As an HR leader whose influence creates social change, what do you feel has been your most impactful action to date?
To further the employment prospects of young people who the system tends to leave behind. The postcode you’re born in, the school you attend, many other characteristics impact your life chances. I’ve tried to bring down barriers, to use the great employers I’ve worked for to bring about change, by enabling them to recognise that talent is found in many places.
In 2010 I started work on the Edinburgh Young Person's Guarantee, providing placements for ten unemployed young people. The HR function took five of the placements, because other business areas were unsure, although some managers were open. By the time we got to cohort three, we had doubled to 20 young people, and HR didn’t have to take any placements – we had shown the business the value the young people offer. Once we had momentum we moved to blind recruitment – recruiting without home address, school or qualifications information – we only recruited school leavers on attitude.
The result was that young people with little or no qualifications were employed, and we doubled the number of BAME people, who told us that they felt more confident to apply as the recruitment process seemed fairer.
At the moment, in your industry, what do you think is the most exciting opportunity for HR to change the world?
In Financial Services HR had an opportunity in the financial crash in 2008-10, but as a profession we didn’t grab it.
The opportunity was to change culture and mindset, and I’ve gone on record to say the opportunity passed us by. Roll forward to now, we have a different, and big, opportunity. I feel more positive this time - there is traction in business, prioritisation of purpose and how to become purpose driven. I think there are 4 elements of opportunity to create change:
1) The wellbeing of the people you employ.
2) The wellbeing of your customers – in Financial Services companies have done well in helping their retail and business customers, in this area there has been learning from 2008-10.
3) Societal impact - in 2008-10 there was still a view that organisational and societal boundaries were distinct – now this has changed.
4) Climate Change and the environment, which is now mainstream, with the language of green finance and a green recovery common in Financial Services.
The world of business is different, HR can draw these strands together and help design how business should be.
Which particular areas of social and environmental injustice are you most passionate about, and see that your role gives you the chance to create change?
The biggest injustice for me is the inequality of opportunity for young people. From the work I’ve done on the Edinburgh Young Person's Guarantee I’d say there are 3 main factors that impact inequality:
1) Your socio-economic background - where you're born and any characteristics you have when you’re born.
2) The quality of your education.
3) Your connectivity with the world, which in the last 5-10 years has become a big issue.
When lockdown first started, I was working with a youth charity in Scotland, Place2Be – we were supporting young people with counselling, but they either had no connectivity at home, or no physical space to have a quiet conversation. Both physical and digital poverty contributed to inequality. These factors together create huge injustice; we need to address all three together for every young person to have equal opportunity, and employers can make a significant contribution through recruitment approaches and programmes.
How have you best used your position to create a more equitable and inclusive environment in ways that deliver your business goals?
For example, at Standard Life Aberdeen, in the second cohort of the Edinburgh Young Person's Guarantee we recruited ten unemployed young people. We recruited a young girl who had a real attitude and few qualifications. One of the line managers said they didn’t think she’d last six months – I thought she’d go on to great things. She contacted me on Linkedin when the Young Person's Guarantee report was published last year – she’s now a business analyst in a financial services company and she’s just bought her first flat in Edinburgh. Acknowledging that school doesn't work for everyone, there are so many examples of young people being given a work opportunity and grabbing it.
What is the one specific action you would like to see all People Leaders take to make a positive change for the world?
Drive an agenda that delivers real intersectionality. We’re on a journey where we currently label groups of people – for examples. BAME, armed services, disabled; networks have sprung up, but networks are simply a bridge to deliver organisations to being a workplace where there are no labels, where everyone feels they are treated fairly. One practical step people can take is to start a dialogue, with storytelling, to discuss how to break down conscious and unconscious bias. Look at recruitment as it’s one of the worst places for unconscious bias. Be brave. Take a risk and do something different to move your organisation forward to being truly inclusive. So there are no networks, just an environment where people feel they can turn up and be themselves.