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O2: Returning to work: interview tips, authentic support and what inclusion really looks like

Season 3, Ep. 1

Season 3 of The Lens podcast is here and we're returning to work. Ann Pickering, Chief HR Officer and Chief of Staff at communications giant O2 and Ria Johal, a diversity and inclusion consultant with a wealth of wisdom to share, catch up with our host Oli Barrett MBE for our first episode of the season. Let's get to the conversation...


In this episode our guests discuss breaks from work and returning to work, how to navigate this, what it might look like for many people, especially women and how companies can lead by example. Ria and Oli also discuss graduate schemes and the needs of grads entering the workplace for the first time. Ann offers her thoughts on how Human Resources should and can function to support staff at every level, and provides some useful interview tips.


Oli and our guests also discuss authenticity and how to offer genuine support and inclusive cultures in the workplace. They also consider how this intersects with productivity, employee happiness, personal goals and the need to prove an environment that helps staff achieve their best work.


Does your workforce reflect customer base? What does the future of work look like? Will we all feel supported if and when we return to work? Find out in Season 3 Episode 1 of The Lens Podcast.




Our Guests


Ann Pickering joined O2 (Telefónica UK) in 2004 and was appointed to the UK board as HR director in 2008 Prior to this Pickering worked for Marks and Spencer, Fidelity and Xansa (now Steria) and is a chartered fellow of the Institute of Personnel Development. Since Pickering joined O2 the company has achieved a top 20 place three times in The Sunday Times Top 100 Employers in the UK and eight in the UK Best Places to Work. Over the past two years O2 has been included in the top 25 companies in the Social Mobility Employer Index, which identifies the UK businesses taking the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. 


Pickering is calling upon business, government and educators to work together to ensure there are sufficient digitally-skilled workers to drive the UK economy. She is passionate about social inclusion and promoting career opportunities for all young people in the digital sector. Outside Telefónica Pickering is a trustee of Breast Cancer Now, a cancer charity formed specifically to focus on accelerating finding a cure for breast cancer. She is also a trustee of Step up to Serve, a charity aimed at promoting social action among 10- to 20-year-olds. Pickering is visiting professor of HRM at Sheffield University Management School where she also chairs the advisory board. She is married with two sons, aged 28 and 26 years. 


Ria Johal is a University of Sheffield Graduate who has worked at both Deutsche Bank and J.P.Morgan but is now a Diversity and Inclusion consultant and also does key note speaking. She works closely with a women’s charity that focuses on retraining and reskilling women past pregnancy or if they have to take time out. She has also worked with a charity that aims to provide Women and girls with tech opportunities and ensures that infrastructure will support continuous tech learning throughout their careers. She is also particularly interested in the speed of technological advances and how continuous learning will take place on the job.  


Time Stamps


00:15 Oli introduces his guests for this episode. 01:20 Oli, Ria and Ann discuss an employer in common, an early employer they happen to share with many of our guests on the podcast. 02:30 Oli asks Ann, what does being Chief of Staff entail? 03:30 An introduction to O2 and Ann’s thoughts on working for a consumer-focused organisation. Ann stresses the importance of a workforce reflecting a company’s customer base. 04:40 Ann describes life as a 17-year old in Liverpool and the formative jobs that instilled her with a passion with working for people. 06:00 Oli asks Ann about her turning points and lightbulb moments. 07:08 Ann tells Oli what she’s most proud of including O2’s parenting leave policy: 14 weeks maternity and paternity leave for all parents in all circumstances and situations, offering existing opportunities to step up, cover a role and develop. 09:30 Oli asks Ann about her vision for the future. ‘The world of work is changing and HR departments are going to have to pivot.’ says Ann.


10:50 Ria delivers her thoughts on changes to working environments, employee investment and how companies might better support employees. 12:01 Oli and Ria discuss the ethics of hiring, retention and the challenges that millennials and young people face in the work. 13:14 Ria returns to Ann’s point on workforces being reflective of customers and says diversity must be more than aesthetic and looking at employees as whole people is essential. 15:30 Ria turns to her university years at Sheffield and describes her journey from an engineering to work at JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank and then to taking time out for her health. She tells Oli and Ann about how she found support from her university and employers. 18:15 Oli asks Ria what her employers could have done better.


The Lens Reading List


Ann’s addition to our ever-growing bookshelf is The Go Between by LP Hartley - a story of relationships, family and betrayal. She tells us about how she read the book at 18 and fell for the wonderful escapism it offered. Ria’s choice is Money: A Users Guide by Laura Watley. She, Oli and Ann discuss how money can be an elitist thing. If you’re not taught about stocks and shares, it's hard to gain access to knowledge about the world of finance, business and investing - something our host Oli is passionate about teaching in schools.


The Lens Podcast


Powered by Fujitsu, supported by McCann and in partnership with One Young World, The Lens represents the breadth, diversity and priorities of the responsible business agenda. From gender equality to zero hours contracts, learning on the factory floor to activist businesses, The Lens covers a range of topics from a host of varying perspectives. 


Each episode brings together a business and future leader to foster disruptive conversations and fresh connections. Innovators and CEOs join Oli Barrett in the studio for a unique conversation covering their journeys, lessons learned, advice, insight and of course, the inspirational person they’d most like to meet for coffee. 


Business in the Community is The Prince's Responsible Business Network. We convene a unique network of purposeful leaders to share insight, expertise and create innovative programmes that deliver impact. Together our ambition is to make the UK the world leader at responsible business. 


Don’t forget to follow The Lens on Instagram and to rate, review and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. instagram.com/thelenspodcast

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