#ChoosetoChallenge: ARI Chief People Officer Siobhán Griffin on International Women’s Day and doing things differently

INTERNATIONAL. “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.” The International Women’s Day #ChoosetoChallenge theme is particularly poignant this year as the travel retail industry faces a new set of circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On International Women’s Day (8 March) women are challenged to make changes, to forge a gender-equal world and to celebrate their achievements.

To coincide with this date, The Moodie Davitt Report has partnered with Aer Rianta International (ARI) to promote the role and achievements of women in the travel retail industry, with a campaign on our home page and through our respective social media platforms.

We also talk with Siobhán Griffin, recently appointed Chief People Officer at ARI. Currently the only woman in the ARI senior management line-up, Griffin underlines the importance of Human Resources, especially at a time of change and adaption… and her own challenge to push boundaries and to “do things a little differently”.

“Each and every female who works at ARI makes an incredible contribution to our business. I want them to feel inspired by the opportunities and rewards that we can offer” – ARI Chief People Officer Siobhán Griffin

“At ARI, our people are our greatest asset,” she says, highlighting the role of the “incredible” senior female leaders within the business and their contribution to driving performance and growth.

“We at ARI are embracing the theme ‘Women Rise’, a declaration of our belief in the power to bring positive changes to every aspect of what we do. It is an invitation to participate fully, an assurance that everyone’s ambitions are recognised. And it is a promise to our team, that gender will never be a deciding factor in who progresses faster or goes further. Not just on International Women’s Day, but every day.”

ARI Chief People Officer Siobhán Griffin: Taking on the challenge to “do things a little differently”

Tell us a little about your career background and how this has led to your current role?

I graduated from Dublin City University with a Bachelor of Business Studies degree, specialising in Human Resources (HR). Since then I have spent almost 20 years working in international HR roles across a range of industry sectors.

I started my HR career with Ericsson, which provided a very solid foundation and gave me great insights into a large, global technology leader. From there I moved into the Financial Services sector, where I spent a number of years working with investment management firm Man Group, and subsequently with US commercial finance company CIT Group.

I joined Paddy Power Betfair (now part of Flutter Entertainment) in 2012 as it was undergoing a period of significant growth and expansion. I then moved to PwC in 2016, as Senior HR Manager for its Advisory Practice.

Almost three years ago, I was headhunted to join the Global People team at ARI. I was immediately drawn to the international dimension of the business, the fast pace, and the opportunity to work with a talented and ambitious team. I spent two and a half years as Head of Department here at ARI and, in December 2020, I welcomed the opportunity to take on the role of Chief People Officer.

I feel very fortunate to work in such a dynamic industry and, despite the current challenges across our sector, I am excited about our future.

What influences have previous roles (and indeed life experiences) had on your thinking today?

I have been extremely fortunate to work with many talented people, in varying companies and industries. While these companies have many differences, they also have many similarities: fast paced, commercial, customer-focused, complex and global.

If you look across the spectrum of HR work in travel retail – from business development, business startups, refurbishments, sustaining growth in established businesses, turning around businesses where growth has slowed – the sector affords many opportunities to work with colleagues on solving challenging business problems in a very rewarding way.

I have had – and indeed still do have – the pleasure of working with, and learning from, some incredible people, the best of whom really do lead by example and create the conditions for business and team success.

Roll call of achievement: All smiles at the end of a successful (pre-pandemic) training session in Muscat

Can you describe the key areas you oversee as Chief People Officer at ARI?

My role is focused on growing our talent, capability and culture to support the diverse HR needs of our business. I am also a member of the ARI Executive team.

My role is wide-ranging, overseeing all aspects of HR leadership and management, people strategy formation and implementation, organisational design, talent and development, as well as HR service delivery, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion.

The best part of my role is working with a global team of talented HR professionals and business leaders to drive performance and deliver on our business strategy. Our vision at ARI is to be the world’s favourite airport retailer and partner of choice. Working together with teams to bring this to life each day is very rewarding.

How has what you do been affected by the continuing crisis? What are the big challenges for people in the organisation today? How do you manage this across multiple geographies and cultures from a people point of view?

When COVID-19 hit, it hit aviation and travel retail hard. ARI, like all businesses needed to adapt quickly, to react and get ahead of the uncertainty. And we did just that.

We collaborated well, we shared ideas across our estate, and we worked in new ways to build confidence back. We did this through our ‘road to recovery’ plan, which set out our strategic priorities to drive our recovery.

Our first priority was to ensure the health and safety of all colleagues. We developed clear plans and team training, which enabled us to re-open our stores, safely. We transitioned many back-of-house colleagues to work from home and managed a real-time culture shift across the business.

Unfortunately, alongside this we had to make some difficult decisions, and manage costs to protect our business into the future. Throughout this, the wellbeing of our team has been front of mind, and we have worked hard to ensure that we have supports and resources available through our ‘Focus on You’ wellbeing programme.

While we operate across multiple geographies and cultures (ARI has operations at 19 locations across 13 countries), stretching from Montréal to Auckland, we face similar challenges in all parts of the business. I am extremely proud of how our entire organisation has come together to overcome these challenges, communicating with, and supporting each other.

[Check the video below to see how ARI team members from across the world also got together to show their support of frontline workers]

The result is a safe environment for our colleagues and customers, and a clear plan to rebuild our business. None of these changes were easy, but the commitment that our teams have shown, and how they are pulling together to spearhead our recovery, is inspiring.

How would you describe the working culture at ARI today?

Our culture is the glue that binds us all together. Our winning and enduring culture is not just about employee engagement and affiliation, but also about results.

We are a large scale global business, but at the heart of this, we are one team who value the importance of our colleagues and the support we can provide for one another

Our culture plays a vital role in our performance. We continuously strive to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment that is conducive to generating the best possible results; not just for our colleagues, but also for our customers, suppliers, partners, and shareholders.

The culture at ARI is surprisingly positive today given the world in which we are operating in. The team has really galvanised together globally and, dare I say, almost strengthened their relationships in a virtual world.

ARI and Cyprus Duty Free team members enjoy a ‘fun & fitness’ workout at the refurbished Larnaca International Airport store

There have been some really great initiatives across the teams and business units to keep peoples spirits up and support each other. These include virtual comedy clubs, virtual cocktail hours, drop in lunchtime chats and creative initiatives, such as yoga sessions (safely and socially distanced) for team members while there is a gap in flights in some of our airports.

Time out for some safe and socially-distanced ARI-style routine

We are a large scale global business, but at the heart of this, we are one team who value the importance of our colleagues and the support we can provide for one another.

A related question: What are the key principles upon which your hiring takes place, and what values underpin your training programmes?

Culture fit and demonstrating leadership standards and values that align with our Global Retail Excellence programme are critically important to us. Our values of being brilliant at the essentials, respecting each other’s value, overcoming challenges together and always striving to do better – along with our leadership standards of building respect and trust, inspiring others, delivering results, and shaping our future – underpin our recruitment and training programmes and initiatives.

Our interviews assess for both technical competence as well as culture fit. Our global development programmes are also built around our company values and reinforce our strategy, vision, and purpose.

We have some of the best development programmes and in-house training partners in the industry. Every career step is supported by a series of training and development programmes from shop floor induction to our management and leadership offerings. These programmes support our teams to build their capabilities and progress their careers while driving our business forward in parallel.

How has the world of hiring and ensuring relevant training programmes evolved at the organisation and more broadly in travel retail? Are we more attuned to the needs of staff today? How can we do better as an industry?

“Regular, open, two-way communication and listening to our colleagues is critical”

There are many excellent examples of training and recruitment initiatives across travel retail. Global HR teams, including here at ARI, are finding new ways to reach target candidates – be that through social media, LinkedIn, video interviews, open interview days, online assessments or referral programmes focused on hiring for attitude rather than skills.

At ARI, we offer a mixture of both online and in-class training programmes, with thousands of training days held each year.

Course purpose and content determines the best media by which to roll out new programmes. They could be online or in the classroom, albeit much more online over the past 12 months! We are constantly evolving and tailoring our development offerings to match the needs of our business.

Building strong leadership and changing management capability have been a key focus, particularly over the last twelve months. We have also focused heavily on wellbeing programmes, building resilience and supports for our teams, and this continues to be a critical part of our overall development offering. Regular, open, two-way communication and listening to our colleagues is critical.

ARI conducts an annual employee engagement survey to understand how colleagues feel about the company: what we are doing well and what we can improve on. We achieve excellent response rates to our online surveys and utilise the results to inform tailored action plans for each participating location and at a group level.

Ray Hernan, Chief Executive Officer at ARI, and I also hold regular feedback sessions, in the form of ‘chat and connects’, with our colleagues. We hear from them directly and engage in helpful two-way dialogues about ideas that matter to them, and to our customers. Many of our locations replicate this process. It is a very powerful and cost-effective engagement tool to implement any new or corrective measures that may be required.

Do we need to nurture a global standard of training across the travel retail business?

At ARI, our people are our greatest asset; we put continuous talent development at the heart of our business and invest heavily in our programmes.

We have developed our own global standard of training at ARI, which is best-in-class and allows us to achieve great consistency in training programmes and the value they deliver to our global business. I am very proud of the global resources we have, including our knowledge hub. That is a powerful tool that provides our retail teams with access to an abundance of online development programmes and empowers them to upskill and learn about individual brand narratives, product features and benefits.

“Our people are our greatest asset”: ARI brand ambassadors get into the spirit of the Halloween campaign at Cyprus Duty Free last October

It would be great if the travel retail industry was known across the globe for best-in-class retail experiences and a global standard of training could support this.

On ARI’s website, the senior management line up is dominated by men: eight to one (you). What’s your experience as a woman in a senior figure at an Irish and international company? Have there been challenges along the way?

I have had a very positive experience as a woman in business. Throughout my career, my colleagues have recognised the contribution that I make to the team and the business. I have also been fortunate to have some incredible mentors and role models who have provided invaluable support, guidance and encouragement as I have developed through my career.

Yes, currently the ARI Executive team is predominantly made up of males. However, Ray Hernan, myself, and the entire executive team, are committed to addressing the gender gap and diversity at senior leadership level.

There is no doubt more needs to be done at ARI, but I am proud of the progress we are making; we have a strong roadmap in place.

It is really important that I highlight and recognise the role of senior female leaders already within our business and the contribution that they indeed make to driving performance and growth. We have some incredible females that head up large global teams including, but not limited to, Business Development, Buying, Marketing, E-commerce and indeed Business Units.

On this note, as we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we at ARI are embracing the theme ‘Women Rise’.

“The power to make positive changes”: In New Zealand, the ARI team collaborates with Sea Cleaners, an environmental clean sea and waterways charity

Women Rise is a declaration of our belief in the power to bring positive changes to every aspect of what we do. It is an invitation to participate fully, an assurance that everyone’s ambitions are recognised. And it is a promise to our team, that gender will never be a deciding factor in who progresses faster or goes further. Not just on International Women’s Day, but every day.

The many accomplishments of our colleagues will be celebrated through coffee mornings and ‘feel good moments’ across our estate, and through our International Women’s Day Awards Programme. It was wonderful to see 188 nominations made for colleagues across the globe; 188 unique stories of women at ARI who are inspiring others, who are innovators, who are experts and who choose to challenge, every day.

These women are influencers and leaders in our business and the volume and quality of nominations is undeniable proof of the hugely positive impact that they make, every day.

What can employers, and indeed women themselves, do to encourage more females into senior roles?

Great question, and it is one the ARI Executive team has spent much time discussing. We have identified enhanced diversity and inclusion in leadership roles as a priority for our business and have recently appointed an Executive Sponsor for diversity and inclusion. We are excited about the progress we can make in this area in the months ahead.

Two areas of focus for 2021 are the roll out of mentoring and coaching programmes globally. We will soon launch a global mentoring programme to encourage and empower colleagues to develop their careers in ARI.

Personally, I feel that mentoring is a great opportunity for women to support other women; it is a great way to build networks and I have seen huge benefits of it throughout my career, both as a mentor and a mentee. I would encourage women to seek out a strong mentor, someone that they can connect and be open with. We can empower each other simply by taking this valuable time out.

We have developed and delivered a number of coaching supports for leaders at ARI, ranging from masterclasses and support toolkits to audio and e-books. We also offer one-to-one development coaching sessions for all colleagues. So, there is a lot of support for female (and indeed male) colleagues who wish to progress their career at ARI.

This year International Women’s Day has a #ChoosetoChallenge theme. What do you choose to challenge?

This year I #ChoosetoChallenge myself. I challenge myself in my role as CPO to push boundaries and do things a little differently; to open doors for women that will help empower them to really believe in their potential and act on it.

Each and every female who works at ARI makes an incredible contribution to our business. I want them to feel inspired by the opportunities and rewards that we can offer.

UN Women, the United Nation’s entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, has its own IWD theme this year: Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

How has the pandemic changed the role of women in business and, of course, particularly in travel retail? And what positive aspects could guarantee improvements in the future?

UN Women celebrates the efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic [Photo credit: UN Women/Yihui Yuan]

The pandemic has created a hugely challenging environment for many. We have seen people adapt in how they work, adopting flexible practices and working from home, and balancing family responsibilities alongside this, in a way we had not experienced before. This has been a challenge for all, but particularly for women in many cases.

Across ARI there has been many examples of women rising to the challenges we have faced and leading the way in our recovery, demonstrating great resilience and adaptability.

As a business, we are cognisant that we need to minimise the impacts that COVID-19 may have on our efforts to create a more diverse workplace. We are very conscious of the need to listen to women in our business and understand the supports that they need to be successful.

We have seen many examples over the last year of strong female leaders in our business, who have led and supported their teams through an incredibly difficult year. We are lucky to have these positive role models in our business who inspire and encourage women to continue to grow and develop their careers with ARI.

And a few words of advice for women considering careers in travel retail?

If you thrive on fast pace, working with talented and passionate colleagues and love retail, there is no better industry for you. This is retail on a global stage.

#ChoosetoChallenge: ARI Chief People Officer Siobhán Griffin on International Women’s Day and doing things differently