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Jane Gartside: From retail to Head of HR at EY

If you’re considering a career in Human Resources then you’ll be glad to know that there’s more to it than hiring and firing people.

Safeera Sarjoo
15th July 2016
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Speaking to Jane Gartside, the Head of Human Resources for EY, I gained a whole new understanding about what it meant to work in Human Resources, learned more about her role and just how far it stretched beyond the traditional image I had. As you read on, Gartside didn’t exactly have the typical progression into HR, which goes to show that no matter where you are in your career, if you feel that a move into the world of HR is your true calling, it’s never too late.

With an abundance of Human Resources programmes both online and in-class available, we were keen to learn just what goes into her day at a leading company like EY.

What attracted you to working in Human Resources?

I actually started my career in retail management where you tend to be faced with a lot of human challenges from both staff and customers. After University I worked for Topshop and then M&S, where I had lots of different roles in Stores and Head Office, and it was only some years into my career when I moved into recruitment. I haven’t necessarily had a traditional route into HR, but I’ve always been interested in people and I think retail management is a place where you get lots of exposure to that. I’ve made a number of moves over the years into different aspects of HR and so have built my knowledge of the different pillars of human resources over that period of time.

What educational path did you follow to get to where you are today at EY?

I went to University and studied Ancient History and Classical Archaeology; however I don’t think that was ever going to set me up for a career in human resources. I studied it because I enjoyed it. Prior to University I worked in retail, where managing people and talking to customers were daily activities, building my interest in working in HR.

What’s your day to day role like?

There isn’t really a typical day and I think a lot of people working in HR would say the same. In my current role I am responsible for about nine different functions within Talent. We have Centres of Excellence, Recruitment Function, D&I, Business Partnering, Pensions, Rewards and Employee Relations so I’ve got quite a big team. My day could range from an unexpected issue that arises within the firm or I could be coaching a senior person on having a difficult conversation or even a positive conversation. A lot of my time is spent advising people and managing risk within the firm as well.

As you can tell it’s very diverse. I could be dealing with a strategic pension issue one minute and deciding how we screen a Euro 2016 football match in our offices the next.  Each thing is very important to an individual.

What do you think are some misconceptions people have about working in HR?

It’s really changed over time I’ve worked in HR. If you think it’s going to be all about the typical ‘tea and sympathy’ and you’re always going to be doing nice things, it’s not actually like that. I think you need to be very at the centre of business strategy. If you want to invest in your people and you want to roll out HR initiatives, it’s vital that you can articulate what the return on investment is going to be. You need to be at the heart of the business and articulate your view using business language.  You’ve also got to be prepared to think how you can help the business meet their objectives and get them to where they want to be. We’re much more analytical now and we definitely draw on much more data to make decisions.

What do you like specifically about working at EY?

I like the fact that we do have an absolutely wonderful people culture. People are empowered in the way they want to work and we’ve invested a lot of time in encouraging agile, flexible working. You’re measured more on what you put in rather than how many hours you spend at your desk, which has been a great advantage for us. I think also you are respected for your profession. People will listen to you – again it’s about talking in that business language – you are given air time and respect in terms of what you bring to the organisation.  I’ve got a fantastic team. Everyone is focused on performing at their absolute best and that makes a big difference as well. EY is a great place – I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t.

We always hear about how human resources support a business, but I want to flip that question. What does EY do to support you and your team?

With a strong people culture at EY, we’re very lucky that our thinking is aligned with that of the partners and leaders of the business. The managing partner is very focused on making sure that we work together to deliver on the mutual goals we set – even moving forward some of the trickier issues. 

There are a number of online courses you can take if you want a career in HR. What are your thoughts if someone wanted to get qualified within HR online?

I think there’s always a place for online learning. I absolutely think you can get a great deal of information from it. I’m a huge fan of blended learning; online learning and experience for example.  HR is so involved with people; you can’t necessarily read a textbook and expect people to react in a certain way. I think on the job experience is vital and actually working alongside other professionals. It is a great place for knowledge, but for me I think a blended approach is ideal.

What’s been your most challenging issue within your role? Is there one aspect of your job that you dread having to do or not look forward to?

Increasingly people are looking for points of view on talent and HR and it is attracting more media attention.  I love working with people in small groups and in one to one situations, but I don’t really enjoy being centre of attention or having the spotlight on me. The thing I find most challenging is being asked to do public speaking because it’s just not something that I enjoy doing. But I do think the more senior you become the more important it is.

What’s been your biggest achievement?

It’s going to sound so cliché but my biggest achievement is surrounding myself with a really high performing team of people, who all pull in the same direction. It’s difficult at times with things that are moving so quickly. The team that I’ve got are always focused on the future. We always talk about what’s coming next. I think with a very stable team who all understand the strategy and where we’re going makes it a lot easier to move things forward very quickly.

What kind of qualities would you say someone needs if they want a successful career in HR?

You’ve got to be endlessly curious. You’ve always got be asking the question ‘why?’ I think you often are called in to help resolve an issue or a problem. For me it is so important to keep asking the question ‘why’.  In many cases the issue that is being presented to you on the surface, isn’t really the problem that needs fixing.   So I think you need to be curious about things, ask the right questions and don’t make assumptions.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in human resources?

Don’t give up. Just because you start off as a recruiter doesn’t mean you can’t become a HR business partner. Always look for the chance to take on additional tasks and responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone because this is where you will be early on in your career. It really is about spotting the opportunities to do new things. I think it’s quite hard for somebody to get the right placements to give you the experiences you need. If you’re dedicated to a career in Talent, start wherever you can and keep looking for other things that will give you breadth of experience in that HR agenda.  


Whether you’re currently in retail management or looking go straight into Human Resources, start your search today on Training and Courses and start sparking change at work. 

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