December 13, 2019 by Sonya Zhang
Brien Convery is currently the Director of Early Talent Acquisition for RBC, where he promotes the importance of being one’s authentic self and encourages the importance of being active and involved in diversity groups as a means for personal and professional growth. He is also a Belonging Champion and strong advocate for Work Integrated Learning with experience working in everything from Consumer Products, to Technology and Consulting Services, to the U.S. Department of Defense to now Financial Services and Banking. With diversity and inclusion being big themes in recent news, and recruiting season right around the corner, the PBSN team sat down with him to ask him about his perspective on diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the early talent acquisition space.
1. Over the past few years, the term ‘diversity and inclusion’ has become a bit of a buzzword. Could you tell me what diversity means to you?
Diversity is a fact, inclusion is what you do, and belonging is how someone feels. For me, we started with the concept of diversity, which is everything from your ethnic background, to your sexual orientation, to your gender, to your educational background. Inclusion became a thing a couple of years ago where you’d hear things like “Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance”. However the messaging that I’ve been gravitating towards recently is one of belonging, which I heard for the first time at an Edge Diversity in Leadership event from a leader working in Capital Markets at BMO. I started doing some research and now I’ve really started to incorporate that into my work, even putting “Belonging Champion” in my Linkedin Bio. The belonging side of it is really the humanity of diversity and inclusion because belonging is at the heart of it. When someone feels like they belong somewhere they feel like they can be their full selves, and contribute their whole perspective to the conversation. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt like we haven’t belonged, and it’s not a good feeling to have. However, if we respect our differences and look to diversity as our strength, once you get to the level of belonging, you can do so much more.
2. You’ve been involved in a ton of projects, many of them involving higher education. What are some of the most memorable student-run initiatives you’ve seen over the years?
When I look at student initiatives, I think that sometimes students feel like they’re clicking boxes to say that they’ve been involved in the ‘right number’ of clubs. However, you do have to think about the impact that you’re actually having, and be able to talk about that with employers. The ones that are the most memorable are always the ones that have an impact. Not everyone can be the President or Vice-President of a club – and that’s ok. You just really have to ask yourself where you can have an impact on student-run initiatives, and sometimes that means being an active member. This can be as simple as helping to deliver questions at a session. I think that in the initiatives that I’ve seen, for example with Edge Diversity in Leadership at our Partnering for Student Success this past week, the team got a standing ovation at the event, and students from other schools in the room were approaching the team with questions about how they could start a chapter at their schools. So I think the initiatives that have the most impact are the ones that meet people on their journey and leave a lasting impression – and the ones that do this the best are the ones who use storytelling. People might not remember numbers and statistics, but they do remember stories and how you made them feel.
3. Even looking around my own classrooms, I can see that there is a definite lack of diversity. What are some things students and clubs on campus can do to make spaces more welcoming to people who are different from us?
In these classrooms and with these clubs and organizations there needs to be a welcome mat once they arrive. You can reach out and invite different groups of people to attend events, but they have to feel welcome once they arrive. You’ll realize that if they don’t feel a sense of belonging, they probably won’t come back. This is definitely something you have to think about if your objective is to make spaces more welcoming. For example, something we do in our Pride Employee Resource group at RBC is start every meeting with an introduction of who’s new at the club and allow them to introduce themselves and their background. Even something as simple as that can be really effective.
4. A Forbes article mentioned that men are confident in applying to jobs when they have 60% of the qualifications, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list. What would you have to say to students early in their careers who are scared of applying to opportunities they’re interested in due to fear that they’re underqualified?
In this case, we all need to think about our experiences differently. We are moving towards what we call in the industry as Work Integrated Learning, which is learning beyond the classroom.
Essentially the idea is that we’re lifetime learners in all different ways. For example as a student, you have your resume, you might have a cover letter, and you might have spent four months at an organization and learned transferable skills. However, you may have also been involved with a club and ran an event where you learned resilience and time management. It’s really about taking a holistic view of all of your experiences. When you look at the qualifications, there are different ways to attribute your experiences to the qualifications, and when someone says ‘we want someone with two years of experience’ well when you add up all those micro experiences you’ll realize that you really might have those two years of experience. I think it’s a mindset shift on the applicant to think differently about their experiences, and attributing that to the qualifications of a job application. So my advice would be to remember that we don’t just look at grades and credentials, we really look for transferable skills.
5. As someone with a diverse range of experience in different industries, is there any personal or professional advice you would want to share with university students?
My first piece of advice would be to be open-minded to opportunities and to take challenges and risks when it comes to your professional journey. I attribute this to offroading. For example, if you’re a finance student going through your financial education and working for financial institutions, there may be opportunities in completely different industries that could be an interesting path to your journey. I see offroading, and my own career path, where it’s a journey, rather than a straight road to success. So my biggest piece of advice is to not be afraid of putting yourself out there and to consider opportunities that are outside of your comfort zone. Another thing that I hear students say all the time is that they haven’t had experience working in their career. As a student and even an experienced professional, careers are what you make them. I don’t think we all have straight and narrow career paths anymore. For example, I’ve had multiple careers and worked in multiple roles and industries from operations to technology, which you all can do. If you want to be a lawyer and that’s your dream that’s great, but if you’re a law student you can go work in technology at a startup and that’s equally exciting.