Our Reimagined Learning interview series shines a light on thought leaders, innovators and role-models in the Learning & Development and Human Resources fields.

At Dee is for Digital we’re always in search of the next big idea. We want to bring you new ways to learn, and help your own learning curve by connecting with others who are doing amazing things. This week we have one of the most accomplished women in the HR field that I have had the pleasure to meet - Chief HR and Health & Safety Officer for SUEZ recycling and recovery UK - Dr Tracey Leghorn! And when I say 'accomplished' I don't just mean professionally - I mean academically, personally and professionally.

You can check watch my interview with Tracey (45 mins), read a summary of the interview below (10 mins) or download the audio version HERE - whichever floats your boat.

Get to Know Tracey

What was your very first job?

My first paid job was in a care home when I went to college at 16.

When you're not working how do you like to spend your time?

Spending time with my children, with my granddaughter and out and about walking. I just love to be outdoors.

What's one thing you're excited about that's coming up in 2021?

Well my daughter turns 21 in August which is really exciting and we're hoping that lockdown is going to be open enough so we can have a little bit of fun. And my son turns 30 in December too ... so lots of family celebrations this year.

What was your favourite subject in school?


What's the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

My father always made out that we could be anything we wanted to be as long as we put the effort in. And he was always saying "You're going to be a CEO of a big international organisation." So, I think I thought I probably could be that when I was younger.

What's one thing about you that surprises people?

Most people think I'm an extrovert and actually I'm not.

If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?

The law.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Always give a little bit of yourself. If people want to engage with you, you have to be prepared to share and be a bit vulnerable.

What is your biggest professional pet peeve?

People who don't put value on academic qualifications.

If you had to choose only 3 adjectives to describe yourself which would you choose?

Driven, hard-working and caring.

Our Reimagined Learning Questions

What has been the most impactful learning experience you have had in your career to date?

Do you know I think there's been a lot. We are all learning every single day from our positive experiences and our failures (although I do try to avoid those at every cost). But there's a couple of training courses that I've been on that have really stood out in my career. And in fact, almost a decade later, I went back to one of the individuals that delivered a session and had them deliver the same one for my team. It was fundamentally a training session on having really good presentation skills. But rather than getting us all to do a presentation and practice, you know, that sort of stereotypical presentation skills training. This was about learning the physiology of what happens to people when they're in a stressful situation, such as presenting, and how as an individual you can get that under control in order to perform at your best. It just really stuck with me and it's been so helpful in everything that I do in my career. Whether I'm sat in a meeting and want to portray myself at my best and not get too nervous about a subject. Or standing up in front of large audiences. Or as was the case during this year delivering a lot of webinars and being involved in roundtable discussions. It's just been really powerful to understand how to manage your physical self so you can consistently present yourself at your best.

Who is the person who has had the most positive impact on your career from a learning perspective and why?

I wouldn't be in HR if it wasn't for Professor David Guest. So I was studying a business degree and you could choose one module whether it was finance, marketing, or HR. I'm not someone that can come up with of lots of wonderful ways to use a ping pong ball for and I'd studied accounts at school so I decided to go for HR not really knowing too much about it. Our first assignment was about the vertical and horizontal integration of HR of which I knew nothing about. I went off and read the work of Professor David Guest and was just captivated, absolutely captivated. I thought to myself, this is the answer to all business issues! Really sound and solid HR integrated into a business strategy. And that was it!  I was just absolutely hooked and I passionately wanted a career in HR from then on.

If you could go back in time, what is the one piece of advice you would want to tell your younger self in hopes that it would positively affect your career? 

I think,  just to be brave. By that I mean to be bold, be prepared to take some risks and try new things. I've worked in a lot of different industries and that can be quite challenging,  just tyring to navigate your way around a new industry or orientate yourself in a new organisation. But when I get too comfortable, you know, I want that challenge and I get hungry for it. So be bold, break down barriers. Don't sit in isolation as an individual, team or even as an organisation. Reach out, build really good networks. Believe in yourself and don't listen to all that negativity that can come from others and hold you back. I would just say, believe in yourself and have a really good go at it.

What key lesson did you take from the more challenging times during your career?

I think a couple of things really. One it's okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes. I think studying actually helped me to understand that more. Every single assignment I received in university made me feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, way back when, I even had a little cry about it. But I learned if you can break down tasks and then just move through them, step by step, you come to the end and you often realise you knew much more than you had given yourself credit for. And that's helped me in other areas of my life. When I have moments of feeling overwhelmed I put myself back to those early days as a student and I know it's okay. I remind myself it's okay to feel like this and to just work my way through, whatever it is, step by step. I'd also like to mention being careful about your wellbeing because you can get so caught with life and work that you can become like a hamster on a wheel. Particularly for people like myself who are very driven and want to be doing more and more and more. Sometimes you've just got to say, "well, let's not do anymore until I've got this one thing done" because that's gonna be far better for your wellbeing.

What is the most important skill or behaviour you have learned that has been essential in getting you where you are today?

I think it's about engaging with people. I'm not the kind of HR director that sits in the office and doesn't come out. I have to be out in the business. I have to be among the people within the business. Just getting a sense of how things feel, how things are landing on the ground, what the issues are for them, and having very rich and valuable conversations. So that when you are later sat in the boardroom making decisions, you are doing it from a line of sight on the reality of what's happening in the business not just purely what you are reading in a report. I'm a person that runs on feelings. I need to know how I feel about things. I need to know how other people feel about things. But on the other side I also love data - that's the maths person in me coming out - and I want to break the data, whether it's right or wrong. So bringing those two things together I think helps me make really well rounded decisions.

What are the biggest challenges facing employees today when it comes to their professional development? 

In the current work environment, I do have a concern around the impact on gender equality coming out of the pandemic. You know, many decades ago, part-time work was created, and that essentially became women's work. At the time that was intended to facilitate women's emancipation and encourage women into the workplace. But the reality was that part-time work was often in roles that are not as well paid as full time roles and the work tended to be in the caring professions or stereotypically women's work. We've worked really hard to progress from that and for women to be in a more richer variety of roles or roles that were previously seen as men's roles. So I suppose I have a little concern that, during the pandemic, the evidence showed very clearly that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic with regards to job loss and also with regards to the amount of childcare that they do in their own home.

So whilst we were starting to see men take a more 50/50 share of childcare, actually during the pandemic that has swung really heavily back towards the woman. And what I'm concerned about is that if organisations give people the choice to work full-time from home, more women may choose to work at home because they can accommodate childcare better. And then subsequently job roles will be redefined between what can be done at home and what should be done in the office with more enriched tasks being in the office and less enriched roles being done at home. We absolutely must not let that happen. I'm not saying we shouldn't be offering the chance to work from home. What I am saying though is as HR professionals and as organisations, we must keep an eye on the structure of what roles and work will look like in the future so that it's not detrimental to one gender or another.

How do you see your profession changing as technology advances or changes over time? 

Well outside of the way that work gets done, whether on Teams or Zoom, and things like that I am actually very excited with regards to the future and specifically being more digital. I think there's a lots of opportunity for HR to be able to embrace that technology and to have a lot more of the administrative tasks done through technology which will free us up to add more value elsewhere.

What do you think is one of the most innovative ways for people to learn from one another? 

I've talked to my learning and development manager and team and there's no doubt that online learning has a real place in that space but I don't think anything can replace human contact and the need to ensure that people fully understand what they have learned and more importantly, how to put it into practice. And I'm not so sure that you can one hundred per cent achieve that through pure online learning. I think you learn how to take a concept and put it into practical use - either through trial and error or through engaging with other people who've done it already. At SUEZ we've put a lot of our programs online but we have also included follow-up through focus groups,  learning conversations focused on what exactly you've been doing online, what you gained from it, what you might not have understood etc. So, I think it's important you get the right balance between online learning and learning conversations. Personally, I learn best from having conversations.

What are some of your favourite topics that you would like companies to include (or see more of) in their L&D programs?

Definitely your personal brand. Answering questions like who are you, who are you as a person, what do you stand for and what is your personal brand?  I think a lot of people are too busy working and they never stop to have a period of self reflection. I was talking about this with one of my mentees this week and she was saying, "Oh, it's really had a profound effect on me, Tracey, when you said it's okay to stop." And actually I'm saying we should stop! We shouldn't be asking, is it okay to stop? It should be part of our learning and our ongoing development to just stop, reflect, think about our personal brand as well as think about what's next.

What are your thoughts on the future of learning in your field/industry? 

We're going to see some big changes in the waste and resourcing industry. There's a whole new government strategy that's going to bring about a lot of changes in our industry. Whether that be consistent collection, deposit return schemes, et cetera. So there's going to need to be really good training needs analysis undertaken with regards to the skills that we have today, and the skills that we're going to need for the future. And really robust plans to help people transition into what will be new roles and new responsibilities. So there's going to be quite a lot to get ready for in the waste industry over the coming years.

And last what are your professional goals and aspirations?

I believe we all want to progress in our careers and do more. I'm still hungry to learn. I'm still hungry to be giving something back too.  I like to mentor people. I like to get involved,  lead roundtable discussions and be giving something back to my profession. But career wise, am I finished? No, I don't think so.  I'm definitely still hungry for the next big challenge.

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