Cara Williams, Senior Partner, is ESG, Climate and Sustainability Leader for Mercer. Located in London, Cara leads the program of work to articulate and amplify Mercer’s ESG value proposition and positioning, embed sustainability in the journey to a bright future, and drive highly practical, relevant and value-added outcomes both internally for Mercer and externally for organizations all around the world. She presents regularly on global ESG, sustainability, diversity and investment trends.
In addition to her leadership role, Cara is an active mentor for external programs and to colleagues, supporting and promoting women and people of colour in their careers. She sits on a number of boards including Girls With Impact, training girls to be entrepreneurs, as well as on the Board of Directors of The German School, London.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Cara shared her career trajectory, insights on how AI can help organizations accelerate their climate and sustainability commitments to investors and customers, her current roles and responsibilities as Global Head of ESG, Climate and Sustainability at Mercer, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Cara, please tell us about your background and areas of interest.
I am from New York City where I was raised. I went to Paris for my last year of university. I ended up doing a master’s in business in Paris at the University of Hartford and then moved to Germany where I worked for the US Army and NATO. After several years working with the military and a couple of deployments I returned to New York to work in financial services. I have been with Mercer for 19 years and have had several roles while there. From Global Chief Operating Officer to Head of Wealth Management, to my current role as Global Head of ESG, Climate and Sustainability
How can disruptive technologies such as AI help organizations accelerate their climate and sustainability commitments to investors and customers?
AI is a wonderful way to ease some of the challenges facing investors, from simple things like summarizing Sustainability and ESG reports to aggregating and making sense of reporting coming from organisations and potential investment opportunities. AI ought to be a great contributor to scenario analysis and the ability to assess and measure potential risk to physical assets.
Tell us about your roles and responsibilities as Global Head of ESG, Climate and Sustainability at Mercer.
My role is both internal and external. Internally I am responsible for building our employee value proposition so that ESG and sustainability resonates for our colleagues and prospective joiners. We have recently developed mandatory training for all of our 23,000 colleagues about ESG, Climate and Sustainability to ensure all colleagues have a baseline of understanding of what ESG is and how we, as a firm, manage our organization in line with these non-financial factors. Externally I am responsible for building Mercer’s go-to-market across all ESG and sustainability services. Helping organisations to better integrate ESG and sustainability within all aspects of their operations.
You are also an Advisory Board Member at Girls With Impact. Can you please tell us about this academy and your role in it?
It’s a wonderful organization which works with young women to develop their own businesses or foundations. They gain the skills needed to pitch their ideas, and ultimately to stand these up. They have access to great coaches and training. The program can be rolled out as a one off or organizations can offer it to the daughters of their employees.
What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a key component to robust decision making. We see more and more organizations recognizing the importance to such diversity but are challenged as to how best go about it. The key to getting started is to establish a measured baseline. It needs to be measured in order to manage the numbers. Some markets are farther ahead of others as regulations vary in countries. Europe has a new regulation coming out with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) which is focused on broader sustainability to include both the environment as well as social issues. Regulation like that will start to move the needle as organisations are keen to fall in line.
In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
I have been very lucky with mentors in my life. Some have even gone further to support me and my career as I have moved up in my career. In the military, I had a wonderful leader who taught me that every person takes criticism and motivation very differently and the key is to understand what makes people tick and which method will be the most effective. I joined Mercer specifically to work with one person and I had the great pleasure to learn from him for several years. He taught me to listen and respect yet not be afraid to make an unpopular decision.
What’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader?
It’s a stereotype but in the main women tend to have honed empathy skills. It can certainly be a strength to see all sides of an issue but when over indulged can be a hindrance to speed and efficiency of decisions.
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Hobbies are genuinely the spice of life. I do love physical exercise but also love time with my teenage sons (if they ever grant it to me), and motorcycling which I’ve been doing since I was 23 years old.
What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?
The only secret is there is no such thing. Never is everything in balance. Oftentimes most things need attention and there doesn’t seem enough time in the day to tend to those and others it may only be one thing that needs extra focus. However, I would add the need for flexibility. It’s the only way not to get overwhelmed with work and all things life entails.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I’ve never been one to plan my journey and I won’t start now. Hopefully Mercer. I prefer to find where I may be most useful and can hopefully share and learn from others.
One piece of advice to aspiring wealth management professionals?
Try to do what brings you joy-wealth management is about people and helping them achieve their lifetime goals-if that excites you it’s the right field.