Human resources professional Melanie Peacock, MBA’90, has become an international expert on finding and keeping the right people in the workplace.
But she also knows first-hand how important it is to make that a priority in her personal life.
A Calgary-based professor, mentor, advocate and entrepreneur, Peacock is the new president of the Western Alumni Association, which connects Western and its alumni and provides opportunities to grow and learn.
They Ivey Business School graduate is the first Western Alumni Association president with a home base outside of Ontario.
“I don’t think I can find the words to adequately describe what an honour and a privilege it is to have this role,” she said. “It’s not something my younger self could have foreseen.”
‘Find your people’
In her office adorned with decorations of birds that share her name, Peacock said good mentors have inspired her to develop and use her natural gifts of leadership.
“I was told growing up: try to be quiet, you’re too loud, you’re too boisterous, fit in. And it just never worked, because it’s not who I am. So I think this is also a story about authenticity in the journey. You’ve got to be you, and then you’ll find your people.”
And that’s who she has found as a Western alum: a diverse group with varied interests all sharing one common bond.
“What a joy it is when you find your people, and it’s not just finding one group: there are lots of different groups and different ways to find connection as students and as alumni. And that’s what I’m hoping my story encourages people to know. There are lots of ways to engage with your alma mater.” ~ Melanie Peacock, Western Alumni Association president
Peacock recalls being full-on focused during her years studying at Western.
“My learning, my mind, my thinking was stretched in ways that I hadn’t even envisioned. And I was pretty smart going in, or at least I thought I was. Western challenged and reinvented me, and I don’t use those words lightly. The education was world-class.”
But few people, in her experience, had conversations about racism, or equity, diversity and inclusion at the university or anywhere else – although she would have been hard-pressed to have articulated or even identified it as such at the time.
That’s one reason she is fully on board with Western’s work to embed equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization into its policies and practices at all levels, including among alumni groups.
“The evolution that I’ve seen in our world, that I’ve seen in the HR profession and at Western, to face these really difficult topics, has been so heartwarming to me as an alum, and very rewarding. And it’s made me even more excited to be involved in work to advance these things.”
Peacock thrives on developing people into their best selves. She has taught courses to more than 1,000 people seeking the Chartered Professional in Human Resources designation; is a professor of human resources at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University in Calgary, where she won the school’s inaugural teaching excellence award in 2014; has written several textbooks and articles to improve the profession; is founder of Double M Training and Consulting; and is a local, national and international media commentator.
She was designated a fellow of the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources in Alberta in 2021 – only the third woman, and the first woman of colour, to have this designation.
Those professional competencies translate well into her role in the Alumni Association, she said: “Being able to communicate, being able to take a strategic vision and make it tangible and, more importantly, helping other people do that. How do we empower, how do we assist, encourage and motivate people to be their best?
“This isn’t just about me and my role; this is what the phenomenal Alumni Association board does in encouraging people to continue to be lifelong learners, to find meaningful ways to work and to remain connected. Finding ways for alumni to participate isn’t just about giving back. It’s also what they get from it.”
Peacock returns to Western as often as she can. “I love the whole atmosphere, the beautiful campus and the chatter that’s almost like you’re experiencing each other’s learning.” But, she noted, technology changes necessitated by the pandemic have also made it possible for alumni to connect with each other and with Western in new, meaningful ways.
“The pandemic opened up opportunities. It forced us to look at how we continue to meet, how we continue to engage with alumni and the amazing staff team at Western.”
“I’m hoping that my passion and my energy and my belief in what we do at Western and what we do as an alumni association is still palpable, even online. There is still an important place for face-to-face and using that as a foundation to connect and engage. But we’re showing it doesn’t have to be only in person or only virtually; it can be both.”