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International Women’s Day 2020

By 6th March 2020Blog, Uncategorised

At Atalian Servest, we are proud to celebrate the contributions of our diverse workforce and to promote diversity and inclusion at every level of the business.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we sat down with Kelly Howell, HR Director and Laura Ryan, Legal Director, who are both members of our UK & Ireland Board to gain an insight into how they have shaped their successful careers.


Kelly Howell

HR Director UK & Ireland


How did you start your career in HR?

I actually started out as an Aerobics Instructor as I loved being active and keeping fit. But, in 2000, my husband and I decided to relocate to Scotland which led me to a role within Norwich Union, where I became more involved in HR focussed roles and people management. Following this, I worked in various financial/professional service organisations, which led me to study for my CIPD, giving me solid foundations in HR practice.

I have been lucky enough to have had roles across several industries within SMEs to large corporate organisations, which has enabled me to understand different cultures and business practices.

There is no doubt there have been challenges trying to climb the career ladder while being a mother. But my husband has been my rock for the past 20+ years. He continuously supports me throughout my career and often takes the lion’s share of parental responsibilities which is a tremendous help.

What does a typical day look like in the role of HR Director?

That’s what I love about HR – there is no typical day! Due to the nature of the business and the geographical spread, I find myself travelling most weeks. When I’m not in meetings, I will try and spend as much time with Operations, keeping abreast of what challenges we are having within the business and how HR can support these. I also try to attend networking events as much as possible as it is always an excellent opportunity to share ideas / best practice.

Why are you passionate about what you do?

It sounds like a cliché, but people are organisations biggest assets and are fundamental to the success of any business. Every single colleague regardless of their seniority, plays an important tole that keeps the cogs of our business running.

I am passionate about working with managers to support their teams on the ground or collaborating on projects that will drive innovation and creativity. In essence, it all comes back to people and giving them the opportunity to be the best they can possibly be.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

There have been several challenges I have experienced first-hand during my career, but I have seen significant improvements since the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010 and the subsequent Gender Pay Gap Reporting requirements in 2017.

It has resulted in many organisations having addressed, or  in the process of addressing, the gender parity issues that exist. I am also seeing more women in senior positions and although it’s slow, mindsets are changing. At Atalian Servest, we want to nurture a culture of equality and inclusivity. Therefore as part of our diversity and inclusion strategy, we will be setting targets to ensure we achieve our goals.

What woman inspires you and why?

There are so many inspirational women I have admiration and respect for including Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher, Katherine Johnson and JK Rowling to name a few. Any woman that strives to be the best she possibly can, who challenges bias and supports the success of those around them is an inspiration.

If you could go back and give yourself any advice at any stage of your career, what would it be?

That I’m not superwoman and some things I can let go of! The need to relax and have some down-time is essential for your own wellbeing.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in business?

Seek opportunities and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward – be confident in your own abilities and have a sense of worthiness.

What does International Woman’s Day mean to you?

IWD is a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women. We must continue to promote gender equality and promote diversity and inclusivity throughout society.


Laura Ryan

Legal Director


How did your career in law start?

In a pretty conventional way – I studied law at university, went on to do the legal practice course, and then I went to work for a large regional law firm to complete my training contract (the “on the job” part of training to be a solicitor), eventually qualifying as a solicitor specialising in corporate and commercial law.

My training was interesting and varied (from working on very high-value mergers, acquisitions and takeovers, to running five-day unfair dismissal tribunals, to climbing through woodland to evict garden gnomes – seriously!), but it confirmed for me that it was corporate/commercial law that I wanted to practice going forward. I enjoyed working with businesses on complex transactions and find the legal aspects of running a company really interesting.

What are some events that helped to shape your life/career?

My university experience certainly helped to shape my character. I went from a small, country school to a large, prestigious university where everyone seemed to be from very wealthy, well-connected families. I definitely questioned my ability to compete with these people for jobs in the legal world. I ended up having a gap year after graduating to see the world and consider my options. I saw some amazing places, met some great people and got some perspective. I came back more confident in my strengths and learnt not to be put off by

an apparent advantage that you perceive that someone else has over you.

Having children has obviously shaped my life too. It is so true that as a mum you feel guilty when you are at work because you think you are not doing the best for your children, and then you feel guilty when you are at home or dealing with the needs of your family because you think you are not giving your best to your job. It is often so difficult to balance, but you just have to find a way that works for you and remind yourself of the bigger picture.

In terms of my career, the event that has had the biggest impact is my decision to come out of private practice to work in-house for Atalian Servest. As someone who likes structure, a career in private practice was attractive because there’s a well-trodden career progression ladder, and I knew where I was headed. A career in-house was much more of an “unknown”, and, because I’m driven and ambitious, one of my concerns was how I was going to better myself and progress. I think I may have even said at the time that I wasn’t sure that there was going to be enough for me to do! I was very wrong – there are certainly no dull days. I have had such variety, so many opportunities and such an amazing experience working at Atalian Servest, I am so glad that I made the change. This is a very demanding business, but I relish the challenges, and hard work and determination really can take you places.

What does a typical day look like?

A constant pull between the reactive and the proactive – fighting fires and installing sprinklers! The legal support the business requires changes daily, from advice concerning contracts or governance or disputes or brand protection to managing risk and establishing processes. Being In a leadership role means I also have to consider the broader business matters too.

Why are you passionate about what you do?

I love this business. I’ve worked with it and in it since 2007 and have seen it grow and change – I want to help shape its future too.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

Outdated views held by other people. I chose very early on to work in the “corporate” world because it was what I enjoyed and it was what I was good at, but that didn’t stop other people telling me that it was the wrong choice or that it wouldn’t work.

When I was finishing my training contract, I had to make my decision around which area of law I wanted to specialise in. I remember being stopped on a staircase by a senior female lawyer who took it upon herself to tell me that the corporate world was no place for a female and that it would never work if I wanted to have children. Thankfully I didn’t listen (and I do have children, and it has worked).

What woman inspires you and why?

Michelle Obama – an all-round amazing woman. A lawyer, a successful businesswoman, and someone who cares about social justice and “giving back” which personally is something that I think is hugely important.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in business?

Decide what’s important to you and what you want to do, and don’t let other people distract you from achieving your goals.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, it’s another way in which we can help to encourage gender equality. It would of course be a much better world if we didn’t have to have a specific day on which we celebrate women’s achievements, and that we didn’t need to raise awareness of the contribution that women make to society, the economy, politics and business and so on. But, until we reach a place of real equality (with equal pay, opportunities and rights) days like this are important to help keep the issue of gender equality at the forefront of people’s minds.

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