Photo: Brenda LaRose receives 2015 Indspire business award.
Brenda LaRose encountered a lot of opposition to the recruiting idea that has made her a success today.
“I thought there could be a really good market for placing Aboriginal professionals,” she says, citing their tendency to continue their education throughout their careers, great speaking and leadership skills. Her employer at the time decided to let her test the theory, on the condition that she did it on her own time.
Once she got to work in the community, she ended up producing about one-third of the business’ revenue through her diversity recruitment efforts, which was primarily Aboriginal.
However, Brenda faced more resistance: because word got out in the Aboriginal community about what she was up to, people were spontaneously turning up at the recruiting firm, and her employer disapproved.
“They said ‘This is a professional executive search recruiting firm. You can’t have all these native people coming in here all the time,’” remembers Brenda.
Disgusted by the discrimination toward her community, Brenda embarked on her own, founding what has become a leader in Indigenous executive search services, Higgins International.
“It boomed,” says Brenda. “The Aboriginal community trusted me; we got a lot of good business, and word got out.”
Since 1999, Higgins International has become the frontrunner for placing ethnically diverse professionals in Canada at the board, senior management and executive levels. Its business consists of about 75 per cent diversity placement, and has successfully placed more diverse professionals across a broad range of sectors than any other firm in Canada.
While Higgins alone has an international presence, and a huge national one, it has recently partnered with the large firm Leaders & Co. to grow the business, and to benefit from its international brand recognition and trademarked search method.
“It’s very well-known right across Canada and the U.S.,” says Brenda. Leaders & Co.’s innovative approach is a “completely transparent search process where we give the report showing everyone we met with,” says Brenda. “We’re going to probably quadruple the business.”
It’s this business savvy and her incredible innovation in diversity recruitment that has earned the Metis Manitoban a national business award from Indspire.
“I never thought that I would ever get this award,” says Brenda. “I’m really going to enjoy it.” The award took Brenda to Calgary to accept the award at a televised awards ceremony.
Quadrupling her business might be one of Brenda’s lasting career legacies – though she is also devoting herself to many opportunities to mentor the next generation.
She was co-chair for this year’s inaugural SHEday, which had to change locations three times because it outgrew each space.
Since then, the co-creators have gotten many calls to branch out the event, but the founders are sticking to their guns.
“We’re not going to commercialize it,” says Brenda. “The whole idea was to make it affordable.”
The event was inspired by the inaccessibility of some of the leadership events she and her co-creators are regularly invited to attend. SHEday cost only $39 for a full day with lunch provided and an optional headshot opportunity.
On top of the SHEday event, Brenda is a founding board member of the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development, and will be the new chair of the Seven Oaks General Hospital.
“When you hit my age, it’s very important to start transitioning and mentoring and sharing,” says Brenda. “That’s why I do what I do.”