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Breaking the Bias on International Women's Day with Carolyn Giles from Plymouth City Bus

To celebrate International Women's Day and its theme of #BreakTheBias, we asked Carolyn Giles from Go South West and Plymouth Citybus questions that provided us with a background of their professional career as well as her interpretation of "breaking the bias" and what International Women's Day means to her.

Carolyn Giles is Head of People and Operations at Go South West and Plymouth Citybus, read her interview below.

Can you give us a brief background of your professional career and how it led to your current position?

Whilst at University I completed my FCIPD qualification, when I left I was incredibly lucky to get a job in HR, working in the NHS. I was there for 5 years and then moved from there to working to the Police for 3 years. It was then 2002, and it was at that point I decided that if I wanted to progress in my career, I would have to go out on my own, so Hardrick HR was born. I started hot-desking at Kitsons, solicitors and somehow the hot desk became employment.

I worked with Kitsons for 5 years, it gave me a really good opportunity to see employee relations from a different perspective. It came to a natural end, so it was back out on my own. Then, because of the work I do with the Chamber I knew Richard from Plymouth Citybus.

They had just won the Cornwall contract and were looking for extra support for the Head of Ops. In 2020, Covid arrived and the Head of Ops took the opportunity and retired, so I was lucky enough to end up in Operations in the bus company.

With this year’s theme of ‘break the bias”, do you have any examples from your own career when you or your employer challenged or implemented something that helped to change bias, discrimination or stereotyping?

I think the work being done at CityBus, and I don’t credit for this. It happened before I arrived, I would say over the last 5 years or so, CityBus have really challenged the way that people talk to each other. We have had lots of communications training and this has definitely had a huge impact on the way individuals speak to each other. Particularly thinking about how welcoming this company is to women in an industry that might be a little less welcoming.

How have your current and previous employers supported their employees in creating a diverse and inclusive professional environment?

We have a forum called ‘Go respectfully’. Go respectfully specifically focuses on protected characteristics or anything that makes people different. Before this forum we actually called it a forum for inclusion and belonging because we felt that actually the thing that makes a difference to people is belonging. That’s our focus really, this is a firm that’s always felt, or certainly in the last 10 years, felt like a family. That’s what is really important to us. It’s really important to our MD and it’s really important to our team. So a sense of belonging is what we try and install in everybody. So in order to break the bias you’ve got to keep talking as if everybody belongs.

What advice would you give to women entering your profession or industry?

I think the biggest piece of advice is to know what you are going into. I think for me if you’re really interested in people, as in the people business then really understand what it means. As well as being willing to be commercially focused because that doesn’t mean not caring about people. In fact, it means the opposite, because if you really care about your workforce and you do everything you can to keep your workforce healthy and well-trained and supported, they will commercially give it back to you in spades.

What advice would you give to the women aspiring to be leaders in their field or company?

Be prepared to challenge. Challenge all the way through in a sensible, responsible way. Challenge people’s thinking. Challenge people’s assumptions, thoughts. Know your stuff and challenge safely because you know what you’re talking about.

Lastly, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Making a difference. It’s a celebration. A celebration around the achievements that people have and an opportunity to put these out there. Understanding that it’s ok to celebrate.


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