We’re passionate about the world of work, and how we can make it better. To help satisfy our curiosity, we’ve launched an interview series where we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better.
Join us in our next installment below as Ruth Penfold-Brown—experienced People leader, advisor, and coach—shares her wealth of insights with us.
We’d love to get to know you a bit better, tell us a bit about your backstory.
Like many folks in their 40’s my journey has been an interesting one. At the age of 30, I realized the life I had built wasn’t the right one, so I dismantled it and built a whole new one. I now am constantly refreshing and shape-shifting to keep building out a path that feels enriching and a life that feels expansive.
Career-wise, my evolution really began from that moment, where I started to move more expansively and build my network differently. Gradually over time, I allowed myself the space to feel inspired. I started out life as a headhunter and moved in-house with Shazam, a business we then sold to Apple. After that, I worked with Onfido (machine learning identity verification business) and then bp Launchpad, where I headed up and built out their People functions.
Right now I am independent and building a business called Pancakes and Peacocks, where I support humans to create the space to thrive, individually and collectively. In real terms, that involves advisory work, coaching, workshop delivery, and lots of collective learning along the way. I also have a podcast of the same name and teach a little yoga.
I’m originally from the UK but recently moved to Atlanta in the US to be with my now-husband (COVID romance, met online in 2020, now here we are!). So my latest big change is definitely an expansive one!
If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?
The thing most people comment on about me is my positive energy. I have managed to curate a fairly joyful disposition (largely by creating a life that feels joyful) and I tend to bring that to everything that I do.
Otherwise, it’s things like my straightforwardness and my focus on growth. I am constantly working on living to the fullest expression of myself. I can’t say I am there yet, but I definitely get there more than I ever have before now.
Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out?
After I left my old life behind, I quite naturally began to meet lots of new people and explore what the working world had to offer. I did so with no real intention beyond learning.
One of those people called me about a job at Shazam. I actually didn’t really have that much professional self-esteem at that time, but that person’s belief in me was so strong that it supported me to learn to believe in myself.
A few well-timed words of encouragement early on in my time there was all I needed to start to grow into myself. I rediscovered learning around that time also, and have continued to be a voracious learner to this day.
So I guess what I am saying here is; build your network, you never know what may come out of a conversation.
What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?
I used to take for granted my ability to lighten up conversations and rooms, but through developing my relationship with myself, I realized that it is a gift indeed.
Learning more about my strengths helped me to figure that stuff out—I highly recommend doing the Strengths Finder assessment on Gallup if you are reading this and thinking that you have no idea what yours are. It was life-changing for me.
Thanks for giving us some insight into who you are! Let’s jump into things. When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?
The way we do work right now is steeped in the way we used to do work historically. The pandemic has sped up the pace of change and has really exposed just how outdated the way we expect to be working together truly is.
According to Deloitte, 49% of millennials will quit their jobs in the next 2 years, and according to my spidey senses, I’d say that figure could well be for all of us.
We want to feel empowered, we want to feel autonomous and we want to feel like we are growing.
James Clear wrote that human beings are at our very best when we are about 4% outside of our comfort zone. We know just enough but we are at that growing edge and we love it.
Employers need to work on getting people into that 4% and trying to help them to stay there—as long as it suits them, at least!
For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?
Our inherent lack of ability to embrace change as a species.
We need to accept that we need to rebuild things and create something more dynamic for us all, but that might be breaking things down before we put them back together.
What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today? And, how do you recommend going about it?
Developing self-awareness. Honestly, it is a hugely powerful way that we can all create a better experience for those around us, and ourselves in the process.
If all of us are doing that at the same time, it will go a long way to creating truly inclusive environments, where we make it our mission to support everyone to feel safe and like they truly belong.
Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us towards a better world of work?
I think I am most excited to see just how many different people are arriving at the same point. I actually have a small meetup group that comes together monthly around this topic, because there are so many of us in the same place.
We know that what we have isn’t working and we are keen to invent something new together. If you want to join us in that conversation, feel free to reach out!
I’m curious, thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?
Claire Haidar is one of the most expansive thinkers I have come across on this topic. She is Founder of WNDYR and Pattyrn. She was actually one of my recent guests on the Pancakes and Peacocks podcast. She speaks a lot about how the way that we have designed work currently simply doesn’t support the kind of work that we are doing. I highly recommend her TED talk to give you an insight into her thinking also.
How can our readers follow your work?
Thank you for adding your voice to People Managing People’s interview series on How to Build a Better World of Work!
Want To Add Your Voice To The Conversation?
Join our interview series and share your ideas for how we can build a better world of work!
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