Our May Member Of The Month, Karen Fitzpatrick, is a HR Executive and Consultant. She’s also the founder of Nikatma Pty Ltd, a strategic consulting service that supports HR departments in major change programs and works with executive teams to progress strategic initiatives. In her spare time, Karen cherishes her downtime and taking a break from technology. She loves the outdoors and as a retired player and coach, continues her lifelong passion for netball by supporting her local netball team, the Melbourne Vixens.
Karen joins us today to discuss her impressive career, opinions on the transformation occurring in the HR sector and shares her advice for other women starting their own business.
What are you reading at the moment? If you’re more of a podcaster, what are you listening to? I have just finished reading ‘Madonna of the Mountains’ by Elise Valmorbida. This novel won the 2019 Victorian Premier’s award for fiction. It follows the life of a woman in the Italian countryside, her girlhood, marriage and motherhood which span two world wars, Fascist party rule and a decision to emigrate to Australia.
What is a quote/motto you live by? “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” This quote so eloquently put by David Morrison as Chief of Army; certainly, captures the way I have tried to live.
In your spare time, what occupies your time and fuels your fire? There is never enough time for all the things I love. My family – a wonderful husband and grown-up children – are of vital importance to me. I enjoy gardening, travelling, reading and sport. I am a Collingwood supporter and an avid netball fan (retired player and umpire), a paid-up member of the Vixens here in Melbourne. I’m also an admirer of the national team, the Australian Diamonds.
Who is the most remarkable woman you’ve ever met and why? I have known Elizabeth Proust, Independent Non-Executive Director, for almost 30 years. I have had the good fortune to work for her twice in my career. Her career achievements and enormous contribution to Australian business community are widely acknowledged. She is a champion of social justice, the rights of women and is a generous and loyal friend.
“Ask yourself – can I sell? I underestimated how hard I would find it to sell what I had to offer. “
Why did you join Future Women? In an environment where social media offers unsubstantiated views and outrage, Future Women’s presence through publications and commentary stood out to me as worth consideration. A closer look at membership benefits revealed informative events and a diverse network of like-minded women. I am pleased to be a member of this organisation.
Did you always plan for a career in the HR sector, or did another pathway lead you here? I had aspirations to be a journalist when I finished school however that wasn’t to be. My career has been a fascinating, varied journey through the private sector, public sector and academia. I first ventured into HR through a support role in Learning and Development. I quickly realized that I could apply my skills and varied experience in new ways, and that I had found my space.
What do you believe are the biggest challenges for women in the workplace? I see two key challenges currently presenting. Firstly, the flexibility challenge. Although many organisations have adopted flexible work practices to accommodate employees’ family responsibilities, by their nature they mean women (and men!) are not present and available at key times. Very senior roles require visibility and availability in both day and sometimes night. This may not be fair but it is very real. The challenge here will be to develop new employment and management models that enable flexibility without impacting productivity.
Secondly, women are different to male counterparts and I observe that this difference causes them to be subject to greater scrutiny particularly in male-dominated environments. Flaws which are relatively minor seem to be intensified and focused on often while male colleagues escape such scrutiny. Expanding current concepts around diversity to genuinely embrace the value of the differences between us, to seek out the varied perspectives we bring, remains and continues to be a challenge.
You started your consulting business, Nikatma Pty Ltd, in 2011. What advice would you give to women who are considering starting their own business? Ask yourself – can I sell? I underestimated how hard I would find it to sell what I had to offer. It is critical to understand yourself and your capacity to promote the value you might add to a client’s business.
Technology has had a significant impact on the HR field in recent years. What have been the major changes you’ve observed in your career and what exciting changes do you think are on the horizon? As with every aspect of modern life technology has had a big impact in HR. In service provision, self-serve for employees through HR portals has meant a big shift in the nature of internal services. The profession has been challenged to value-add in other ways. Recruitment has been the other major area with the emergence of e-recruitment and now talent acquisition technologies which are even more sophisticated. The use of AI in profiling and sourcing candidates for existing and future roles is imminent.
The HR sector can be both rewarding and stressful. How do you incorporate self-care into your weekly routine and ensure that you can switch off at the end of the day? For me exercise and/or a fun activity, be it a movie, sporting match or a night out with my husband are the answer. Turn the phone off for a bit and get outside into the garden. Sometimes a debrief with a trusted colleague or friend helps as well.
As your career progressed to the C-Suite, what do you believe are the most important skills and attributes that have helped you get there?
- Goal setting: Identifying a goal and some rough steps to get there is critical.
- Bravery: Being open to possibilities from left field and saying yes to things that look difficult.
- Learning: Consciously evaluating and reevaluating your capabilities and building technical skills.
- Resilience: Accepting that you will fail and being prepared to learn from failure and try again and again.
Unconscious bias impacts recruitment and how job seekers fare in the process. How do you approach removing bias from your decision-making systems and policies? I think engaging people in raising the awareness of the possibility of unconscious bias is really important. Even moving from “unconsciously incompetent” to “consciously incompetent” is a good step. This means encouraging those involved in selection to look outside the square and consider if all the possibilities of candidates have been considered.
“Expanding current concepts around diversity to genuinely embrace the value of the differences between us, to seek out the varied perspectives we bring, remains and continues to be a challenge.”
What do you believe will be the major challenges for the HR professionals in leading the workforce of the future? As Government policy requires that people work longer, I see multi-generational workforces as a serious challenge for our society. The concept is a good one however the management of it will present new challenges. Technology continues to disrupt longstanding industries and global icons and with this disruption comes changes to work practices and redundancy of some skillsets. However, this will also increase the focus on re-training the workforce to take on the new roles that technology will deliver.
If you weren’t working in the HR consulting space, what would you be doing? I would be working in as an academic, likely in research.
The future for women is… rich and challenging.
We can lift each other up… by balancing empathy and honesty.
I’m most fulfilled when… I am making a valuable contribution.