military. I had the chance to lead the charge on gender-neutral language in a historically male-dominated field, and making history with the integration of women in combat occupations previously closed to women was a milestone.
What led you toward the path of DEI?
I grew up in a place where I was the “one of one,” and I know how it feels to be excluded. So I understand, from a personal place, the importance of inclusion, diversity of thought, and being engaged and empowered as an employee.
How do you go about cultivating an inclusive workplace?
Leading by example and acknowledging that I don’t know everything. It’s important to leverage the resources that I have, and I’m committed to keep growing and learning in the DEI space.
What is one thing you would like to learn this year professionally? Personally?
There is so much to learn. I want to understand gender studies and the complexity of language. I always say that words matter, and I try to be precise. But to branch out to what is unknown in gender studies and culture is a space I’ve wanted to learn about.
When it comes to DEI, who is responsible for it in an organization?
Every member of the organization is responsible for DEI. Leadership MUST be 100 percent engaged in the learning and growing and must be committed to ongoing efforts to cultivate and foster an environment that models an inclusive workplace.
What is your go-to book/podcast/video right now?
Right now I am reading Success through Diversity: Why the Most Inclusive Companies Will Win by Carol Fulp. The book discusses addressing organizational barriers to success by leveraging diversity and gives examples of innovative ways in which organizations thrive as they leverage racial and ethnically diverse talent. The book discusses how profits, innovation, productivity, and employee engagement are increased. The author also illustrates how cities like Boston have closed some gaps in addressing equity and how representation on boards and in leadership roles in companies has increased.
Currently I’m listening to NPR. It gives me accessible, digestible information.
Self-care is key
It's also important for DEI and HR professionals to practice self-care. I engage in a lot of meditation and ensure I step back from the day-to-day grind. I take a minute to scan my body to assess whether my body has tension or is feeling stressed. For example, today I noticed a lot of stress in my shoulders. For situations like this, I might take a step back, take a call while I’m walking, and be aware of my own needs. If I’m not good, I can’t be good to anyone else.
What is the one thing about DEI that gets you out of bed and to work every day?
Knowing that I’m paving the way for the people behind me. It comes with a great sense of responsibility and privilege knowing that I’m moving the ball forward.
What do you see as a challenge for organizations related to DEI this year?
Individually, we do not have all the answers. Individually, we cannot even begin to speak on the experiences of other people. As leaders, we must listen, while being careful not to apply our own antidotes or try to solve problems. Listen to understand. Remember that we see the world through our own lens, shaped by our individual experiences and realities. Once we take time to listen and understand the experiences of others, THAT is where learning and growing happens. Leveraging those experiences and the differences of thought is valuable and contributes to the greater good of the organization.
What advice would you give HR and DEI leaders? What is one thing every leader should understand about DEI?
The first piece of advice would be to listen. Listening and facilitating open and honest conversations will only improve understanding within the organization. Secondly, be committed to learning. Read and have conversations with people from dissimilar backgrounds so you can continue to learn and grow. Lastly, understand that people want to be heard, acknowledged, and valued. Our greatest asset is our people. Recognizing the person as a whole person, as a sum of all their experiences, and leveraging that and fostering an inclusive culture has the potential to increase employee retention, employee engagement, and overall productivity.