Big Risks, Big Rewards

Power Suit in the Executive Suite:

Janice Dupré shares her journey from finance to HR, and the risks that made it possible

By Carlett Spike

Janice Dupré first realized the value of investing in people while she was a graduate student at the University of Texas. She vividly recalls the benefits of the mentoring and coaching she received, which ultimately proved valuable career guidance. “As a fellow of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, I received coaching from corporate executives,” she says. “I wondered how much of that support existed in companies I was interested in joining.” 

She got her chance to find out, once she’d earned her MBA and, afterward, worked at Dell. Although she was part of the finance team, she had the opportunity to work closely with the human resources department on various projects, like coordinating finance engagement in university and diversity recruiting, as well as working on the annual opinion survey. 

“I learned I had a niche,” Dupré says. “I had this ability to apply analytics to measure outcomes because that’s what we did in finance. But what if I could do that with human capital?” It wasn’t long before she was asked to join HR, and eventually began her focus in diversity and inclusion. 

Dupré spent more than a decade working in finance and accounting for IBM, EY, and Dell. Prior to joining Lowe’s in 2017, where today she is the executive vice president of HR, she was the chief diversity officer for McKesson. Dupré is also an active member of the Executive Leadership Council, a current board member of Disability:IN, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and the president of the Lowe’s Foundation. She was named twice as one of Black Enterprise’s Top Executives in Corporate Diversity.

Diversity Woman: What attracted you to Lowe’s?

Janice Dupré: It was really the people and the work. I wanted to join a company that didn’t have a chief diversity officer, and Lowe’s leadership team gave me the opportunity to design the enterprise strategy.

It was white space where I could create. What I learned about moving from finance to HR is that I was much more creative than I ever imagined. HR really opened up this other side of me to be creative. When I was looking, I knew I wanted a company that had a really strong desire from the top to advance diversity and inclusion. I never thought retail or living in Charlotte [North Carolina] were in my future, but I fell in love when I met the people. They gave me the freedom to do what I needed to do, which initially was to ensure associates knew exactly what this work entailed, and how it would benefit the company and them. It’s been a great ride. 

DW: What did you hope to accomplish when you accepted your current role, and can you assess where those goals currently stand?

JD: The first thing I wanted to do was understand what data was available: what our workforce makeup looks like and how we compare to the market in all categories. Once I can put a story together from the facts, I can figure out a strategy. The second thing I did was reinvent our annual opinion survey with external benchmarks so we would know how Lowe’s culture stacks up against the best. Today, we know exactly where we stand against other high-performing retailers, by question and by every self-identifiable category. Data can answer a lot of questions. We see year after year that stores that are highest ranked on engagement outperform every financial, customer, and retention metric. So engagement does matter. Our leaders understand this and take the survey seriously. The best thing when you’re doing this work is when other leaders start to speak for you. I don’t have to sell a business case for diversity, inclusion, and culture to anyone—they understand the value it brings. It is a performance expectation, and all want to deliver their best.

DW: What major leadership lessons have you learned along the way?

JD: The biggest lessons I’ve learned are to always be prepared and to know how to get things done. To be successful with these two lessons, you must have strong relationships. That’s huge. You must establish a strong and diverse network.

DW: Can you offer recommendations for skills that women, especially women of color, should work on to advance a career in HR?

JD: The number-one thing I would say is you’ve got to be 100 percent confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. If you have imposter syndrome, you must let it go. You have to decide that you deserve to be where you are, and walk into any room confident. Number two, you have to be willing to take risks. At one point in my career, I moved across the country from Texas to California, and my kids were still in grade school in Austin. I commuted. I tried to make it to as many games and events as possible. Was [the move] disruptive to me? Yes, but it helped with my desire to have a fulfilling career. You can only imagine how many people were saying to me, ‘How on earth are you going to take care of those kids?’ Don’t be concerned with what other people think. I wouldn’t be in this job as the woman I am today if I didn’t get those experiences. Get the noise out of your head and move forward powerfully. 

DW: What do you find most rewarding about your role?

JD: That I’ve been given the responsibility to oversee the care of over 300,000 associates. When I make decisions on initiatives, policies, practices, and offerings, those decisions impact the daily lives of our associates. They must remain top of mind. To me, that’s probably the highest honor I can have. 

DW: What’s been most challenging?

JD: It’s the environment we live in. It’s the political, it’s the social, it’s the physical health, the pandemic, all of that. Finding solutions to these challenges has been some of the hardest decisions I have made in my career. When you have 300,000 associates, you represent the entire US. Our associates have differing beliefs, and when you have to make a call, you know you’re going to disappoint a group of them. It’s hard. I’ve leaned more into giving people choices, but sometimes I don’t have the opportunity—like when the pandemic hit. We needed to wear masks. It was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, that was the best thing I could do for their health. It’s not the company itself that is challenging, it’s the environment we have to operate in. 

DW: What advice can you offer to women who are early in their careers and aspire to climb the corporate ladder?

JD: First, write down what really gives you energy and what drains you. Get really clear on that early. Testing those views often is important because it helps you make decisions about the direction of your career. Second, write down some of the unbelievable, audacious goals that scare the daylights out of you. That doesn’t have to be a specific job. It could be speaking to multitudes of people and inspiring them to be at their best.

The next thing is to be willing to take chances. Loved ones with the best intentions may discourage you from moving across the country. They don’t mean any harm, but they’re not always thinking about the possibilities and leaning into your greatness. You have to be able to understand that when they’re putting this protective language around you. If in your heart you know it’s a good opportunity, you think you should go, and you can do so safely, then you should go.

I would also say, please be careful about overuse of social media. It never goes away. I think sometimes people don’t think about that. Oh, I’d add as well, if you can do an international assignment that gives you global experience, go for it.  DW

Carlett Spike is a New Jersey-based writer and editor with work published in AARP, Prevention, and Columbia Journalism Review, among others.

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“Write down what really gives you energy and what drains you. Get really clear on that early. Testing those views often is important because it helps you make decisions about the direction of your career.”



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