Chief Chat with Tanisha Tulloch

‘There are still too few of us at this level.’
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Tanisha Tulloch

· 5 min read

When Tanisha Tulloch was promoted to chief people officer at EZRA Coaching, a virtual coaching provider, it was a career milestone for the Toronto-area native. She had expected to top out at the manager level, because, she said, that’s where she saw the most people who looked like her.

In a conversation with HR Brew, Tulloch explained why she’s a “progress person” rather than a people person, and how she has learned to stop compromising parts of herself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your career in HR has spanned multiple industries. What has that experience been like?

Each [job] is unique…In order to evaluate the difference[s], you need to understand the soil, meaning: Is it fertile enough for HR to actually grow and expand and make an impact?

Within hospitality, you need to make sure that you’re always scaling, you’re managing turnover, because it tends to be a transient industry. [Engagement] would be your priority and focus in that industry. When it comes to robotics, it’s very traditional and standardized, and if you’ve ever worked with engineers, they would love to whiteboard everything if they could, so you need to be structured and careful with how you implement changes.

In healthcare and wellness, we are positioned to be agile, intentionally, because the needs of the patient and the end user change so frequently, and that creates a closer connection with different departments…to ensure that we’re bettering their teams with our support.

How did you get into the field of HR?

Historically, HR has been seen as a very administrative function. We create policies, we form the rules, and we discipline people who break them…That’s absolutely not the type of HR that I stand for.

I wanted to help people. [For example] everyone has had that bad retail experience [where] a bad manager mistreats an employee—you see that, but then you don’t have the power to do anything about it. So, I would say my origins started there.

I remember coming into my interview with Ezra and someone asked me what I love about HR, and I remember saying, “Well, first up, I’m not a people person—” [reporter looks shocked] I see that reaction right there, it was the same in the interview!

But then I said, “Hold on, let me qualify that because people are human. They have a tendency to hurt, to disappoint. They are human and there’s a forgiveness that obviously you have to have in order to kind of move forward.” But that’s not the reason why I got into HR. It’s because I’m a progress person. I believe in putting the right tools in front of people to become their best selves. I believe in putting the programs, the processes, and sometimes policies in place to allow them to thrive…That’s why I’ve been able to be so successful in HR because it’s less about the shortcomings or the wins of the individuals, but making sure that they are uplifted enough so they can actually see that.

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What are your reflections on your advancement, including recently being named chief people officer?

When I first was told that Ezra would appoint me with the honor of being their CPO, I remember being a little emotional because when I started in HR, I never saw a person of color in such a seat, and so I always thought that the cap of my career would be an HR manager, because that’s where I saw most of the people that looked like me.

My journey has led me to this point…Being a Black woman who is in corporate [environments], there was a lot of conditioning that I had to do to adjust and modify who I was, not only for my hair, but my voice, to my style, and my mannerisms to fit in, and and as I grew in my career, I realized that I was unwilling to compromise those pieces of myself, more and more, so it really became important to find a place that understood who I was and appreciated what I had to offer.

I’d never had an HR leader, until in the last five years, where they were actually a visible minority. So, for the better part of my career, there was this acceptance of a norm, where it was not expected that there would be different shades to HR leadership…I would say that being a CPO, when I look around, there are still too few of us at this level.

What responsibility do HR leaders have to make their departments more diverse and how can they go about doing it?

When I look around and I see that there are too few people at this level, it makes me want to work harder to ensure that it doesn’t stay that way…I’m so proud of the diversity that is within [my] people team…because that’s what I stand behind. And it feels so good to be living that truth.

It first starts with recognizing the conditioning that we have gone through that might impact our confidence, but know[ing] and trust[ing] that what we have to say and what we bring to the table matters, and when you see a lack of representation, it’s incumbent upon you to actually share and talk about it, versus shying away. That’s the hardest part.

I mean, 2020 wasn’t that long ago, but you still think, “Oh, do they really want to hear about [inequality]? Do they really care?” When you accept that they really care, or [that] you have to be the one that cares and show them how to do it, it makes you forgive yourself for not saying anything in the past— forgive yourself for allowing yourself to be conditioned to suppress who you were…There’s something healing about seeing that your authenticity is recognized and appreciated and celebrated…But also in that healing, you are raising up a generation of HR professionals that are going to do better as well. —AK

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.