A Q&A with Chief Talent Officer Lane Hopkins

Before joining Harris Williams as Chief Talent Officer in 2016, Lane Hopkins spent nearly twenty years at Capital One, which included serving as the Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President of Enterprise Human Resources. Here, she discusses women’s history, her mentors, and our firm’s efforts to build a more equitable future. 

1. During your career, how have you seen the business world change in terms of diversity?

I am not sure that we were even having conversations around the topic when I began working. It was probably happening somewhere, but I was not in the conversation at that time. Since then, we’ve taken big steps in the business world, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.

In the early days of my career, discussions around workplace diversity sat in two buckets: women and people of color. Today’s conversation is more well-rounded in terms of all aspects of identity: sexual orientation, gender, race, disability, socioeconomic status. There is so much more to it. And the focus lies beyond just representation. It’s about inclusion. As we work to increase diverse representation in our firm, how do we maintain it? How do we help minority populations thrive and feel included?

2. It seems like inclusion would be more of a challenge to achieve compared to representation. Is that the case?

You’re right. Inclusion is hard because it means something different to everyone. Throughout my career I have always felt comfortable as one of few women in a male-dominated workplace, but that does not mean I have always felt included.

Inclusion involves the entire set of a person’s experiences, which determines his or her degree of inclusion in a space. It’s all very complex because signals of exclusion are often unconscious. You have to move the needle on both the obvious and the not-so-obvious challenges related to inclusion.

3. Have you felt more included in the workplace as a woman over time?

Definitely. I think the improvement is twofold. First, people are more aware of the smaller transgressions that can make someone feel like he or she is on the outside of a group. It can be a phrase—or even a single word—that, on its own, does not sound harmful but perpetuates a climate that is not fully inclusive. Second, the longer I’ve been in the workplace, the more confident I am to call out issues. In fact, it’s my job to call them out. I’ll note that, when I do, people are generally upset and unaware of the impact of their words. It’s a great opportunity to engage in a thoughtful conversation that most people appreciate.

4. Could you tell us about one of your female mentors?

It’s hard to pick one, as I was fortunate to have a small village of awesome women who I reported to early in my career at Capital One. They saw more potential in me than I saw in myself, in part because I wasn’t necessarily set up for a corporate path. A swimmer at UNC Chapel Hill, I traded summer internships for laps in the pool. Nonetheless, I built a career that I never would have fathomed with help from these smart women, all of whom are wonderful teachers and leaders. They invested in me and pushed me to new levels—sometimes ones that were scary or felt out of reach.

5. How are you providing the same support for women as they launch their careers?

This topic is top of mind. My approach to providing support and guidance is always tailored to the individual, but a niche I am passionate about is helping women return from maternity leave. Minimizing disruption from the time away is difficult, and I find it rewarding to help women navigate what life looks like as a working mother. One surprising approach: I don’t believe in work-life balance; I believe in work-life flexibility. Working as a parent—mom or dad—is a series of choices and trade-offs, a path that will look differently throughout your life. What matters is finding the rhythm and the support system that work for you.

I also love to find unrecognized potential in people and help them channel it into something they’ve never considered. Playing that role is important to me, both at work and with my two teenage girls.

6. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, can you tell us about a person or moment in women’s history that has impacted you?

I am in a huge club of Katharine Graham fans. Part of my admiration surrounds her ability and fortitude in running The Washington Post for nearly 30 years. I appreciate the way she connected people and made big things happen behind the scenes. She was one of the first women in her generation to buck the trend of what a woman could or should do, and she did it very publicly.

As far as impactful moments in history, I’ll raise the history being made today. I find myself in constant awe of today’s young women and have a unique window to that through my daughters. This generation’s attention to politics, human rights, and equality for everyone inspires me.

7. Could you close by telling us a bit about the firm’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?

In investment banking, there are inherent challenges around diversity, equity, and inclusion—but that is not an excuse. At Harris Williams, we have a great opportunity to rewrite the script. Given the size of the organization, over 350 people globally, we can see the impact of our initiatives to reach for a better future. We are working to make this an equitable and inclusive environment for everyone—regardless of your background.

We believe the future is bright, and we are always building out our efforts to achieve a more equitable tomorrow.

Published March 2021

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