Inspiring Business Women: Hayley Still

Managing Director, EMEA, Hydrogen Group

​Hayley is the Managing Director of Hydrogen Group’s EMEA business, overseeing the Legal, Finance, Sales & Marketing, Oil & Gas and Life Science businesses across predominantly UK & Europe. She has worked with a broad spectrum of clients across many industries and as a result, has built an impressive network of contacts within the EMEA region. Having gained 10+ years’ experience in London initially in the in-house legal recruitment sector, Hayley has successfully built and managed multiple market-leading teams.

Can you tell us about your career progression to date and some of the key moments that have helped you get where you are?

I joined Hydrogen as a graduate in 2007. I did a Law degree, but instead of becoming a lawyer, I decided to try my hand at recruitment. The first part of my career was a lot slower in terms of career progression, but I think that stood me in good stead. I've always put a lot of value on the skills I'm learning, and the experience I am getting, and always tried to do everything to the best of my abilities. From 2007 to 2011, I was a Consultant, then a Senior Consultant, then I started managing the Industry & Commerce side of our Legal team. Then it took me from 2011 until 2016 to go through Manager and then Senior Manager, so, in total, a good nine years of learning my craft, learning recruitment, and learning how to manage. Since 2016, I first became an Associate Director, then a Director and I’m now MD. While my progression did speed up, I believe that the longer first part of my career enabled me to do that because I'd learned a lot of skills and gained a lot of experience that helped me eventually in my Leadership roles.

In terms of key moments, I remember when the first people that I had started managing on my team and invested a lot of time and energy in left. It was really tough, but it taught me a lot about resilience and understanding what other people want out of their job and as such how to be a better manager. Accepting that and being able to rebuild the team was a really key moment. Another turning point would be in 2015, I did this big project for BT, 12 roles in one go, all exclusive, all permanent, and it was really stressful. I worked day and night to deliver them, I was really proud of the work that I had done but I realised then that I was ready to take on a different role. I had achieved a lot of what I wanted to on the billing front and set my sights on more management and leadership. That said, I really grappled with giving up what I had worked so hard to build and the uncertainty as to whether I would be good in a different role. I knew though that it would be worse to stagnate. I then read a book around that time called Who Moved My Cheese? It's about change, and it really helped me let go of my clients and move out of my comfort zone. It made me realise that unless I am willing to give stuff up, I can't move forwards. Lastly, our "I Own My Time" initiative was a key moment for me because I was heavily involved in its inception and it has helped to fundamentally change the way our company thinks. I knew I wanted to continue my career and in the future have a family but rather than be forced to choose between the two, or move companies, I felt I should push for change in the company I was at, as I was sure many people (not just women keen to have a family) would also be feeling the same way as me, and that initiative is a new ethos for how we work as a business, which I hope benefits everyone.

Do you think that your gender has ever hindered you or blocked any personal progression?

The short answer is no. The Legal team I have come through was heavily dominated by female leaders, and although at the moment I am the only woman on the executive board, I genuinely feel my voice is heard there and recognised for the value that I can bring because I do come at things from a different angle to the men. I think this question is about more than just work though and I know I have been very fortunate in my personal life too which I think has had a big impact on the way I approach things. I can be very focussed and determined. Outside of work, my parents are in the international level sport and my mum particularly has got that determined mindset where nothing is going to stop her, and that's a bit like I was with the “I Own My Time” agenda. I was determined to make it happen (which thankfully the board was readily receptive to and on board with from the word go) and set up an environment where it could work for everyone else too. My husband also supports me and the long hours that can be involved, which means I can have that mindset too and not let anything distract me. So, I feel it’s about a whole state of mind and way of life, rather than just a work question.

Can you pinpoint when you first noticed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion around you?

When I was in the Legal team, we had an emphasis back in 2014 on trying to hire more men into the team because we were so heavily female-dominated, which we recognised isn’t necessarily good for the business when you ideally want a blend of people. We actively addressed that and it’s much more 50/50 now. The emphasis has come up again recently for me, around my maternity leave in the summer and talking it through with the board, because it’s important to me and them that there’s no prejudice about me taking the time off and that I don’t miss out on any opportunities. I’ve been very reassured and pleased to see that there is a genuine appetite from the business to make sure that my own needs and circumstances are catered for and that it’s the same for everyone and whatever situation they are in too.

From your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?

At Hydrogen, we are trying to be better, but we've still got a long way to go, particularly in relation to diversity, but we can all see the benefit in having a number of different voices, experiences, backgrounds etc. A large part of it is in the generation of ideas, policies, and initiatives, but it's also to do with understanding how things will be received in the business and how it might impact people. I think that there are a huge number of benefits and it is absolutely on our agenda to do better in this area and we've already started initiatives and projects to get more positive action happening. I know that Ian, our CEO really recognises this and actually I have been really pleased to see how much he is conscious of the gap in opinion, approach and ideas that I could leave whilst on mat leave and is really trying to make sure that while I'm away the executive board still try and think about the angle that I might come at things from. Diverse organizations are so much more interesting. You don't want everyone to be the same, you want everyone to have a different story, a different background, and bring something different to the table. We all want to be learning as much as we can from each other.

What advice do you have for young women looking to make a career in the recruitment industry?

Definitely do it. It's a wonderful industry and as much as you're willing to put in, you will get that back. My advice is to always apply yourself 100%, always throw yourself into it and push yourself, but at the same time enjoy it. I've loved clients, candidates and billing, as well as managing people and leading the business. In recruitment, compared to lots of other industries, you can speak to the clients you want to and design your own proposition and what you want to specialise in. I think it’s important to have a long-term view and build long-term relationships with your clients, candidates and colleagues. Worth remembering though that any job which is hugely rewarding is going to be hugely demanding, so don’t underestimate how hard it’s going to be! Dream big though: there’s no reason you can’t be the CEO one day if that’s what you want, but make sure you take the time to gain the skills you need along the way to reach a senior position. When you’re leading an organisation, it helps if you’ve worked at every stage in it and stood in everyone’s shoes, so that you can understand the full picture.

Posted almost 3 years ago
About the author:
Denise Dima

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