Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, The theme this year is #BreakTheBias. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. Therefore today we are highlighting some prominent women in the HR sector about their careers to date.
Amanda Underhill recently spoke with Louise Slattery, Deputy Director for People at the National Deaf Children’s Society, about her experience in the HR industry and how her career developed into what it is now.
Tell us about your background and how you ventured into HR?
I left school at 17 before completing my A-Levels and went on to work in a number of administrative roles whilst I decided what career I wanted to focus on. Then, I applied for a Junior Administration post, which happened to be within a HR team for a Brokerage firm in London. I started to develop my interest in HR from that moment and after 2 years in post, I accepted a new role working for a Kent based bathroom retailer that would support and sponsor my studies in human resource management.
After 5 years and having completed my studies to gain a postgraduate diploma, I left to briefly join a training company as their HR Manager before taking the leap into the charity sector. I worked for Battersea Dogs Home, Shelter and Royal National Institute for the Blind, before joining the National Deaf Children’s Society in August 2019, leading a team of HR, Volunteering and Facilities professionals.
Can you recall the first major development that pushed your career forward?
I was in my last year of study for my diploma at the University of Greenwich and my HR manager at the time was going on maternity leave. I was successful in applying to be her maternity cover and for 12 months operated at that level before completing my diploma. On their return from maternity leave I reverted back to my HR Officer role, but after a short period of time I decided, with my manager’s blessing, that I wanted to move on so I could continue to push my career forward at management level.
How has the world of HR changed over your career?
I have worked within HR for 20 years and the value now placed on HR and how HR interacts with an organisation has significantly changed. We are now considered to be that trusted business partner and critical friend, ensuring our people have what they need to deliver in their roles, whether that’s wellbeing support or strong leadership.
Give us an insight into the next stage of your career
In the next few years I would be keen to explore opportunities to support other charitable organisations as a Trustee.
If you could give one major piece of advice to those starting out in HR, what would it be?
Work somewhere that excites and interests you. An added bonus would be that the organisation also makes a real difference to others lives – yes I am plugging the charitable sector! I have personally found more job satisfaction working in this sector than anywhere else, as I know I am part of an organisation that makes a real difference to the lives of others.
Can you name a particularly challenging part of your career and tell us how you overcame this?
Working during the pandemic was hard. I am aware of some HR professionals who have decided to walk away from the profession as a result of the stress and strain they experienced during this prolonged period of time.
HR really had to step things up quickly and take on the unwieldy challenge of supporting the organisation and staff to navigate what was happening and the changing landscape of work. I personally found it quite challenging, having the responsibility for supporting the organisation through this uncertain time as well as supporting my own family and friends too. It was important for me to check in regularly with my own team and look after their wellbeing as best I could and I had to keep an eye on my own wellbeing too.
It helped to carve time out in the diary to go for a walk or have a few planned coffee breaks to look forward to so I could check in with myself and digest the day. I also made sure I closed the door to the home office/spare bedroom at the end of the day to separate work and home life. Some days were much easier to manage than others.
What are your predictions for the future?
I predict that if organisations want to attract and retain the best talent, they will need to focus significantly on being able to offer a flexible and inclusive workplace – it is currently a candidate led market and a lot of people looking for new opportunities will be expecting to be able to retain most of the benefits that remote working has given people over the last 2 years, whether that’s being able to log off at 5pm and head downstairs to have dinner with the kids, or get over to the gym for that early yoga class.
Opening up roles to be able to be worked from anywhere in the UK (or globally if organisations have business outside of the UK) will really expand the talent pool and we are also seeing a much more diverse pool coming through too.
Louise has worked in the HR profession for 20 years and also gained her postgraduate diploma in Personnel Management during this time too. Louise’s HR career has been largely focused on the charity sector, but she has previously worked in the retail and financial services sectors in her early HR roles.
Louise is currently the Deputy Director of People at the National Deaf Children’s Society, managing a team of 20 staff within the HR, Volunteering and Facilities functions. Louise is also a keen historian, with a specific interest in Tudor and Elizabethan history and spends some of her spare time visiting places of historic interest or reading historic novels.