An interview marking Black History Month with Karen Tyrell – HR Manager (Italy and Spain)

This month, we’re highlighting black professionals across varied work backgrounds in celebration of Black History MonthThis year’s theme is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’ so we’ve asked about how to make a truly inclusive workplace, how to be a better ally and more.  

Karen Tyrell is an HR manager at RGA International Reinsurance Company (Italy and Spain). 

Have you had someone you’d consider a mentor or a role model/inspiration at work? 

I entered the profession as a career changer and in hindsight having a mentor would have helped me gain confidence in navigating my early HR roles. I am very fortunate to have worked with some wonderful HR professionals, but two ex-colleagues in particular were role models. While operating in a standalone role, I built out the local HR function while my manager was based in another country. Despite her busy role, she always found time to coach and support me. Rather than provide solutions, she would encourage me to think through issues and outline to her what actions I needed to take to resolve them. This was key in helping me to get comfortable with problem solving and decision making. 

In another role, I shared an office with a colleague who had a regional talent manager/talent development role. Even though this was not my specialist area, we sometimes discussed her projects, and she would bounce ideas off me. Her ability to build relationships and the way she interacted with her stakeholders and colleagues inspired me and encouraged me to adopt that same approach in my own interactions. I am still in regular contact with both of my ‘role models’.   

What personal values do you apply to your work in your field? 

  • The ability to keep confidence as this is fundamental in building trusting relationships with both colleagues and stakeholders 
  • Treating people as I expect to be treated  
  • Professionalism, being ethical, approachable and a good listener 

Would you encourage other members of the black community to enter your profession and why? 

I would strongly encourage members of the black community to consider HR as a profession. We talk about increased diversity in workplaces and this is needed at all levels and across all business areas and support services, including HR. To do this, we need to be better at ‘selling’ the profession. Many outside of our field still think HR is there to pay people and do the ‘hiring’ and ‘firing’ but, as we know, the field has continually evolved over the years and offers so many different areas in which to gain experience and specialise. We need to make our profession more visible, not only to young black people but also to those looking to change career. A possible way to foster interest could be to have black HR practitioners sharing their career journeys; engaging with young people in schools, universities as well as more generally through communication channels such as social media and print publications. 

What makes a truly inclusive workplace for you? 

It should reflect and respect both employees and the communities we serve.  For employees, this means introducing platforms to ensure people can express their views. Employee resource groups (ERG’s) build communities within organisations and are great for engaging and helping to reinforce a sense of belonging amongst employees. ERGs help foster networks and build connections across the organisation. Mentoring programmes can provide a safe environment for employees to feel heard in addition to building networks.  

HR can play a big part in ensuring organisations are actively fostering inclusion from the communities they serve, which in my opinion goes hand in hand with diversity. Encouraging leaders and managers to participate in programmes to provide work experience and apprenticeships for young people. Schemes in the UK such as 10,000 Black Interns provide young people with paid opportunities across industry. Our UK office has committed to the scheme, and we had an intern from the programme working with us until recently. In the business units I support, I encouraged local leaders to sign up to work experience schemes (Spain) and national programmes to support NEETS (Italy) and this year we have welcomed interns in both offices through these schemes. Participation in such schemes bring enormous benefit to both organisations and young people.  Additionally, we should ensure inclusivity in our recruitment processes, not focusing on graduate recruitment from red brick universities, but widen the talent pool through programmes such as Bright Network, as well as coaching and encouraging hiring managers to be more inclusive in recruitment processes.  

Is there an author or spokesperson from the black community that others should check out? 

David McQueen on LinkedIn. His posts cover his personal and professional development work as well as his reflection on topical matters, and his newsletter is really interesting. I find him refreshingly honest and transparent, particularly as he is not afraid to bring up subject matter that others may feel is ‘controversial’. It’s great to see someone bring their ‘true self’ to a ‘professional networking social media platform such as LinkedIn.  

This year’s theme is action not words: what’s one action we could all do/take to be a better ally? 

Be an active bystander 

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