Name: Terrie-Lynne Devonish
Company: Altus Group
Tanya: Nice to meet you Terrie-Lynne. You are the Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary at Altus Group, but what do you do in your day-to-day life?
Terrie-Lynne: In my role, I’m responsible for the legal, compliance and regulatory program for Altus Group, which is a publicly traded Canadian company that operates in over eight countries worldwide, providing technology, data analytics and advisory services serving clients in the commercial real estate industry. My responsibilities really are managing and running the legal program for the company.
Tanya: How long have you been doing that work?
Terrie-Lynne: I have been a lawyer for 25 years, but I have been with the organization for almost two years.
Tanya: I’m sure you’ve seen a lot in that length of time. That’s amazing. So tell me about your career journey. What made you go into law?
Terrie-Lynne: Well, my parents are immigrants from Guyana, and they immigrated to Canada in the 60s. Like most immigrants, they were looking for a better life. Many people will know, when you have immigrant parents, they are a bit strict about ensuring that you do better than them. My parents were no different – education was absolutely paramount in our family. There were very limited choices in our family, you could be a doctor or an accountant or lawyer! So I got door number 3. I always joke that they brainwashed me to become a lawyer. I hadn’t really thought about much else. I went through university just always thinking that’s where I was going to end up. And that’s where I ended up.
Tanya: I feel like there’s a lot of people who can relate. I remember, my mom put me in French immersion as a kid because she swore I was going to be a translator for the UN. I’m like, Mom, that’s very specific. So what would you say has been your boldest career move to date?
Terrie-Lynne: Wow, I think it’s going to be a tie. I think this role is definitely one of the boldest ones because I lead a legal team for a global company, in a relatively new industry for me. But I think another one was moving out of Canada. I lived in Toronto my whole life and some years ago, I moved for work and lived in another country for a number of years.
Tanya: Those are huge for sure. What gave you the confidence to make the leap into a new role that is in an industry area that you weren’t as familiar with?
Terrie-Lynne: I would say it’s because of past experience. When you jump into the deep end for the first time, it’s scary, but you survive and then you realize you can do it. I’ve had good mentors throughout my career who have told me to take opportunities when they’re presented to me and it was the same with this one. I talked to a lot of people that I trust and got their thoughts and opinions on the role and everybody said wholeheartedly, you should go for it. You have the skills to do it and where you have gaps you’ll find ways to learn or find people to help you with that. I am fortunate that in Altus we have great leaders and a wonderful team.
Tanya: So you actually mentioned mentorship, and that was one of my questions – what role did mentorship play in your career journey?
Terrie-Lynne: Good question. When I was a junior lawyer, I didn’t have mentors at all – there were not a lot of Black lawyers. And non-Black lawyers were not thinking about mentoring Black lawyers at that time. I really felt like I was on my own. I eventually started meeting non lawyers, men and women in business. I found that there were a number of people who were willing to mentor me, that saw my potential and were willing to guide me and, and coach me and give me advice. That’s helped me a lot. I’ve also been lucky enough to have one sponsor in my career.
Tanya: Can you explain the difference between a Sponsor and a Mentor?
Terrie-Lynne: Yeah, and I’ll throw in a third one as well – Coach. A mentor is really someone who can help guide you by sharing their own experiences, and giving you guidance on how to handle certain things. For example, when I started this new role, I asked a Black General Counsel that I knew of at a publicly traded company who I really respected to mentor me for six months. She talked to me about where my concern areas were, I would give her scenarios for things with which I struggled, and she would share with me- this is how I’ve done it, watch out for this risk, etc.
A sponsor is really there to open doors for you. They’re not providing guidance, they’re not providing help, they’re there to open the door. So the sponsor’s job is to say, “All right, I see Terrie as a Black woman, I see the glass ceiling that happens – I’m going to use my own influence, to pave a way to give her an opportunity to grow.” Your sponsor doesn’t have to be providing advice, they just have to be someone who’s a fan and will open doors.
A coach is a professional person almost more like a teacher. They’re really showing you how to do certain things. My coach when I started this role, helped me through the right things – for example, I inherited a team, how do I work with that team? How do I build the team? How do I grow it?
So those are the three different areas. You know, one doesn’t have to have all three, but three different areas of help. But I always say, for Black women, mentorship and sponsorship are key.
Tanya: This was an excellent breakdown. I like how you were very intentional with the timing. I think people get really intimidated in how to find a mentor, but you put the ask out and also put a very specific time limit and an agenda, so to speak, because those people are busy people, they need to know what exactly you want out of their one hour a week, month, whatever,
Many Black women are usually the only in their department/company. What advice has helped you cope with that, especially when you were a junior and didn’t see people around you to support you in your career?
Terrie-Lynne: It’s a great question. The key thing is you’ve got to keep your friends and support very close, because it is very lonely and you can get lost. Lost in the sense of who you are as a Black woman. We talk so much these days about your authentic self, but we never talked about that when I was a junior. It’s easy to lose that in order to just survive. When you’ve had to play the game for 10 hours and you’ve had to put the face on or you’ve had to deal with the microaggressions.
Tanya: You’ve had a 25 year long career in a field that is very gender and racially dominant in one way. How do you show up as your full authentic self now?
Terrie-Lynne: It’s easier to do as you get older, because you have more respect. You’re more senior. I’m not afraid to show people my personality, my sense of humor. Talk more about my background and culture. These are things I didn’t do when I was younger. If I had to do it again, I would have talked more about that, because it’s just as important to find commonalities with the people who aren’t like you. We all have families, we all eat, we all like to vacation, we all get angry, we all have a sense of humor. It’s hard, because oftentimes, you’re the one that has to make the first move. And that’s not always easy, because it’s takes more energy to be the first mover. And, I think a lot of our White counterparts or colleagues don’t always understand that. Being a Black woman in a corporate culture takes a lot more of energy than being a non-Black culture. It’s exhaustingfor many reasons.
Tanya: Do you have an app or a book or a space that you would recommend, especially to younger folks who are maybe just in their early career or those who are transitioning careers, anything that you know, stands out to you that has been helpful to you in your journey?
Terrie-Lynne: I don’t have anything particular. wWhat I will say though, but is that I always encourage people to look around at people that you admire for their skill, and they don’t have to necessarily look like you. I learned from an excellent communicator at the law firm I worked at, who just happened to be a White man. These folks may be on TV, in your office, where you volunteer, your place of worship – just watch, emulate and learn.
Tanya: Last question of the day, how do you instill joy in your life?
Terrie-Lynne: I treat and spoil yourselfmyself. I try to expose myself to things that I really enjoy. I love sharp, intelligent humor. I have wonderful people in my life. I have an amazing spouse so anytime I can get to connect with him and connect with my friends, I do that. I love reading. I just try and make space in my life to do that.
Tanya: Beautiful. Thank you so very much for your time. This was such a lovely conversation.
Where to find Terrie-Lynne:
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur and Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 30,000 and a national non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO. The statements and opinions expressed by guests & interviewees are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bank of Montreal or its affiliates.