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SheCanCode Spotlight Series: Amy Foster, Chief Talent Officer, Rockborne

Amy Foster, Chief Talent Officer, Rockborne

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Amy Foster has over 14 years’ experience in recruitment, specialising in early talent, working for some of the biggest names across multiple industries.

After graduation, Amy joined JP Morgan, starting her career in a fast-paced HR team that recruited and developed over 500 graduates and interns every year. Moving to Barclays in 2012 to spearhead their Corporate Banking Campus team, Amy won her first award at the prestigious RAD Awards in 2014 for ‘Work of the Year’, showcasing the innovative ways to identify the best talent in the market.  Since then, Amy’s campaigns have regularly shortlisted and won at the RADs, Target and Recruitment Marketing Awards.

Amy then moved out of the financial services industry into a range of sectors including engineering and construction, with a focus on emerging and early years talent as well diversifying these talent streams.

This mix of industries has allowed for a variety of projects including coaching executive teams and the opportunity to work with different people from diverse backgrounds. Amy has combined this wide-ranging experience into her current role at Rockborne, as Chief Talent Officer. The role involves creating campaigns and strategies to bring the very best and brightest talent into Rockborne, supporting their career journey and helping change the makeup of the data industry.

Everywhere she has worked, Amy has been laser-focused on her passion of improving diversity of thought and thrives on considering how to get the best out of individuals and fostering a warm, welcoming and open culture. Her over-riding philosophy is that D&I isn’t an exact science, but rather comes from communication and embracing new challenges.

SHECANCODE CAUGHT UP WITH AMY TO TALK ABOUT ENTERING THE WORLD OF WORK, HER CAREER ADVICE AND TIPS AND WHAT EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE DOING TO IMPROVE DIVERSITY.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED?

No, I was actually taking a few months out of work to consider what I wanted to do next when I received a message through LinkedIn about a new and exciting start-up that was looking to do things slightly differently. I chatted to their internal recruiter and instantly thought the opportunity was perfect for me as it really focused on the areas the I love the most….talent and diversity of thought.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR?

In all the roles I’ve worked in, I’ve had a positive impact on DEI – whether that’s big or small. Being able to address the many imbalances in the workplace is a huge privilege and I’ve received such great support in achieving those goals.

Working in talent, particularly early careers talent, you cannot help but be proud when you see those that you’ve helped develop go on to some amazing roles and achievements.

WHAT DOES AN AVERAGE WORK DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?

It changes every day, from general HR and People activities to more operational and strategic tasks. Working in such a people focused business, no two days are the same. The variety is great, although sometimes challenging – but I love learning new things, working with new people and just giving things a go.

I find the world of diversity and inclusion fascinating as it evolves and develops every single day.  I love being able to appreciate and learn more about different cultures and backgrounds and you can’t do that unless you have diversity of thought coming into your organisation in the first place. So for me, at Rockborne, it’s been about being able to take all of the lessons I’ve learned from my career and build them into what we do, which is super exciting and so refreshing! I’m not given any barriers, instead I’m told: ‘let’s try it and see what happens’ and that’s a really positive place to be in.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC SKILLS OR TRAITS THAT YOU NOTICE COMPANIES LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE SEARCHING FOR ROLES IN YOUR FIELD? 

Good communications skills are key, companies talk to us about this frequently, particularly in data. You need to be able to network, build relationships and take what can be quite complex problems and break them down into a simple format for the non-data people around you. Be confident, be resilient and try new challenges all the time.

Whilst technical expertise will always be valuable, what our clients are in greatest demand for is those softer skills. You can train people in data skills like SQL and Python, and we do. But where we have the potential to add real value is in the time we give to the pastoral, softer skills piece.

There is a gap whereby graduates have the expert know-how but lack the basic skills to be a business professional, such as scheduling in team meetings or writing agendas. Which is exactly what we are trying to help with at Rockborne.

We want to provide these solid business skills to the trainees on behalf of our partner companies, to allow them to fill their early career talent pools, without the training liabilities. Of course, we still expect graduates to earn their stripes, we are simply ensuring that they are given the means to do so, no matter their background.

HAVE YOU EVER FACED INSECURITIES AND ANXIETIES DURING YOUR CAREER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?

One hundred per cent. I’m not sure that ever goes away but it becomes more manageable as you progress in your career and go through various experiences. The key for me is having good support around me. I’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing managers and mentors along the way, and of course I’ve worked with some fantastic women who have become lifelong friends over the years. They give me so much confidence and are a brilliant sounding board.

ENTERING THE WORLD OF WORK CAN BE DAUNTING. DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE FEELING OVERWHELMED?

Have patience. We all expect too much of ourselves and very often of those around us. Take it slowly.

You are starting out on a long road and there is plenty of time to reach your goals.

Set achievable objectives and take the time reflect on what you have achieved so far.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY?

Data is an amazing career choice for anyone, but I think it has some fantastic opportunities for women in particular – the variety of roles is huge, the types of companies you are working for are so diverse and there is far greater ability to work in a way that suits you than you probably think.

WHAT SHOULD EMPLOYERS BE DOING TO IMPROVE DIVERSITY?

I’ve been lucky throughout my career to encounter companies who are eager to learn and make progress even if they don’t always get it right, and I think that’s crucial. We need to move away from this dangerous zone of blanket policies and documents and be ‘human’ about it, by speaking to people. Why not talk to your workforce, or to other employers to find out what is working well and what isn’t.

The biggest barrier I’ve seen to businesses having a diverse, inclusive workforce, is the fear factor. Fear that we’re going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I don’t always get it right, but that is because I’m curious and want to do better. There is no shame in saying that you don’t know.

We need to shift our emphasis to appreciation rather than understanding. Many people say that business leaders need to understand all of the different types of diversity. But you don’t have to understand it. I will never understand what it’s like to be someone else – but you do have to take time to listen.

Appreciating someone’s journey and what’s important to them and taking action from it – that’s what’s crucial to improvement.

There's a tendency to over-engineer a solution and often that isn’t necessary – don't be scared, just be human about it and have a chat.
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