Irene is the Global HR Director for BBC News and Current Affairs with responsibility for BBC News’ 6,000 employees based in the UK and across the BBC’s international locations.
As well as being a key member of BBC News’ leadership team, she works alongside senior HR colleagues across the BBC to shape and develop HR initiatives, policies and processes that improve the employee experience.
How did you get into HR?
Many people ask me this and when I look back, I was always fascinated by ‘personnel’ as it was known at the time.
Though I have to say, I thought that it was all about recruitment, pay and letting people go.
I was good at talking to people and really listening to their challenges and problems – at that time that is where HR was positioned.
So, it was something that I naturally fell into, I started in administration and worked my way up from there. Of course, now our profession has evolved tremendously.
What are the challenges that your team are currently facing?
We have similar challenges to many other organisations, but I think what is important here is that the BBC is a media organisation which is global in nature.
We strive to attract the best creative talent to come and work for an organisation that strives to be inclusive and diverse, reflecting the audiences we serve.
This requires us to constantly look at how we attract, develop and retain our people and how we have an engaged high performing organisation.
What is interesting about our industry is its evolution and change – the way we consume media is changing.
We talk a lot about advances in technology- now you can have news pushed to you through your various apps and you are consuming it all the time on different platforms.
As an organisation, the BBC is in a constant evolution – to keep up with and even be a step ahead of audience needs.
As HR we also need to evolve and adapt and that has been the excitement for me and my team.
Positioning HR as integral integrated partners to the business means we have to be much more insightful and provide creative and innovative solutions to the new emerging and evolving challenges.
Specifically, we’re putting a lot of emphasis on evolving our culture, as well as making BBC News a great place to work. My team and I are heavily involved with that, working in partnership with our leaders and managers.
Has the culture piece been more of a challenge with the introduction of hybrid working?
It has made us have to rethink, initially, we all thought it would be for a moment but now we know it is here to stay. This is requiring us to fully embrace, adapt and be more creative when it comes to the balance of hybrid working. There are many positives to this new way of working.
It is wonderful that by having platforms like the one we are talking about today we can bring people together quickly and easily – even when they’re on the other side of the globe. It has also allowed us to be really creative in terms of how we engage and how we connect with our people.
In my team, regardless of whether there are groups of people in the same room or not, we still all connect individually to the Zoom calls so those who are joining remotely can see everyone. When you are not physically with people sometimes you lose the conversation thread, so you have to work harder to ensure everyone is equally ‘present’ in meetings.
Like many organisations, we are still working this out, but we continue to evolve and find different ways of working and different platforms we can use.
What are you most passionate about in the HR field?
I am really passionate about HR being integral to any organisation, but specifically, I’m passionate about being a strategic business partner to the teams I work with.
It’s vital to understand the business in which you work, its priorities, its strategy and what innovative and creative solutions you can bring to the table.
As we discussed earlier, we are in a different environment nowadays and we have to evolve our thinking continuously.
For me, by being at the centre of the deep conversations at the News Board, I am able to bring a different perspective and add a bit of a challenge. Being a critical friend is what I love about the profession.
What impact would you say technology has had on HR in recent years?
A lot! We need to continue to invest in technology, there is still a way to go.
But if I think about some of our data points and our information… I ask what is it telling us? What is it helping us to do? What decisions is it helping us make? What insight is it giving about our organisation, the make up the turnover the attrition, the costs? What information is it giving us to forward think?
There is so much more to come HR relies on data and analytics, and we are shifting to a constant reliance on information and what we do with that to make key decisions, that evolution for us and exciting.
What have you been doing in the diversity and inclusion area recently at the BBC?
The BBC has a D&I strategy and we go for a gold standard and it isn’t easy to achieve. We have achieved significantly but there is still much more we can do.
We have a 50:20:12 strategy where we are aiming for 50% female employees in our organisation, 20% representation of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic employees and then 12% of people who have a disability. We also recently added a target of achieving 25% socio-economic diversity to our workforce targets as we recognise there is also work to do in this area in the media industry.
We are performing ok in most of those areas, but the area we need to really improve on, and, is around disability.
We’re working on how we attract disabled colleagues to come and work for us, but also on the experience they have once working for us and how easy they find it to progress their careers.
We have set up a new forum where we meet regularly with the chairs of our Staff Networks.
That started last year so it is in its infancy, and it is evolving but we are using it as an opportunity to build relationships and understand what those specific challenges are.
When I have had discussions, a lot of the challenges are around inclusion, belonging and career progression. For example, I was speaking to the Global Women In News network recently, about how can we continue to help, for example, women to continue to evolve within News.
Although we are making progress, we are not yet where we would like to be.
In terms of how we reach all of these groups and use the right language and platforms so we are accessible, I assume that is still on the agenda for 2023?
Absolutely, we work hand in glove with our resourcing partners to achieve this through our inclusive hiring practices.
We help our hiring managers understand their role and responsibility at each stage of the hiring process.
We’re lowering barriers but not our standards by seeking out the most inclusive ways of hiring.
One of the ways we do this, for example, is always ensuring that we have a diverse shortlist because that is really important to us. We look far and wide to make sure we get the talent and really engage with the talent as well, so we are definitely trying to be really different about what we are doing.
Looking into 2023 what do you predict the key trends to be?
There is a lot potentially coming down the track!
I think there is still much more to go with hybrid working, I recently went to a round table discussion where the topic was ‘hybrid well’ and we discussed what hybrid working means to different organisations and of course what returning to the office looks like for people.
We don’t have a prescribed view on this but need to ensure both engagement and productivity, how do we ensure that new starters get workplace experience that connects them to our creative talented organisation that many had prior.
There is much more to do around inclusion- that isn’t going away. There is that sense of belonging, people are making choices now about where they want to work, what they want to do and how they want to spend their time.
They want to be in a workplace environment that fosters the best in themselves, they want to do meaningful work.
I also think that talent, and continuing to get the best, continuing to see people move around, we have choices, how do we retain our best people will continue to be important.
These are just some of the areas and of course we are in an economic climate where costs are a factor and organisations are going to continue to have to make choices about how and where we place our resources and the spend associated
What advice would you give your younger self?
I meet a lot of younger people who are desperate to develop their careers very fast, I would say to my younger self: really take the time to continue to develop yourself, gain all of the skills you can, and don’t make decisions quickly about specialisms.
Test all of the areas out and gain that real competence as an HR professional, as a generalist. I think then you can start deeply thinking about the areas you are passionate about.
Gain opportunities to work on key and critical projects, get a mentor, and build relationships your career is long and the impression you leave people you work with is key, it may not seem to matter now but will in the future and always invest in your development.
I would say to my younger self continue to place importance on leadership. Leading, galvanising and influencing people you can get a lot done with a happy motivated team and I would say to myself keep investing in that leadership of self and personal development.