The HRPA Award for Woman of Distinction is awarded to the individual, in any facet of the HR profession, who has championed HR best practices within their organization and whose astounding personal and professional achievements have earned them a place among the industry’s best.

We’re pleased to announce that the winner of the 2022 HRPA Distinction Award is Brigid Pelino. Brigid Pelino has been SVP & Chief People and Culture Officer of Definity since October 2018. She is an accomplished human resources leader, with 30 years of experience leading HR, and has spent her career working with iconic brands such as WestJet as Executive Vice President, People and Culture and Tim Hortons where she spent 10 years as Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Continuous Improvement. Previously, Brigid led leadership development and succession planning for all Canadian Tire businesses. Earlier in her career, Brigid worked in Canada and the U.S. with Honeywell International, HighLiner Foods and General Electric. She is the current Chair of the General Insurance HR Group which is made up of her peers from Insurance Companies across Canada and is the current Chair of Definity’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Committee that is made up of business leaders across Definity.

We sat down with Brigid for a Q&A.

Q: You have an impressive and accomplished career – what is the secret to your success?

I don’t think there is a “secret” to anyone who has achieved success in their life/career except that working hard and some luck were part of it! I have always believed that there is a big difference between “hard work” and “working hard”.  I have always worked hard but it was rarely “hard work” as I have always been passionate and committed to the impact that the HR function can have on people’s lives.  When done well, our function can be the foundation to building an engaging workplace and when you spend about half of your waking hours at work, don’t we all want it to be a purposeful, engaging and rewarding experience? The HR function is a HUGE facilitator to make that happen for people.

Q: What does winning this award mean to you?

Being named a “Woman of Distinction” is particularly meaningful to me as I have always tried, in my own sphere of influence, to be a strong advocate for women in the industries I have worked.  Unfortunately, regardless of the industry, the representation of women in C-suite and Board roles is far to low –even in industries where women are a majority of the workforce.  The needle has moved over the course of my career (and this is wonderful) however, it is simply too slow.  So to be named a “Woman Of Distinction” carries an extra and welcome accountability to impact this.

Q: Equity, diversity and inclusion are important in corporate Canada, but women still lag in pay and top leadership roles. How can we bridge the gap?

Yes, this is true.  However, it is even more true for other equity deserving groups.  What we can’t do is put people in roles that they aren’t ready for. This will solve nothing and only hurt those we are trying to help.  We have to aggressively invest in the development of women and other equity deserving groups to be ready for those roles. And then put in the right support –as you would for any talent — to help them succeed and grow.  I believe the issue is around investing and then follow through, not the other way around.

Q: How have you seen the role of HR evolve over the years? What should HR professionals focus on to continue adding strategic value to organizations?

We have an incredibly privileged position in HR. I often say that it is the only role, next to the CEO, that shares a vista of the entire organization and therefore has direct impact on the productivity, capability and engagement in the organization as a whole.  What an honour and privilege this is! I think it is imperative for HR professionals to:

  • Always remain humble. It is the only way to ensure we are always in learn mode;
  • Always focus on being better, doing better every day; business oriented;
  • Understand our HR craft, but it is MORE important to understand business fundamentals and needs to apply our expertise to the business;
  • Be prepared to be the “truth teller” and to support leaders and help businesses address important/messy issues with courage and compassion.

Q: What advice do you wish someone would have given you earlier in your career?

First, it would be to trust my capabilities more.  I questioned myself constantly. (Imposter syndrome — yup!) I would be the last person who thought I was ever ready for the next role/promotion. I would advise myself to have more confidence but to also hold on tight to the humility at the same time.  The second thing I had to learn was the business more, ideally by going into a line role at some point.  I think this is really valuable in HR to ensure that you deeply understand the business you are in is by managing an area/division in your workplace.  Not enough of this kind of cross-functional movement happens with HR professionals. And lastly, make sure you take your vacation. Promise yourself two weeks in a row every year! It is so easy to get caught up in a high-demand role and there were many times where I didn’t prioritize reboot time.  I’m a big believer now that everyone should take two weeks in a row every year to make sure you get that chance to truly reboot.