Champions are formed in the furnace of complex conditions. They cultivate their innate strength of unbreakable resolve and build a strong character due to hardships and adversaries. They continue to innovate, invent, reinvent, uncover, and rediscover hidden marvels in their inner selves and the outside world by adapting to the changing dynamics of ever-changing times. And one such exceptional individual is Clarice Colòn (Vice President of Talent for Whole Foods Market), who is breaking the glass ceiling with her capability, hard work, and determination. She directs the Talent Center of Excellence (COE), leading the brand’s vision and strategy for attracting, developing, growing, and retaining top talent.
Experiences That Shaped Clarice’s Journey
Clarice recalls, “My journey was unconventional and unpredictable, to say the least. As the first-born daughter to first-generation immigrants to the United States of America, I am humbled and forever grateful for the sacrifices made by my parents to make a better life for themselves and their children.” From her early years, she remembers a natural desire to lead, seek excellence, and having a competitive and self-determined edge
These qualities came into play when she lined up her dolls for the lesson of the day, played stickball with the local boys on the streets of New York City, and neatly and efficiently organized her room! Both within and outside of school, she experienced a sense of empowerment and freedom from societal constraints.
After graduating high school, Clarice didn’t take the most common career pathway as many other girls in her class did. Those options were in the secretarial or nursing professions. However, these options weren’t aligned with her passions. So the determined leader rejected these predestined options and decided to pursue her passion for business, fashion, or the performing arts.
Recalling her memories, Clarice shares, “Not being college graduates themselves, my parents lacked the agency to help guide and direct my collegiate path. From this point forward, my life and career took many unpredictable turns, but I remained resolute in becoming my best self! I started college and worked in the health and fitness field during school. I married young and had my first child within two years. Life and a lack of financial means put a hold on my college journey but did not put a damper on my ambitions. I was determined to “do it all”! I would compete with the “at home” and PTA mothers while simultaneously challenging myself to compete with my male peers in a male-dominated work environment.”
She further adds, “Three children later, I never made it back to complete my undergrad degree. Raising children, and working to provide, forced my focus on their academic future, not mine. In retrospect, now married, working, and raising children, I was determined to continue moving forward without having to go backwards to achieve a societal rite of passage and perceived the “necessary” cost of admission to a rewarding and meaningful career. I was, in many ways, already experiencing success by committing to continuous learning, pursuing excellence, and taking in all of what corporate America had to offer. In the late 1990’s I was fortunate to have exceeded my own expectations.”
The determined leader Clarice started in an entry-level role while in college and continued to be promoted. Then, she was promoted to a multi-unit operator position in the health and fitness industry, in which she had great interest. After closely collaborating with senior leadership and HR during the business’ union organizing campaigns in the early 2000s, she was tapped on the shoulder for an opportunity within HR. Trusting her gut, she accepted it since Clarice wanted to broaden her range of experience. It was a great blessing for her to have a leader who would later serve as her unofficial mentor.
It’s important to lean in, and it’s also important for those in higher-level positions (both men and women) to lean back and pay it forward to support the advancement of women.
He showed interest in her and gave frank, constructive criticism about her opportunities and strengths. With his support and guidance, Clarice decided to pursue the certification route. And as a result, she has maintained dual certifications with the Human Resource Certification Institute’s Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) since 2008. As well as the Society of Human Resource Management’s Senior Human Resources Professional (SHRM-SCP) since 2015. She is also a devout advocate and believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of mentorship and paying it forward!
“My career journey has allowed me to fulfill my passion for building high-performing teams and helping businesses solve challenges through the lens of talent strategy. Looking back, I have no regrets and very much look forward to what’s yet to come!” says Clarice.
Whole Foods Market: Nourishing People and The Planet
Clarice feels blessed and humbled to be able to contribute her skills and leadership to assist Whole Foods Market in fulfilling its vision and purpose of nourishing people and the planet. To be able to work in this space is both intrinsically and practically rewarding for her. Whole Foods is a truly unique place and business that provides the best natural and organic foods, adhering to sustainable agriculture and maintaining the highest industry standards for quality. It also serves communities and the world through its foundations’ Whole Cities, Whole Kids, and Whole Planet.
Whole Foods Market’s Core Values and Declaration of Interdependence, in practice, set the right environment for individual pursuits of Team Member’s growth and happiness. Opportunities are not constrained by bureaucracy and are limitless. And Whole Foods Market also fosters an environment of empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit. As the Talent COE leader, Clarice has been thrilled to be able to enhance opportunity pathways for women through various programs and initiatives like its Cultivate Mentorship Program, Cultivate Whole Women Leaders program, Career Development Programs, Campus Recruitment, and additional investments in high-performing high potential women leaders within her Team Member population.
The Current Industry Scenario
According to Clarice, “It is the state of the industry and the world today. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. In this competitive and volatile talent climate, it is important as an HR leader to guide your company’s focus on the skills that will sustain your company’s competitive advantage now, and into the future. The biggest advantage the best HR practitioners have over all the rest, is the ability to “see around corners and plan”!”
Clarice sees herself continuing to learn, grow, and make an impact no matter what she is doing. It’s crucial for her to connect meaningfully, to listen to and learn from people, and to have a purpose in her work. She always tries to leave things better than she found them, no matter what she does. This idea permeates both her personal and professional life.
Source of Motivation
Clarice responded when asked where she gets her inspiration from, “This one is tough because I have many sources of motivation. I’ll start with my parents. They overcame many odds and adversities. They moved to a foreign country without knowing their native language, worked hard, became citizens, raised three children, achieved the “American Dream” of home ownership, and fully funded their retirement. They managed to live and continue to live a fulfilling, healthy and prosperous life.”
She further adds, “My husband has been my best friend, supporter, and fan for over 35 years! Our marriage and our family are constant motivators. I thrive when I am surrounded by a talented team. I’m motivated by and draw energy from passionate and talented people. Lastly, my own individual pursuit of excellence and continuous improvement is my internal compass and fire! I pursue holistic well-being and vitality through exercise and connection, which keeps me driven and optimistic about possibilities.”
Describe in One-Word or in One Sentence
The real meaning of her name, Clarice, has always resonated with the versatile leader, which is Bright, clear, and famous. She works hard to stand out and be an authority in her industry even though she is not famous and doesn’t want to be.
Words of Wisdom
Being a diligent leader and experienced individual, Clarice advises, “I would reiterate to all women that they find and ensure their voices are heard. To perform well but also manage their individual brand and gain exposure. Finally, remember your worth and fight for it just as a man would! I benefited from mentorship and remained an advocate and champion for mentor-ship. It’s important to lean in, and it’s also important for those in higher-level positions (both men and women) to lean back and pay it forward to support the advancement of women. In closing, your potential is limitless even when your options appear to be limited.”