Inspiring MBAs: Meet diversity enthusiast Melissa Sumner

09 March 2021

Passionate about inclusive leadership and joining the dots of all things talent, Melissa Sumner is a talent professional with an abundance of talent. Melissa’s career has spanned consulting and in-house team leadership and enabled her to build vast experience across a range of sectors including aviation, financial, government and pharmaceuticals, to name but a few.

While studying our Executive MBA, Melissa dedicated her time to exploring inclusive leadership as a means of supporting diversity in the workplace.

We couldn’t wait to speak to Melissa to find out more.

Can you tell us about your background in occupational psychology? 

I’m a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, and started my career in Talent Consulting, before moving to my first in-house role at Emirates Group around six years ago. My last role there included leading seven teams and 35 people across the Talent remit. In that position I was responsible for leading a transformation across the department, with a strong focus on optimising the candidate and employee experience, data and analytics, and building scalable and responsive Talent architecture, leveraging technology to support better insight and decision making.

Very recently, I’ve joined William Grant & Sons as their Head of Talent where I am responsible for leading the Global Talent and Talent Acquisition strategy. It’s a really exciting business with an inspiring heritage so it’s great to be a part of the team. And of course, I’m looking forward to meeting all my new colleagues in person given that we have a lockdown at the moment!

Where did the desire to study an MBA come from?

My reason for wanting to pursue an MBA was to build a more rounded, understanding of organisations.  I knew it would support me in my career by making me a much more rounded HR professional. I had been considering it for many years but kept on putting it off, feeling like it wasn’t quite the perfect time. In the end, I realised there really wasn’t ever going to be an ideal time, and so I bit the bullet and applied. I was very fortunate to get some support from the 30% Club, a great organisation whose work aims to increase female representation at board and senior management levels.  

What aspect of the MBA have you enjoyed the most?

The best aspect of the MBA has easily been the incredible people that I now consider lifelong friends. I feel like I now have an entire new network I can lean on for all kinds of support. Because we are all very different people, with different backgrounds and specialisms, I genuinely feel there’s not many things that between us, we don’t know! It’s definitely a great example of why building diverse teams is so important.  

Your dissertation explores diversity and inclusive leadership, what insights did the research uncover? 

Although inclusive leadership has, quite rightly, become a very important focus for many organisations, the academic literature is still relatively disparate, given that it is a relatively new topic. I carried out an integrative review to build a cohesive view of what inclusive leadership consists of, and examine how it is different from other popular models of leadership. This in turn enabled me to explore the likely challenges and areas of investment for any organisations who are looking to build a culture of inclusivity and inclusive leadership capability.

How can organisations increase diversity and inclusion?

My personal view is that we have to start shining a light on the structural inequalities that exist in society, talk about them (and let’s be honest, that’s not always comfortable), and then start to unpick them. Importantly, we must recognise that the onus cannot be on under-represented groups to adapt themselves around those inequalities – which has been a criticism of previous approaches to efforts to improve diversity.

Organisations will only realise the benefits of a diverse workforce (like agility, creativity and resilience) when they create environments where everyone has an equal chance of success, everyone is able to be truly themselves, and everyone is able to inject their own uniqueness into the way that things are shaped.  

What advice would you give someone considering an MBA?

Imagine a world where in 10 years’ time, you still haven’t undertaken the MBA. Do you feel regretful? This was what convinced me I needed to make sure I didn’t miss the opportunity. If you're still not sure, reach out to WBS alumni for a chat - there's a heap of support around so don't be afraid to ask. 

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