Siobhan is Civilian HR Director at the Ministry of Defence, she started her career in financial services and has a long-established service within the public sector and has recently gained industry recognition having received a CBE for services to defence.
For our latest Big Interview, Siobhan spoke with Jennifer Gaster about her career.
How did you get into Human Resources?
Well, probably like many people I imagine, I fell into human resources, in my second week of work.
I left school when I was 16 and joined my local bank branch. In the second week, I was asked to train the new person who started the week after me, so I suppose that’s where it all started.
Global events have tested HR this year, but what are the biggest challenges you and you’re team are currently facing in the public sector?
I think the biggest challenge is making sure we can do everything possible from a Defence civil service standpoint, to do what the country needs us to do right now and make sure we respond to challenges that are being faced.
That means working out how we support all of the civil servants across Defence to deliver against those critical outcomes Defence is always delivering against for our country.
Like many organisations, that has meant working out how we can enable thousands of people to work from places other than they’re used to working from. Many of our people are now working from home but we also have many people working in their normal place of work, so it is about making sure that wherever they are is safe for them.
Equality, Diversity & Inclusion is very firmly on HR’s agenda, how are you addressing that at the Ministry of Defence?
Diversity and inclusion have been on the agenda for the civil service and Defence for many years, the civil service has long had the ambition to be one of the most inclusive organisations in the country. So we have been working on this for a long time, like many organisations. We have a very clear strategy in place and we are working across a range of areas that ensure we really bring inclusion to life to everything we do. That we embed great HR practices and high quality inclusive leadership to produce the kind of diverse and inclusive environments that we feel we need to have.
Have you had to pivot in the way that has been communicated across the business?
I think it’s an area we’ve long had a focus on, obviously there have been all sorts of events that have brought things into focus – COVID itself has highlighted some of the difficulties that colleagues from a range of different, diverse backgrounds have in balancing work and home and their contributions in those respective environments. Inevitably some of those things have been brought to the fore, and enabled us to redouble all of our efforts.
How have you embraced the technological revolution that has seemingly been sped up by the pandemic?
Defence is right at the front-end of technological advancement because the very nature of what we do and deliver as an organisation is significantly affected by the development of new technologies, new ways of working and the changing character of warfare as a result of that.
We do an enormous amount of research into the ways those technologies affect the future of what we do and the future of work.
What would change with the benefit of hindsight?
What would I do differently?
I think there is a risk in this environment where we have moved to many people working from home, that the narrative will shift to the idea that everyone wants to work from home and that it’s great for everybody. I think we have to be really careful about that because there are people for whom home isn’t a safe environment, maybe because it affects their mental health or they are experiencing domestic abuse, I think being prepared to take that on board and realise that home working isn’t great for everybody is something we need to consider carefully.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think it would be to constantly seek to educate yourself in ways that disturb your own sense of certainty. What I mean by that is it’s easy to reinforce our confidence by trying to imagine that the way we think now is the ‘right’ way to think. Trying to expose one’s self to people who think in very different ways, to constantly develop the ways we go about thinking about things is a really powerful thing to do.