Naomi Titleman elevates women at Amex (National HR Awards)

Winner, HR Professional of the Year
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2016

By Amanda Silliker

In 2014, Naomi Titleman spearheaded the Women at Amex initiative to support the development and advancement of women in the workplace.

Women at Amex identifies high-potential female employees at the manager, director or vice-president level and helps them gain exposure to senior leaders and prepares them for the next step in their career. A key component is to give women access to successful role models, male or female.

“It’s a topic that I am personally very passionate about,” says Titleman, vice-president of human resources at American Express Canada in Toronto. “It’s not through a typical training program but through really candid conversations with real people who are doing really well in their careers… That’s really, really powerful.”

By partnering with the organization Women of Influence last year on research around ambition in corporate Canada, Amex got some powerful statistics to support this initiative. For instance, only eight per cent of women feel they have a sponsor and 27 per cent feel they have a mentor. The research also showed women with mentors and sponsors feel more confident that they can and want to reach the C-suite one day.

“It’s natural for women to put our heads down and do great work and hope we will be recognized, and that is obvious through these statistics,” says Titleman. “Mentor-sponsor relationships are so important.”

But Titleman is not keen on a matching program at Amex — she is adamant they cannot be forced.

“If it does not happen organically, then the relationship dies on the vine or it’s a lot more chance,” she says. “It should happen out of ‘I’ve seen you do very good work consistently, I am prepared to put my reputation on the line in order to advance your career.’”

This initiative is just one reason why Titleman was selected as the winner of the HR Professional of the Year Award.

“Naomi is a wonderful role model herself, both within the HR organization and within the broader Amex organization as well,” says Jennifer Heynen, director of human resources at American Express Canada. “Her passion and unrelenting commitment to promoting leadership and growth opportunities for women in the workplace is really leading the charge with transforming the way the company really perceives the role of HR.”

For the first time this year, Amex participated in the “Forward Together” conference in Toronto, which brings together women from 15 organizations to share best practices and resources. Amex sent 20 high-potential women to the conference and Titleman did a presentation on the topic of ambition and career management. 

“The message here is we are developing our women as people, as professionals and we are not worried about mixing them with people in the external market because that’s a very critical part of their development,” says Titleman.

Women at Amex also includes community involvement initiatives, where women at the company give back through women’s and girls’ organizations to develop the next generation of leaders. For example, Amex has a partnership with Girls Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on giving confidence to girls, where employees act as mentors. Many are among the high-potential women at Amex.

“They are employees who are already benefiting from having access to role models and mentors themselves within the organization, so we saw a great response from that group,” says Heynen.

Big moves
About a year-and-half ago, Titleman led the company through a transformative move to its new headquarters in Toronto. From dealings with real estate, managing the logistics of moving nearly 1,600 employees and overseeing all communications. Titleman played a critical leadership role in executing a seamless move with minimal business disruption, says Heynen. 

With the new space, Amex’s new work style called “BlueWork” was introduced. It allows employees the flexibility to decide how and where they get their job done. In the previous building, employees were assigned dedicated desks, but in the new building they reserve a desk — on any floor — when they are coming into the office. This gives them the opportunity to work remotely or work from different locations in the building.

“They can work from the same area and same desk every day or they can move around to work beside others in the organization, perhaps in different business units that they are working on a project with,” says Heynen. “So (it’s) quite a change from the old location.”

The employee response has been “tremendously positive” due to the increased flexibility and opportunities for collaboration, she says.

This initiative was one of the biggest change management efforts experienced at Amex Canada. A key component of its success was ensuring all leaders were on board and stayed positive, says Titleman.

“Any change, even if we think it’s the most positive change we could possibly have, it’s change,” she says. “It’s very important that employees don’t feel this is something being done to them by HR, and that leaders are all on board and talking the same talk and communicating the same points.”

Titleman worked closely with the CEO to have two town halls devoted to the new building to “get ahead of any noise.” The HR team also acknowledged anything that might be different or uncomfortable, such as less privacy than before (for example, directors no longer have offices). HR highlighted the fact that along with meeting rooms, there are other non-reservable spaces anyone can grab for an hour at a time to have a confidential conversation. 

‘Employee experience officer’
Titleman is also working toward repositioning the HR function as an “employee experience officer.” This stems from a Deloitte study that found “designed thinking” is one of the top human capital trends this year, which means putting the customer at the centre of whatever strategy is being designed, says Titleman.

“I see my team as very much the ambassadors of the employee experience, from end to end,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in a benefits role or employee relations or recruitment or a broader project-based role, it’s really important we always keep the employees in mind.”

An example of this is the completely revamped flexible benefits program. Titleman and her team started the two-year long process by asking:

“If I had the ultimate benefits program, what would it look like?” After ensuring workers were protected from catastrophic events through mandatory benefits, the new offering is a total flex credit system.

“Not everyone sitting in our office is a family of four, so we wanted to make it as flexible as possible, for our millennials all the way to our veterans,” says Titleman. “We wanted people to value the employee experience of benefits and not take them for granted.”

Workers can allocate the credits to a variety of products, such as wellness offerings or registered retirement savings plans.

“We felt that health is not just about physical health, it’s also about emotional health and a lot of emotional stress comes from ‘I am not going to have the funds to retire’ or ‘I don’t know how to save more,’” says Titleman. “Apparently, not a lot of Canadian companies are there yet, but I think it’s where the market should be going because it is a part of the broader health and wellness strategy.”

Titleman is a true partner and trusted advisor to the Amex Bank of Canada board of directors. She attends the meetings on a quarterly basis where she reports on the “latest and greatest” in HR and she serves as the secretary for the HR committee of the board. 

“Anything that would fall on their radar, I am their point person as it relates to HR. Any senior executive appointments, any reviews they need to do, I work very closely with them on that,” she says. “It’s also good for them to understand what we’re doing with our talent… and it’s great (for us) to have that independent sounding board.”

Going forward, Titleman plans to evolve the HR programs already in motion, keep on the cutting edge of the future of work and come up with new ways to enhance the employee experience.

“It’s all related to how we make people as happy as possible when they are at work, which is where they spend the majority of their time. We will see different flavours of that as we go through the years,” she says. 

Amanda Silliker is editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine in Toronto.

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