Olivia Walsh: The Roles of Empowerment and Courage in a Diverse Workplace

Author: Blythe Chidgey

Over ten years ago when Olivia Walsh made the choice to move from Ireland to Australia, she thought she would be making the brave step with two friends. A sudden change of plans left Olivia choosing to find the courage to make the leap of faith on her own.

For Olivia, it has been that brave step that has set the tone for a career that has been both rewarding and unexpected. Now the Head of Talent Management and Diversity at CBRE Asia Pacific, Walsh is enjoying a career that has recently seen her shortlisted for an AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) Award.

The role of Head of Talent Management and Diversity is no small task at CBRE. A Fortune 500 company with over 70,000 employees globally they are the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in terms of revenue. Add to that leading the internal Women’s Network that has earned a Top Ten ranking in the inaugural Global Diversity List, as supported by the economist, and you have a woman who’s career is both demanding and values aligned.

In her recent interview Olivia revealed that not only is she a woman who is not afraid to gather her courage to take leaps of faith, but she is trusting of her intuition, accepting and welcoming to change and has found her career “sweet spot” where work often doesn’t feel like work at all.

Encourage courage in others

When asked what she would tell her 21-year-old self, Olivia is unsure she would want to change anything at all. Instead, she admits she’d rather share some encouraging words to ensure the brave leaps of faith that have brought her to a place in life in a career she is proud of, are still courageously taken.

While we know can’t time travel and converse with our younger selves, Walsh is a keen advocate for taking the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with younger family members, colleagues, and mentees. She says, “We all have a role to play to help give young people as much help to make their decisions and sometimes people can be too structured at what they choose. I see more issues where people chose a career path and 15 years later they want to move into something else.”

Olivia has seen firsthand the power of executive sponsorship programs that outdo tired mentor style programs and reliance on networking in the workplace. It is such programs she has seen work well within her organisation, “executive sponsorship is a very underutilised, exceptional tool to help retain, engage and advance young talent.”

Plan to not have a plan and embrace change

From the leap of faith she took when she left Ireland on her own, to putting trust in her intuition and guidance from others, Walsh is familiar with the fluidity of planning not to have a plan at all.

Instead of creating five or ten-year career plans she believes we can be strategic in our careers in other, often more exciting ways. This includes taking notice those we choose to take advice from and taking note of profound conversations when a senior colleague has identified strengths or encouraged confidence and taking chances.

It is this flexibility in career planning and strong trust in her intuition that has allowed Walsh to confidently embrace change, particularly in the workplace. “People say we are in the technology era; I believe we in the change era, your phone software is getting updated every couple of months, people just accept that and get on with it. I see the in the workplace too, it is evolving, it’s changing, it probably needs to change a bit faster.

Because of the era of change we are in, I feel that is normal to change often; older generations need to be more prepared to be willing and accepting of that kind of change, it becomes a learning for them too.”

The diverse worker needs a diverse workplace

As a driving force for the CBRE Women’s Network Olivia has seen the power of an organisation aligning it’s values to address diversity in a structured and planned for way. She says “This is not a HR initiative; it is absolutely a strategic business imperative. Diversity and inclusion need to be considered and thought of. It is not a social club; it’s not a ‘nice thing’ to do, but a strategic business imperative.”

Through hard work and dedication to the cause Walsh has led CBRE to address diversity through various initiatives, including leadership programs, mentoring, diverse succession planning programs and flexible working hours.

She’s also adamant that organisations need to commit to “less talk and more action.” This ‘less talk’ approach includes a commitment to not creating programs that encourage diversity to simply be used as a PR story. Instead, she believes that for truly diverse workplaces to exist there needs to be a willingness to ingrain the necessary values and include them in targets and quotas.

“Don’t be afraid, or run away from targets. I think there is a lot of debate and at times provocative conversation about companies not wanting to introduce quotas or targets. If you want to be serious about diversity in the workplace, welcome targets. You can always start conservatively and grow, but it is good to have a benchmark.” Walsh believes it is this type of strategic direction that ensures that diversity doesn’t just fall to one of two people within an organisation because “diversity is everyone’s issue.”

The rise of women in tech

While women have been historically underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields Walsh, who herself possesses a degree in Software Engineering, believes it’s crucial that we engage and concourse women to explore STEM fields. “The practical skills and disciplines that I learned at Uni still stand to me now. Even when working in HR related roles I have helped lead numerous technology focused solutions- including 3 Learning management systems. The commercial world values these skills immensely, and they have allowed me to be more successful by having a systematic, practical approach.”

She adds to this that the innovative, tech-based learning opportunities and environments that exist now mean more exciting, engaging and creative ways for everyone to become skilled in STEM fields.

Olivia Walsh is in her element, encouraging, empowering and advocating for diverse workplaces where change is openly welcomed. “I want to work and be part of communities, networks, companies where everyone’s contribution is welcome, and everyone can be afforded the possibility of being as successful as they aspire to.”

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