Maria is a leader with international experience across EMEA, APAC and the USA. After being raised in the sandy dunes of Saudi Arabia and sunny Cyprus, Maria moved to the UK and entered the HR world in 2009. She took the academic route in Management Science and HR, completing her master’s and CIPD Level 7 in 2013 while spending her early career in Professional Services across various operational HR roles. She joined Hydrogen in 2016 as an HR Business Partner and rebranded its HR team to the dynamic and People & Culture team, driving change and improving the employee journey. Maria is now the People & Culture Director for the Global group, leading a team of People & Culture Business Partners. She is responsible for leading the Group’s People vision, ranging from D&I, Talent Management and Growth Mindset.
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've been at Hydrogen for four and a half years and I can honestly say that it has been the most inspirational few years of my life. I joined the business as an HRBP from a Professional Services background, which was very ‘textbook HR’ in nature, naturally. I joined Hydrogen and my policy book went out of the window on the first day, which was by far one of the best things to happen for my career. I started off reporting into a Head of HR who later left the business and then began reporting directly into Ian, our CEO. He has been an amazing coach to me and took me from HRBP to People & Culture Manager where our HR function became a lot more culturally focused. We built the HR team into a global function and I then moved to Head of People & Culture and I’m now Director of People & Culture. I get to do all the exciting things on the People Vision, including setting the agenda on things like increasing opportunities for female and diverse leadership and making sure there's a strong sense of equality across the business, with the right benefits packages in place to accommodate that. 2020 was an interesting year for everybody and came with its challenges, but I was supported every step of the way and it's been an incredible journey!
Do you think that your gender has ever hindered you or blocked any personal progression?
I've been quite lucky in my career in that some of the best mentors I've had have been male. I was mentored by the Global HRD and the UK HR Manager in my previous role, who both gave me a lot of support and encouragement. I then moved to Hydrogen, where Ian, our CEO, has never let gender hinder my progression. A lot of my peer group happens to be men and again I have never felt that's been a hindrance – quite the opposite!! I actually believe it strikes a really good balance because having men and women in leadership roles and throughout the business is a key advantage as they bring very different things to the table. One of the things that I'm dedicated to doing throughout my career is removing any gender stereotypes and creating opportunities for all. Everybody should be there on merit and what they add in terms of value. It would be wrong to assume that there is not some form of bias when it comes to gender, but I think that we are taking the right steps to make sure that we're addressing that and talking about it more.
Can you pinpoint when you first noticed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion around you?
Being in the People & Culture world, it's always been in the background, but I've noticed in the past five years that it's become more of a hot topic. Businesses are definitely recognising that with diversity comes success. I could bore you with all the scientific models, but there is very solid evidence that having a diverse workforce is hugely beneficial. At Hydrogen, we operate across APAC, EMEA and the US, and I've been lucky to have travelled with my job and throughout my personal upbring, which has been a real eye-opener. I was raised in Saudi Arabia and moved to Cyprus when I was 10, so I'm quite culturally diverse and cultures have always interested me. Diversity is definitely the way forward for organisations, encouraging perspectives from people from different walks of life. In my job, there are very few days where I'll speak to someone new and not learn something new, so I think it’s an exciting time for organisations to be embracing diversity. My team is a relatively diverse team and it really does have benefits that I see on a daily basis. I've always been fascinated by different cultures coming together and seeing the positive results of that and that's probably why I enjoy my job so much.
Are there any other benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?
I believe that different perspectives equal success. With the integration of different cultures comes education and a growth mindset; a way forward; acceptance; and tackling biases. Having varying perspectives from diversity within teams is one of the biggest benefits on a day-to-day basis, so I've always been a big advocate for it.
What advice do you have for young women looking to make a career either in recruitment or HR?
My ethos, which comes from the days when I was an intern, is that I always said to myself if I was ever in a position where I could offer someone the opportunity to learn, I would. So, I’ve always pushed to have an intern or someone wanting an opportunity in my teams, because it’s so rewarding, as is being able to give advice. So, my advice would be to stand tall and smash through any barriers in your way. Seek out mentors along the way, take advice, get different perspectives, and the world is your oyster. You won’t be handed opportunities on a plate, so be prepared to ask for and fight for what you want. The most important one from a personal point of view is to believe in yourself. I have historically suffered from imposter syndrome, questioning whether I belonged in a role or if I had really earned my success. I’m very proud to say that I work for a business now and have been surrounded by people that have helped me overcome that by making me realise that I do deserve a seat at the table and that the opportunities are there to grab if I want them.