1. Hi Paula, thank you for participating in our employee spotlight series. To kick things off, could you tell us how long you’ve been with Optio, and what you are responsible for?
I started contracting with Optio over 6.5 years ago doing the HR for one of the legacy companies on an ad-hoc basis, that built up to me spending most of my time, especially during the pandemic, working with Optio, and when the opportunity came to go permanent in January this year, I didn’t have to think too hard about it. They have always been a company that I enjoyed working with in terms of strong leadership, a welcoming culture and very forward thinking. As HR Director (and Optio Group Services Ltd Board Director), I am responsible for the full HR function within the Group, assisting with setting the strategy, to implementing the best processes & procedures and benefits, and also instilling good values and the reinforcement of positive employee wellbeing across all teams. I am also a qualified Mental Health First Aider and Chair the Optio ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Steering Group, working to establish good ESG credentials and initiatives.
2. That’s excellent! We are so glad to have you on board. Can you please describe how you got to where you are now?
I originally did a Degree at Oxford Polytechnic in Hotel and Catering Management (obviously 😊) and worked as Head Receptionist in a 5 Star Hotel in central London, where it soon became obvious that the work didn’t pay enough to compensate for the anti-social hours, etc. I then went to work at a banking software house as a Receptionist. I moved up to Office Manager and then the company sponsored me to do my CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) professional qualification. I worked in HR in banking software for a number of years until I had a year off for the birth of my son (now a grown adult of 23 – I use the term “adult” loosely as I still pay his mobile phone bill !?!?!?!). When I came back to work I just couldn’t get the flexibility I needed to juggle the responsibilities of being a working single mum, so started contracting, and very soon met the lady who would become my business partner in our company, White Violet (WV), for nearly 10 years. Through WV we used our extensive networks to bring in business in our own areas of expertise (mine being HR, hers being Marketing) and, after a lean first year or two, we soon had a number of consultants providing HR, Marketing and other administrative services for a number of clients). It was a real wrench to give up my stake in WV when I went permanent with Optio, but I believe that it was the right thing to do for me and WV is happily still thriving without me. And so here I am, HR Director at Optio Group, where I both have a new role, and also it’s an extension of my old consulting role with people that I’ve known and enjoyed working with for a number of years.
3. What are you most excited about when it comes to Optio?
Optio has a management team who really believe in looking after their staff and have really pushed on caring for the wellbeing of the physical and mental health of all staff and this is something that I am passionate about. Becoming a Mental Health First Aider has really given me the opportunity to be able to support more team members, whatever they are going through. We also have a strong belief that we need to improve Diversity & Inclusion within the company, and working through the ESG committee, we are starting to put measures in place whereby we will be able to measure upcoming initiatives. One such scheme that we have been involved in this summer has been the 10,000 Black Interns programme, which gives students from black backgrounds the opportunity to come and do a six week paid internship in industries that they might not experience usually. This has gone incredibly well and we are planning on doubling this next year to take on at least 4 interns in various teams across the company.
4. I’m so glad to hear that Optio has an ESG committee working hard on putting the appropriate measures in place, and enrolling Optio onto a number of fantastic D&I initiatives. I guess that leads me on to my next question – What are your hopes for our industry as a whole?
I have a strong belief that initiatives such as the Lloyd’s annual “Dive In” Festival which promotes Diversity and Inclusion across companies, and schemes such as the 10,000 Black Interns programme mentioned above, are going a long way in starting to improve inclusivity across the Insurance industry, which for a long time has been dominated by an ‘old boys network’ and very old-fashioned values. I get enraged by any form of prejudice, intolerance or discrimination and so it makes me happy that the insurance industry as a whole, is looking to tackle this deeply ingrained and complex subject, with the objective of doing better.
5. Now I’m going to ask you a couple of non-work related questions. Firstly, what do you like to do on your days off?
I watch a lot of True Crime and tv shows on solving cold cases, I love all types of music and comedy podcasts, I love doing puzzles and playing board and card games with my family. I’ve also recently taken up knitting, so with that, and the love of jigsaw puzzles, I know I’ll be ok when I get to the nursing home 😊.
6. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I struggled with thinking of anything that might surprise you about me, as I’m very much an open book. So maybe – I’ve never been to Nando’s, never bungee jumped (and never will) but I have done a parachute jump – a static line jump for the mental health charity, MIND, and absolutely loved it.
7. Where would you go if you were granted a one way ticket to another country of your choice?
I think that I’d have to go back to the Maldives or the Caribbean, somewhere with more of an outdoors lifestyle, healthy local cuisine (mostly seafood and fruit), and I may finally get that longed for tan (instead of burning, being in pain and peeling which is my usual summer look 😉).