Social mobility in HR: One practitioner's journey

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Charles Stanley valued the diversity in thought, attitude, background and approach Donna Hewitson could bring to the role

“As a teenager in foster care I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was conditioned to limit my expectations of what I could become. I recall conversations about how to claim benefits, how to access social housing and, if I was lucky, find work in retail.

I believed all that. I wasn’t good at school, either behaviourally or academically, so college or university were never discussed. I left care at 16, moved into a bedsit and started to cope as best I could.

I was 22 when everything changed. For the first time I was encouraged, by my employer, to think about what I wanted to achieve, and given the support to realise my aspirations.

I still felt something was missing though. I volunteered more and, during this time, had a life-changing experience while working with charity Retrak. We were nine HR professionals from a variety of sectors and backgrounds, using our knowledge to help the leadership team of the charity in Uganda. We helped them to be even better at ensuring that ‘no child is left on the street’.

I learned so much during my time in Uganda. It challenged my self-perception. It changed my thinking on different industry sectors I had thought were way out of my league. I had tried previously to move into different sectors but was always greeted with “my client wants sector experience” or “you must have a degree in….”

That changed in February when I joined Charles Stanley, one of the oldest wealth managers and the 15th oldest financial institution in the world, as senior HR business partner. What did I know about wealth management? Nothing.

I had no idea if this partnership would work but I was willing to try. Charles Stanley made it clear that it valued the diversity in thought, attitude, background and approach I could bring to the role. It had the courage to embrace taking a chance on me.

Has our partnership worked? Absolutely; we share the same values. People stuff isn’t hard as long as you’re fair, caring and progressive, but it was daunting for both of us. Here I am able to offer a different perspective, while being afforded the freedom, trust and professional respect to work in a way that suits me. As well as enabling me to deliver our objectives, the business also experiences an alternative way of doing things; less conventional HR more human. After all, people are people no matter what the industry.”

Donna Hewitson is senior HR business partner, ICT and operations at Charles Stanley

Read our November cover piece on HR's role in Breaking the class ceiling

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