Real Model Interview featuring Mandy Smith, Senior HR Business Partner at Close Brothers Motor Finance and HR Game Changer of the Year 2022

Mandy Smith
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mandy Smith, Senior HR Business Partner at Close Brothers Motor Finance and HR Game Changer of the Year at the Automotive 30% Club's Inspiring Automotive Women Awards 2022. 

Read more below.

How did you feel to be nominated by your colleagues in the Inspiring Automotive Women Awards 2022 and how did it feel to be recognised as our HR Game Changer of the Year?

I was truly delighted to be nominated. In fact, I was blown away. We always promote the Awards within Close Brothers Motor Finance, but I had no idea that colleagues had submitted a nomination for me. Obviously, the work we are continuing to do around gender equality is driven by a much bigger community in the Women in Motor Forum, who are inspirational and full of energy and passion.

What action have you taken that led to you being nominated for the award?

I think it was a couple of things. Sponsoring the Women in Motor Forum and supporting their agenda being heard and delivered. Creating a new community for women suffering from menopause. It started with an internal chat forum, which was a self-help and support group, which blossomed into an additional Forum that is driving policy, education, and change. Also, the introduction of a workshop for our Motor ExCo and the Women in Motor Forum. The session was called Gender Intelligence and talked about looking back at history and change in society to understand how we are all coded and how bias creeps in, and what is expected of us as leaders to create inclusivity.

What does your job involve? What do you like best about it?

My role is Senior HR Business Partner and my team and I provide support for the Close Brothers Motor Finance business. That includes everything from remuneration, acquiring and internally growing talent, gathering and sharing colleague feedback through Employee Opinion Surveys, and employee relations, and supporting colleagues and managers through tricky situations to championing all diversity & inclusion activities. I am a member of the ExCo and help drive the priorities for the business. I’m also a qualified Executive Coach and Hogan Practitioner and sponsor the Women In Motor Forum, our Colleague Forum, and our Meno Forum.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Initially a dancer. I loved dancing and spent nearly all of my time in classes when I was young. Ultimately, I learned that I got the most pleasure out of working with people. I am interested in them and their lives and enjoy the variety that a role like mine creates.

What or who inspired you to join the automotive sector?

I was attracted to the role, rather than the sector initially. Although, I do love cars and enjoy going out to visit our Partners when I get the opportunity. I have found myself in many male-dominated working environments like automotive during my career, including the railway, financial services, and prison service, and have seen the shift in gender equality firsthand. I feel very passionate about the fact that gender must not be a barrier to someone succeeding in their dream job.

What are your future aspirations?

My aspirations personally are around seizing the day. Now in my 50s, life is too short to procrastinate or worry about things out of your control. I will continue to raise awareness around inclusivity and create change. I also intend to take quality time for myself and my friends and family. Nothing is more important than they are.

Can you name a woman in automotive that inspires you and why?

Mary Barra, Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors is incredibly impressive. She has worked with General Motors from the age of 18 and worked her way through all the departments including admin and engineering, which I think would be inspirational to most. The first female CEO of a global automaker, she is now considered one of the ‘100 most influential people in the world’

What do you think is the biggest challenge women face when trying to progress within the sector?

I think there are a lot of perceptions that we carry around with us, that limit our progress. All the research suggests that women are less likely to apply for a promotion or new opportunity for fear that they don’t have all the necessary attributes. Imposter syndrome often creeps in. So, I think we can create our own barriers. On top of which, because the industry is male-dominated, there will be 1 woman to 10 men applying, with most often, a male interview panel, and then there is unconscious bias to deal with. It really does narrow the opportunities, even if they are brave enough to apply in the first place

What advice can you give to other women who want to progress in their careers?

Look for sponsors and mentors to build your confidence and be brave!

What advice can you give to men in the sector about helping to build a gender-balanced business?

Think about every opportunity to create a level playing field. If you are recruiting, ensure there are women candidates on your shortlist. Attract women to apply with language that appeals. Having mixed interview panels really changes the dynamic. Sponsor talented women in the business and encourage them to progress in their careers with your support. Call out discrimination, even low-level banter if it’s inappropriate. Be a role model and advocate.

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