Workplace Leaders
Human Resources Director

Karen Jackson

One of the most important conversations being had in organisations today is how to best create a safe, welcoming environment for all employees. When trying to build a culture of inclusion and belonging at an organisation, diversity of thought and experience is an inestimable strength. It enriches the employee experience, brings different advantages to various work challenges, and helps foster connections and learning that will lead to a more inclusive and respectful workplace.

Co-host of The Interview Luke James spoke to Karen Jackson, Human Resources (HR) Director at Reed Specialist Recruitment, about how best to go about accomplishing these goals and encourage workers to help build this sort of environment themselves.

Karen’s Journey

Luke: What was the journey that led you to your current role?

I didn’t start out planning on working in HR, but knew that further education wasn’t right for me. For over eight years I worked in retail banking before moving to work for a local coffee company. As this company grew in size, the need for someone to "own HR" grew, and I stepped into this role, where they funded my CIPD qualification through flexible learning. This company was then purchased by JN Nichols PLC who also own Vimto. I enjoyed a number of years working in HR before deciding to mash together banking and HR by joining Bradford & Bingley as one of their Regional HRBPs. Following this, I moved into a HRBP role in retail. Here I moved through different roles and tried two different specialisms; one being recruitment and the other being learning & development. After eight years I took a career break due to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Towards the end of my treatment, I spotted an advert for the role that I am in now. As bald as a coot I attended an interview with my now manager, Ian Nicholas and five years on, I am loving what we are doing at Reed.

Luke: How do you embed a sense of belonging and inclusion at Reed?

We’re a very family-led business in Reed, and we hold that close to our heart. One of our hero statements is ‘Feel what it’s like to truly belong’. How do we encourage that? We’ve got a very robust inclusion and belonging calendar. Every month we host events based around various key categories. We have ‘Inform’, where we teach people things they may not know, ‘Debate’, where we hold discussions around various topics, and ‘Entertain’, where we bring people’s various experiences to life through food, books, films, music, etc. We also regularly take stock of our policies and procedures. For example, one of our LGBTQ+ ambassadors has just gone through our family policies and made them all gender-neutral. We have different network groups around LGBTQ+, Ability, Age, Race and Ethnicity, and we build new content every year surrounding each. We also worked in partnership with the Inclusive Employer’s Standard (IES) and achieved our first accreditation. We’re so proud that we were just awarded bronze, and we’re already working out how to get silver and gold. 

Luke: How do you navigate the challenge of engaging all staff across the organisation on EDI topics when they’re busy?

First of all, we deliberately avoid scheduling EDI events on certain ‘red zone’ days in terms of workload. We only do it when we know there’s some downtime. We also have things called Lunch and Learns where we encourage our employees to come and join us while they have a bite to eat. We make it fun and interactive and therefore it gathers momentum and becomes a bit of a contagion and people talk to each other about it. We encourage people to take part. We celebrate people owning their own identity and talking about it with others. And I think those things really land because it’s not leaders telling you this is what it should be like; it’s the actual reality, our grassroots employees saying this is how it feels and I feel comfortable and confident in sharing my story. We have made a safe place and that encourages people to be part of it.

Luke: What traits and habits do the best people leaders have that help them bring their teams together?

A good trait for a manager is not being afraid to recruit people who are not like them. I think it’s natural to gravitate to people with similar character traits to you. But bringing in a diversity of thought and experience is what gives real strength to a team because it makes it much more robust. As a manager, recruit people who are different from you, maybe even better than you at certain things. Show and demonstrate the inclusivity of your team. 

Luke: What are the most important pieces to get right when it comes to embedding a culture of learning and growth in an organisation?

Managers! They set the tone. At Reed, one of our values is “fair, open, and honest.” That’s our macro culture. But each of the over seventy locations around the UK has its own micro-translation of that culture driven by its managers. It’s crucial that they’re people who their team naturally gravitate towards and like working for. They have to care deeply for their team, be clear on what good looks like, and how each employee should achieve that, and really set a sense of direction and what we’re moving towards. All of that is what creates a great, positive working environment.

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Luke James
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