Workplace Leaders
Fisher German
People Director

Maria Hawley

As businesses experience rapid growth on the commercial front, a critical challenge emerges in ensuring that this expansion is mirrored by a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (EDI). Maria Hawley, Director of People at Fisher German, has worked tirelessly to foster a climate of inclusion and belonging as her organisation has grown to become one of the UK’s top real estate consultancy firms.

In today’s conversation, Maria sat down with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss everything from the key attributes of top people leaders to the importance of engagement in EDI initiatives. 

Maria's Journey

Max: Let’s get started with a quick intro to yourself and your organisation. 

I’m the Director of People at Fisher German, one of the UK’s leading property consultancy businesses with branches across England, Scotland and Wales. When I joined, we had 200 people across eight offices, and we now have more than 800 across 26. So it’s been quite a journey!

Max: I’d like to hear more about your journey. Why did you choose to pursue a career in HR?

When I left college, I had a spot lined up for nursing. That was what I always wanted to do. Yet once I started, I soon realised it wasn’t for me — although it took me a long time to admit that. But it helped me understand that I loved working with people, and I decided to pursue a career in the people space. Before I became a nurse, I did six months of interning in a solicitor’s office, and I really enjoyed the office environment. So, after I moved into the HR space, I took a number of roles to help me expand my horizons before I eventually arrived at Fisher German. 

Max: When working for a large organisation, what are the most important things to get right when trying to embed a sense of inclusion and belonging?

I’ve had the privilege of watching this business grow. Some people joined us as a large organisation, while others grew along with us. For me, the most important thing is communication. There’s where everything has the potential to fall down: there’s always a danger of miscommunication or misunderstanding. So we’re always listening to our people to better understand what’s important to them. We’ve put a number of initiatives in place to support that, from focus groups and surveys to our managing partners’ blogs. We also run a program called Business Blend, which randomly matches you up with another person somewhere else in the business. That helps us to build connectivity between our people. In addition, we have reps in all of our offices who serve as our eyes and ears on the ground. We meet with them every other month to find out what’s really going on with the people in our business. We also make sure to have regular catch-ups with our mental-health first-aiders to discuss the challenges facing our people. We make sure to put our staff at the heart of our policy developments: for example, we’ve just finished updating our IVF, baby-loss, and menopause policies. We’re very honoured to have some brave colleagues who felt comfortable sharing their journeys, and that really brought those issues into focus. Ultimately, communication is the key to connecting people and bringing them together, and that needs to be at the heart of our approach.

Max: Recent guests have discussed the importance of EDI in people management. What initiatives have you introduced to create an inclusive culture at Fisher German?

It’s something we’ve been working on closely since 2019. As our business grows, we need to consider how to cultivate a common culture of inclusion and belonging. So, we approach it from a perspective which acknowledges the importance of EDI for both our people and the business. We’ve modelled our approach on Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas, which promoted the idea that diversity comes in all shapes and sizes. That can be everything from protected characteristics to diversity of thought. As part of our ESG remit, we’re also working with businesses in the community, and that’s led us to set up a Women’s Forum, which has helped to develop some of our key policies and initiatives. The historical roots of our business are in rural surveying, which was predominantly white and middle class, but as we have grown and specialised in different areas, our business has become more diverse. For example, we’re looking at ways to become more inclusive around race and religion. This month, we’re opening a new office in Birmingham, and we’ve made sure to include a multi-faith prayer space. We’re also rethinking how we do bank holidays so they can be more inclusive for people of different religious and cultural backgrounds.

Max: In a rapidly growing business, staff are often time-poor. How do you make sure to make sure everybody gets involved in EDI work?

There are a few aspects to that. First, you need to take people on a journey. Not everybody starts in the same position, and people are more invested in some things than others. You need to think about where those interests intersect. Also, it’s necessary to understand that if we improve the well-being of one group, everyone will benefit. It’s not a zero-sum game, and improving conditions for one group won’t hinder others. You need to raise the bar for everybody, but that sometimes involves walking a very fine line. 

Max: What are the top traits and habits needed to succeed in people leadership? 

You need to truly connect with people on a human level. You don’t want to be the person who just turns up when things go wrong. Instead, you have to get to know people on a human level and treat them as individuals. Empathy is key, and it’s okay to show vulnerability. Life isn’t perfect, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. Ultimately, everything comes back to leadership and communication. As a leader, you need to take people with you, and if things aren’t working, you need to trust in your team to help you get there.

Max: How do you articulate the link between culture and commercial success?

If you provide a positive people experience, then that translates to increased well-being. In turn, better well-being results in higher engagement, which has an impact on your bottom line. Offering a positive people experience isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a commercial one, too. 

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your career? 

Be curious. Don’t accept the status quo. Go and look over the horizon to find out what’s on the other side. And whenever you can, remember to be generous with your time.

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Max Webber
Max works closely with people leaders and change-makers in our professional services markets. If you're looking to feature on The Interview, or simply want to learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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