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Felicia Mayo has long been at the forefront of the evolution of human resources, developing and growing inclusive work environments for titans of American business such as Oracle, Juniper Networks, Tesla and Nike.Eric Herrmann/Supplied

Felicia Mayo believes every ambitious woman needs a circle of close confidants. Her own personal team is made up of her husband, her executive coach and a diverse group of trusted individuals from a wide range of industries and occupations. She calls them “The Avengers,” like the famed Marvel superheroes with wildly different talents and powers.

“My Avengers are not all people like me,” says Ms. Mayo, executive vice president of people for Block, the financial services and digital payments company co-founded by Jack Dorsey. “I think it’s important to have different coaches and mentors and seek counsel for different components of a career.”

Ms. Mayo has long been at the forefront of the evolution of human resources, developing and growing inclusive work environments for titans of American business such as Oracle, Juniper Networks, Tesla and Nike. Now, in her role at Block, Ms. Mayo’s been tasked with finding top-notch employees for the company’s multiple divisions, including Square, Cash App, Spiral, Tidal and TBD. That’s no mean feat – in 2022, Block increased its workforce by 40 per cent in the U.S. and its international offices in Canada, Japan, Australia and all over Europe.

“We’ve been able to land so much talent, especially in engineering as we build our work force in Canada, [because of] schools like [University of] Waterloo and [University of] Toronto,” says Ms. Mayo. “Having a diverse hiring pipeline is essential.”

The seasoned HR executive credits her past work experiences for providing her with invaluable career lessons, such as her nine-year tenure at Juniper Networks, a Silicon Valley network developer. “That company allowed me to see the beauty in taking risks,” Ms. Mayo says. “I grew and gained so much there. At any point I knew I could raise my hand and say, ‘Put me in coach.’”

Working in all areas of human resources at several organizations has been a boon, says Ms. Mayo, because it’s given her intimate knowledge of how to build a strong employee base and taught her how to handle challenges, even when those challenges included facing bias and prejudice in the workplace.

“You’re always going to experience bias – it’s like breathing,” says Ms. Mayo.

She says that a “mid-career experience” with bias made her stop and review what had happened and why, enabling her to address it head-on.

“I like to analyze and ask questions,” she says. “[That’s] my advice – don’t avoid it.”

When an issue of bias, mansplaining or sexism comes up in the workplace, Ms. Mayo says it’s important to address it quickly, but also to look at each situation individually.

“All bias or prejudice doesn’t happen the same way,” she says. “When we receive any type of claim, we immediately want to protect the person and start with how they want the situation addressed.”

At Block, Ms. Mayo says company culture is monitored with quality checks to combat bias and advance fairness, using multiple tools to measure inclusion.

“We look at inclusion from several angles – gender, age, race, ethnicity – and don’t limit ourselves to our biannual employee survey,” she says. Lines of communication are open to any employee, whether it’s a casual conversation or a Slack message. “We don’t talk about issues once a month and move on. We’re talking about concerns all the time.”

Ms. Mayo knows all too well that technology is an industry that is top-heavy with male leadership, something that needs to change. “We need to hear the divergent perspectives of women and have those voices at the table,” she says. At Block, with global employees topping 12,000, 70 per cent currently report to a woman, says Ms. Mayo. In the executive team of seven, three are women, she adds, with CFO Amrita Ahuja recently adding COO to her responsibilities.

As Ms. Mayo and her team continue to seek out different types of talent, she recommends always being open to learning. “Being a lifelong learner is important – whether its formal or informal methods,” she says.

When asked about her advice for young people hoping to emulate her success, Ms. Mayo says to take every opportunity that comes along. And don’t be afraid to ask questions of your own personal team of Avengers, or someone else in your company that you respect and admire.

“Asking a colleague who’s more versed in an area than you are is a great way to learn,” she says. “Soak it up like a sponge.”

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