Suzanne Feeney, Country Manager, Robert Walters

1st November 2022

This week Suzanne Feeney, Country Manager for Ireland, Robert Walters and WMB Diversity Ambassador highlights how ‘Diversity is what drives innovation; it forces you to think differently, challenge prior-held beliefs whilst also stimulating creativity and learning.’

Can you tell our readers a bit about your background and your role at Robert Walters?

I joined Robert Walters in 2007 after back-packing around South America for sixth months. I already had some recruitment experience and decided I’d like to work with an international recruitment business when I got back. After speaking with the Managing Director at the time, I become even more excited about what Robert Walters had to offer. With offices in 31 countries and a team-based profit model, I was really drawn to the consultative and collaborative approach everyone spoke about.

Since joining as a Consultant in 2007, I have been afforded great opportunities and now operate as the Country Manager for Ireland, leading both the Robert Walters and Walters People brands.

What is the best part of your job…. And the most challenging?

I love the variety that the job brings – from both candidate and client perspectives, as well as internally with my own team. No two days are the same. Jobs and markets are constantly changing and evolving so there is always an opportunity to be learning about new areas and ways of working. As a business, we are constantly innovating and being part of a truly global team is a plus as I get to speak to leaders in other countries to hear what is happening and collaborate on multi-region projects.

I find the most challenging parts are usually the most rewarding! Right now the workforce is extremely diverse in terms of age; there is a challenge as well as a huge reward in motivating different generations in the workplace.

As a WMB Diversity Ambassador, what does DE&I mean to you personally and as a leader?

For me, diversity is about not only recognising but celebrating the differences in background, cultures and beliefs – but also learning from them to broaden our ways of thinking both professionally and personally. Everyone, no matter what background that they come from or have entered into, deserves to be celebrated, heard, and have access to the same opportunities with no difference in barriers to achieving them – this for me is real inclusion.

‘The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.’ (McKinsey). Is this your experience?

This is a categorical yes!

Diversity is what drives innovation; it forces you to think differently, challenge prior-held beliefs whilst also stimulating creativity and learning.

Working with colleagues from different generations, backgrounds and abilities is where I have gained some of my most valuable insights through understanding alternative viewpoints, being open on different ways of doing things, and feeling more comfortable for my perspective to be challenged.

Being around these differences has no doubt encouraged me to think more deeply and critically about important issues as well as develop and evolve professionally.

What DE&I initiatives are in place at Robert Walters?

Our central ethos is to empower people to fulfil their unique potential and D&I is at the bedrock of this.

A few initiatives that we have launched in the past few years alone include:

•An annual industry report where we survey 6,000 white collar professionals across the UK & Ireland to gauge what progress employers have made on D&I and where there is still a way to go. Each year this report is downloaded by SME and large employers across Ireland as well as the findings covered by national media. To support our thought leadership programme we have bespoke webinar and podcast sessions with industry leaders discussing best practice around D&I.

•Our employees undergo rigorous DE&I training when they join us with refresher courses offered throughout their time at Robert Walters to ensure ongoing development. Globally, our managers and above receive specialised and comprehensive training (in association with Vercida Consulting) to further their knowledge and expertise in DE&I.

•Our newly appointed Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – Coral Bamgboye – guides the company on best practice in the field. We also have a global ED&I council which provides regular updates to our Board of Directors as well as an active ED&I discussion groups to enable staff at all levels to feed into our overall strategy and approach.

•Our in-house Innovation Team tests and trials new technology and practices throughout the year to help improve on the type of consultancy advice we provide to our clients. In the past few years we have launched RW Adify – a pioneering job advertisement analysis model which amongst other things, assesses advert copy to highlight gender bias in the choice of words used, and our D&I Audit – which assess a company’s hiring process from start to finish to highlight and provide suggestions on how to eliminate any bias in the recruitment process.

Research (Linkedin Global Talent Trends) shows that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. Do you agree?

Hard skills will always be a core requirement to ensure you can do what the specific job is, however, it is without a doubt the soft skills which give you that edge.

Soft skills such as communication, problem-solving and time management allow you to bring that level of innovation to the job – they make collaborative working, decision making, and ideas generation much easier.

When hiring both current and future leaders the number one skill set that forward-thinking companies are looking for is empathy – in this current climate leaders who can understand, empathise, communicate, and support employees correctly will get the very best out of them.

Those who can lead with empathy will increase levels of engagement, productivity, morale and retention.

Do women need more flexibility than men?

I wouldn’t put it as black & white as women specifically ‘need more flexibility’ than men. Our survey findings have shown that women rate flexi-hours as an important requirement just as much as men do.

We can tailor our approach to better understand the specific needs of both women and men.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for ‘all women’. For example, the needs of a working mother would be completely different to that of a female graduate with a ‘side hustle’, whilst an entirely different approach to flexibility would be adopted for a female manager going through menopause compared to a male manager with a young family.

Whilst there will be generalised initiatives from companies such as flexi-hours and hybrid work options, management within the company should be encouraged to understand the individual needs of their team and be provided with the power to exercise individual grades of flexibility which do not hinder output.

Do you think, as women, we are susceptible to ‘self-sabotage’

As women we are more inclined to self-doubt, especially in contexts that are traditionally more inhospitable for women i.e. ‘the board room’. With self-doubt comes self-sabotage. This is also linked to ‘imposter syndrome’ where women doubt their abilities and feel like a fraud – triggered from being in spaces where they don’t feel appreciated or included, or not seeing powerful figures they can relate to. It is important to note, that this is something that is also becoming more apparent in young men.

Over the course of my career I’ve heard female professionals say things like “sorry to ask…” or “just a suggestion” rather than using more self-assured language such as “I have a question…” or “consider this idea…” Whilst this may seem like an insignificant choice of communication, the use of less self-assured language within professional environments hints to something deeper in women such as just us being afraid of “taking up too much space” or coming across arrogant.

Leaders must be more proactive in creating space for all employees to not only have a voice, but to feel like they are being heard. We should also think about the language we use, being more open about issues surrounding self-doubt and self-sabotage to lift the taboo and open-up the conversation.

The person who has influenced you the most

My mum is a very inspirational lady who has instilled a deep sense of fairness and determination in myself and my siblings. She has never shied away from adversity, is always very positive and has a very natural way of bringing people together.

Introducing our Diversity Ambassadors 2022. You can find out more here>>