In order to satisfy both employees and clients, it’s important to have a culture where employees feel like they can bring the best version of themselves to work. This means paying attention to their concerns, such as sustainability, and making sure that new initiatives match these.
Sinead O’Donnell, HR Director at Raytheon UK, knows how important it is to show employees that their concerns are being listened to. She sat down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss her career so far and the initiatives she is most proud of.
My name is Sinead O’Donnell and I am the Executive Director of HR & Cultural Transformation at Raytheon UK, a subsidiary of RTX, a global leader in the defence and aerospace sector. I started my career in software engineering and moved into programme leadership before settling into the people and culture space. While I may have been with this company for a while, I have had great opportunities to progress in my career.
I didn’t actually have a plan! I became a software engineer, which wasn’t expected growing up in Northern Ireland as a woman. In my university degree, there were 70 students on my course but less than seven women, almost all of whom I am still in close contact with. I worked in software for several years before joining Raytheon UK. I started in engineering but took an opportunity to move into programme leadership and led a major change programme for the organisation. I had the opportunity to undertake a secondment in HR to help modernise the Learning & Development offering for the company. In all honesty, I was reluctant to step into HR but decided to try it for six months I have had great support, mentors and teachers which has resulted in a diverse career in the process.
In our organisation, it means making Raytheon UK a place where people can come and do the best work of their lives. That means something different to everybody who joins the organisation. This enables us to retain great talent and attract new talent across the business. It’s important that we have a culture where people feel accepted and can bring the best version of themselves to work in whatever format that might take. We have an environment where people can make mistakes and take risks, either moving on quickly and learning from it, or delivering something new and excellent. Our history is very important, but it brings us into the future. We have tried to remove hierarchy where possible so our employees have access to all leaders in the organisation, allowing agility and flexibility.
We do multiple things to reflect the diversity in our colleagues. Having a campaign or common understanding across the organisation that everyone can relate to helps which we call our High Performance Culture (HPC). We’re on a journey. We use the framework of our building better programme, which helps us ensure that we are listening to the needs of our employees and customers. We have several key initiatives such as Forward Steps, which gives back to the community in which we work and live. We focus on sustainability. We have signed up to targets across our sites to reach net zero emissions by 2030. We have a dedicated employee research group (ERG) on sustainability to challenge us to try new things. Even in our compensation and benefits, for example, company car schemes, we are ensuring that everything we do moving forward is sustainable.
We are developing with an external partner a well being strategy — not just physical health, but also mental well-being, in addition to financial, social and professional well-being. We must make sure people know about the resources available. We need to be realistic about the cost of living crisis being experienced across the UK. So by offering financial support resources, employees can determine what works for them.
We gave a challenge to our teams to reduce our policies in HR. We had 192, which feels too many for a forward looking organisation. We wanted to make sure that, our procedures were easy to find, follow, and helpful. We will then be deploying them and training everybody.
You have to be able to show them real value. There is commercial success, so in terms of the way it positively impacts the bottom line; you can bring your partners, customers and subcontractors along on that journey if you make the link in your KPIs to that success. The more successful the company is, the more opportunities there are for career progression, reinvestment, and bonuses. There becomes more opportunity for reward and recognition. It shows your teams that there is something in it for them.
We create dedicated time for employees to make improvements on tasks within their working environment, which gives them a morale boost and allows them to be more productive. Everything we do has to be linked to our strategy and the greater good of the organisation.
A great way to check in on this is and ask and listen to employees, through skip levels, town halls and employee surveys, where they have opportunities to share feedback.
We are absolutely committed to 30% female representation across all levels of the organisation by 2030. We also have an RTX corporate commitment drive for equality across the organisation. The reality is our sector is 30% female, 70% male. While we aspire to be better than what is typical in the sector, we have quite a way to go before we hit that balance. We’re all in on everything we can do to ensure we’re removing barriers to entry, and changing how we interview within the organisation. We are always learning. Lessons learned rather than lessons observed.
That we have to ensure we’re fostering an environment where all people can thrive. The reality is that for most people in the workforce but predominately women, have caring responsibilities for children as well as parents; it’s often described as the sandwich era.
Women are really good multitaskers because we have to get things done — so for me, it was about enabling everyone to be successful. We are never going to do that without allyship. We must create an environment where people are more comfortable with talking about some of the more traditionally taboo topics.
Be authentic; be yourself. If you are not, you will come across situations where you maybe say something but your actions show something different. Also, take every opportunity you are offered, even if you don’t feel confident about doing it. Because it means that someone sees potential in you; and most people set others up for success, not failure. And it is better to have tried and failed than never have tried at all.