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A People’s Person: In conversation with Michelle Raymond

Michelle Raymond, the founder and director of The People’s Partner, is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (MCIPD) and has more than 10 years experience in human resource management and employment law.

You’re the founder of one of the very few HR and personal development consultancies out there. What encouraged you to take this up?

About thirteen years ago, I was working as an HR administrator, and I was made a redundant employee while I was pregnant. I didn’t understand the rules, and I didn’t understand how things worked so I just took it. They made a few changes in the organization and I was left with a very small package. It was then I thought that there’s got to be a better way for even small businesses to show that they care for the wellbeing of their staff. It was because I was innocent, because I was young, because I was impressionable, that I just took what I was given. But now, in hindsight, after I did my studying, I know I wanted to get into HR. Not the administrative kind of work, no, but I wanted to show how real companies can really help their people. We spend so much time at work! It is important for the employers, the leaders, the managers, the business owners, to care about the ambassadors of their company, and that’s why I wanted to get into this.

You’ve primarily worked across Europe and U.S but you’re branching out into the Middle East and North Africa. How is your work here different from what you’ve done in the past? 

It’s quite different because there are different laws in different countries. We all have our own laws that govern our working practices. So that will be a learning curve for me. But the one thing that remains constant is how we manage people. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, as long as you understand your employees, get them on your side, and get them engaged, not only in what they are doing but in the company as well. If your employees aren’t invested in what they are doing, they won’t give it their one hundred percent, and that is prevalent in all organisations, all over the world. It is my background in performance psychology that helps me understand people and what they need, making this possible.

Was it difficult for you to rise to success being a woman of colour?

To be honest, I feel like it has worked out to be an advantage. The reason I say this is because are not many of us (women of colour) doing this job, so I stand out. I’m different from what people have seen and heard, I bring in a different flavor.

Would you say you clients feel the same way, given that your firm is set up in the UK?

Being in the UK, a multicultural country, they do not face much racial discrimination. But having clients in America, Greece, and many other countries, I have to understand that although I personally might not have suffered from it, other people have. Using their experiences, I work with the companies, to make sure they have had training in unconscious bias. Many people say “Oh, I’m not racist!” or “I’m not discriminatory” but there are certain practices, certain processes that are. It is about identifying them. You need someone outside the organisation to be able to see that and tell them that these processes indirectly discriminate. If you have a function in the evening on a weekend, many women cannot attend it because they have children. So the firm isn’t overtly being discriminatory, but their practices are.

You offer advice and tips on career transition. Career transitioning, by itself, has become a common practice in India, as many students are conditioned to either take up medical or engineering from a very young age. Eventually, only a few end up pursuing core-jobs in the fields that they majored in. What is your take on this?

Most cultures have their own way to help increase the global economy, but I think it’s very important for students, especially, to follow their own dreams. They need to follow what they are good at naturally. I say this because it is very easy to stick to the status quo, to do what everybody else does because that’s what society expects of you. But if you want to be good at something, you have to do something that comes from the heart. Your core desire will drive you to be successful. Students in India will do what they are told, but is it matching their core need? Are they going to continue to do that in the future? That is what we need to look at. Another point to consider is that when your students get to a point where they are making income, they have to look at the market. What does the economy need? If your passion and the needs of the market don’t match, you aren’t making any income from it.

What do you think holds people back from doing what they really want to do then?

I think the main thing that stops people from doing what they do is fear. It’s either the fear of failure, or the fear of success. It could also be because they haven’t seen somebody successfully following their dreams and making a career out of it. They know all these big celebrities who’ve done it but how many people in their circle of influence have achieved what they’ve wanted? Then there comes the fear of “what if it doesn’t work?”

People believe when they buy. If they don’t believe in your product or your service, they won’t buy it from you. It is important for the student to have a drive strong enough for him, or her, to believe in themselves, so that people buy into their dream. The uncertainty that arises when you become successful, “How will my life change?” or “How will my friends be impacted?” is something people are fearful of too.

There are extreme wage gaps between men and women who are at the same position, hierarchically, and are doing the same job. What are your views on this kind of gender inequality? 

It comes back down to the government, back down to the leaders. Why are women’s skills and expertise not given the same value as a man’s? I think we have to empower women. We need to tell them that they are valuable and they can do just as well as men. We also need more women in fields like technology and finance, especially since we are moving into the digital age. Women currently dominate the soft skills, the emotionally driven type of businesses. We just need to be brave enough to negotiate, know our own true value, and say “we deserve it!”  Not enough women are saying that.

Also, at the same time, we have to educate men. Currently, the people in power are men. We need to show them this. It is going to take a long time, but it is destined to change. Once countries like the UK and the US take the lead, other countries are bound to follow.

Given your success, it is without a doubt that you’ve had several college start-ups come to you for advice. We, at MIT, have our own fair share of start-up companies. What advice would you like to give them?

Be around people who are doing what you want to do. There is much more to networking than going to an event and building business partnerships. It’s about building relationships with people who are already doing what you hope to do. Try to increase your circle of influence. Jim Rohn says that we are the average of the five people we surround ourselves with. So essentially, if you’re surrounding yourself with five billionaires, I’d bet that you’d be the sixth billionaire. If you hang around with people who are not going anywhere, who just gossip about other people, who just hang around watching TV, you’re going to be the sixth person doing that. So there’s a pattern. Who are you surrounding yourself with? Who are you talking to on a daily basis? Who’s in your contact list? When you’re talking to them, what are you talking about? It’s about surrounding yourself with the right kinds of people. Are they the people who are going to push your business forward? The second thing is to understand your niche, understand your zone of genius. We try to be good at everything, but we just can’t. Know what you are good at, and leave the other things to other people. We have the fear of missing out. Be credible and have authority. That’s what will distinguish you from the people who are just trying to be visible.