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From Day 1 in 1957 the family-run business Enterprise Rent-a-Car wanted to create a fantastic company culture. Listen to this podcast where Leslee O’Loughlin, their Group HR Manager talks to our Head of Learning Innovation, Eoin McDonnell, about how creating an inclusive environment has been key to Enterprise's global growth and success.


Eoin McDonnell  0:02 

Welcome, and thank you again for your time here today. Could you tell me a little about yourself and your role, please?


Leslee O'Loughlin  0:08 

Yes. Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to be here. So Leslee O'Loughlin is my name and I'm the group HR manager for Enterprise Holdings in the Republic of Ireland. That basically means that I'm responsible for all things relating to people and and really the employee lifecycle as it exists at Enterprise. So that really obviously starts with raising our profile and our brand in Ireland as an employer of choice and then finding, recruiting, engaging and retaining the best people.


Eoin 0:39 

So you have been at Enterprise for, I think, over two decades now, is that right? So something's obviously working out for you. They're like it's a good place for you to be. What is it about this company that keeps you so engaged?


Leslee  0:52 

Yes, two decades. That's correct. Thanks for pointing that one out!


Leslee  0:56 

To be really honest with you. I believe in the ethos and the values of this company and the fact that at Enterprise, we really weave those values into every fabric of our business. Within every business stream, every division, every department and every customer interaction across the globe. We are privileged to be part of a privately held company that is family-owned, where the values are driven from the top down.


Eoin  1:24 

Can I ask about that? Because I find, when we speak to some of our clients, and just people about employee engagement, sometimes we hear about a dissonance perhaps, or a gap between what is articulated and stated as the ethos and values and what have lived inside the company. So bridging that gap... is that something that's consciously being done by Enterprise? Or is it just natural and it happens?


Leslee  1:53 

Quite frankly, I think it's actively being done. But I think what really differentiates, in my opinion, Enterprise, maybe from other companies that the values are driven from the top down. So oftentimes, I think people in my role are in the position of feeling like they have to drive the values up, and maybe convince stakeholders that something like community engagement or diversity and inclusion should be central to the ethos of the company. However, I'm in the fortunate position of having my managing director and my senior executives asking me, what are we doing that represents the values of the company and how are we driving those values down throughout all aspects of the business right into the newest joiner in the company. I think that's one of the things that really separates us and it's it's quite unique because of the fact that we are family owned and those values have been driven both from the family from the very beginning. The company was established in 1957. And when Jeff Taylor established the company, he established those eight founding values and they live very strongly in our culture today.


Eoin  2:57 

So what is wonderful to me about that, as that as a very optimistic story is obviously those values, which are ethical and moral and nature have been in no way a blocker to commercial success and financial growth. It's they're not contradictory.


Leslee  3:11 

Yes, I hundred percent agree with that we are the world's largest transportation solution provider. And so it really does prove that incorporating values into the business doesn't inhibit success or growth in any way, shape, or form. In fact, it enhances it in our case.


Eoin  3:25 

This is just it's a wonderful story.


Leslee  3:27 

I like telling it.


Eoin  3:29 

So bring it back to you for a moment on what led you to a career in HR. Everybody arrives where they probably want to be for sort of a reason and an interest and a passion. I'm just curious to explore that.


Leslee  3:45 

Yeah, I suppose if you to ask me 22 years ago, when I joined Enterprise's Graduate Training Programme, which is how 99.9% of our senior management team start with the company they start entry level. If you had asked me if I was going to be an HR someday, I probably would never have said that. So it was it was quite 'accidentally on purpose' to be honest with you. So we promote 100% from within, which is also something that is quite central to our values. And I suppose, like a lot of Enterprise employees as I worked my way up, and I came in contact with different directors and managers who maybe saw specific talents in me, mentored me and encouraged me to move into different roles in my career. So I would have been Head of Sales at one stage, corporate sales, I would have been Head of Operations with, you know, 800 cars in my fleets and 60 people reporting to me, so I would have moved through different roles. And then somebody kind of tapped me on the shoulder and said, I think it'd be great for this. And this was Talent Acquisition in San Francisco. So I moved into Talent Acquisition. I was very successful at that for a few years and then an opportunity came up into head up HR here in Ireland. So I put my name in for it and interviewed for the position and was successful. So it's not really something that I would have identified as a career path for myself. It's just something that kind of came upon me at different stages in my career as I progressed. And again, luckily, Enterprise promotes from within and enabled me to kind of achieve something that really suits my skill set.


Eoin  5:20 

So your career, but what's interesting there to me is, you didn't come or initially train or study in HR. So you came into HR from the business. Do you feel that knowledge of operations, sales and other aspects of the business have benefited you? And your role in HR? What do you go back to serve those functions?


Leslee  5:39 

Yes, the answer to that is yes. 100%. So, one of the things that I truly love about Enterprise the one of the many things is that we really teach people how to run the business. So training programs internally are geared towards helping people progress to the next level of their career, whatever that may be. So no, I did not study HR in school. I actually studied English literature with the intent of going into Law. And when I came into Enterprise, they really taught me everything about people management, business management, sales, strategic sales planning, operations. So for me that really helped prepare me for the roles that I took on as I progressed within the company. When I became Head of Talent Acquisition, I really hadn't been in talent acquisition prior to that. But I had a lot of support a lot of mentoring a lot of training programs internally that helped me to build my career at that level.


Leslee  6:34 

When I came over to Ireland to Head of HR, I had absolutely no knowledge of employment law in Ireland, I had a lot to learn, still learning to be fair, but again, luckily Enterprise provides me with a lot of continued professional development externally and internally a lot of training to help me bridge any knowledge gaps I may have had and then obviously the ongoing support mentorship is always in place in Enterprise, so It's really helped me to build my successful career in that area here in Ireland.


Eoin  7:28 

So why is this widening opportunities for employment, important to you personally?


Leslee  7:57 

That's great question. For me, on a personal level, I'm extremely passionate always have been about equality inclusion. Regardless if it's an employment or if it's in another area of daily life, I just feel very strongly that people should be valued for their differences. And that everybody regardless of race, gender, religion, ability, I believe that everybody has something really unique and valuable to contribute to personally in my role, I love discovering the differences in our people, and how they can really enhance the business and the culture at Enterprise. So, for me, that's personally why I really feel that this is such an important topic.


Eoin  8:39 

and why should it be important to everybody else?


Leslee 8:41 

That's another great question. Well, again, from my perspective, if organizations want to stay relevant and innovative, in in, in what is obviously an increasingly complex and competitive employment market. Personally, I think employers need to be committed to casting a wider net. Not only that, but they might need to question and challenge their own internal policies and practices to ensure that they're implementing things like more agile working practices to ensure they have really good robust training programs in place to ensure that people really hear and understand the values of the company or the culture of the company, and live those values every day. So, so issues don't arise where people maybe don't feel valued or don't feel included in that culture. To me, I feel really strongly about that, probably because Enterprise does have very strong training practices to ensure that we are living the values every day.


Eoin 10:22 

So we're specifically talking about diversity and inclusion, which is a very broad net. But specifically about opportunities for people with disabilities to have equal access to job markers, and also how employers can access a broader talent market. Can you tell us about the current situation in Ireland?


Leslee  10:41 

So according to the 2016 census, 14% of Ireland's population have identified themselves as having a disability. And that's approximately one in seven. I think, from my perspective, as an as a graduate recruiter. You know, if you look at the statistics in third level institutions, there's about 9000 students in higher education in Ireland with a disability which is almost 5%. To me, that's critical mass. So there's a real large cohort of students in third level education, who are potentially being overlooked because of the fact that they have a disability. So, for me, I think it's really important that employers really learn to cast a wide net, and to be very inclusive because these are people who have incredible talents, incredible experiences, who have demonstrated amazing resilience throughout their lives or in their respective institutions. Sometimes, just accessing third level education, if you're a student with a disability can be very difficult. The Association of Higher Education Access Disability ( actively works in campaigns to ensure that concepts like universal design and learning are available for students in third level education so that they can maximize their education. So I think, for me, this is just a really important issue for employers to consider in terms of how are they going to access top talent, because 5% of the third level student body is a big number in my book, especially when you think about the competitive and complex, very robust employment market that we're currently operating in. I personally don't want to miss those students.


Eoin  12:17 

So I find the numbers are very compelling. So I haven't heard this before... 14%... 5%... Those are significant.


Leslee  12:23 

Yeah, so it's very significant. There was some recent coverage in the press where they buy a key disability focused organization in Ireland that identified that two out of every three people with a disability are unemployed in Ireland, which means that they're caught in a in a permanent recession, despite again, the employment, the buoyant employment market. So that's still a huge area of opportunity for us. I think, if you look at some of the different areas of disability, statistically, I think it's 87% of visually impaired or blind people are unemployed in Ireland. Now I've employed people with visual impairments and the opportunities and the talent that you can tap into is phenomenal. And so I think that there's another opportunity for people to really rethink how they're recruiting and and how they're obtaining talent. It is still a huge area of opportunity for us as employers in terms of tapping into talent.


Eoin  13:23 

There were really interesting points there. something specific there, you said was about the buoyant economy. And Ireland is at an interesting point right now. So we hear about a much publicized global talent crisis. Research from the CIPD states that 81% of companies are suffering from skill shortages. And here in Ireland, we see a return to pre-recession levels of demand for talent across all sectors. That economic growth is fantastic but unsustainable if it cannot be supported by skilled workers. So finding new talent is a challenge but, as you've said, we're missing out on significant part of the pool. Do you experience this challenge yourself infinding new talent in a relatively small but highly competitive market like Ireland?


Leslee 14:08 

Absolutely, I think like most employers in Ireland today we are in the war for talent. It's interesting how I've seen the way employers are now kind of changing their recruitment practices, and I think, in some respects, trying to do more to capture more talent. So an example would be if I refer to Enterprise, we really do recruit from all disciplines. So I said earlier, I was an English Lit major, which has nothing to do with business but enterprise saw talent in me. Enterprise really doesn't care about degree or discipline. We don't really even care about degree results, to be honest with you, because we genuinely believe that we are going to teach you how to run the business we're going to it's kind of like the MBA I suppose without the IOU. That's what we refer to it as so. So I find that other employers who maybe would have been a little bit more historically prescriptive and how they recruit. So maybe only from specific disciplines or only specific degree classes have begun to kind of broaden their scope a little bit, and maybe begun competing more with me and that they're hiring people from other disciplines now as well, because they believe they can kind of bring them into the organization and develop the skills they need internally, which I think a lot of employers are learning to do now. So that's quite a unique approach that I think a lot of organizations are taking. But yeah, we are in the war for talent. And it's not even about just finding the right talent but now retaining that talent as well. Because as I think you're aware, people have a lot of choices now. So you want to make sure you're the right choice and that they continue to believe that you're the right choice once they're in the organization.


Eoin 15:46 

So you spoke there about employers looking for new strategies and methodologies to be able to widen their talent pools... looking to hire from different disciplines. Something you spoke about with great eloquence earlier was about widening the talent pool to people with disability to the 14% of potentially 14% of the market. So what's stopping employers from just doing this? What's blocking them?


Leslee 16:12 

I actually think it could be a combination of things. I think in some cases, it just could be lack of knowledge, lack of awareness. Before I really started on this journey with Enterprise, where we actively recruited and hired people with disabilities, for example, I wasn't really aware of some of the support systems that are out there. There's a lot of supports that employers can access, whether it's funding for, you know, a workplace adaptation, whether it's funding for a wage subsidy scheme. There's also organizations like the Association of Higher Education Access and Disability. They've been an operating in Ireland for 30 years now. And they're an organization that I cannot speak highly enough of because of the support that they've provided Enterprise, the needs assessments that they facilitate, the true partnership and just the genuine care that they have in terms of ensuring that people with disabilities have access to education and to employment. So they've really helped us and supported us on our journey over the last 8 to 10 years in that area. So I think sometimes also, it could be potentially that people are a little bit paralyzed by their own processes, in terms of, you know, being open and willing to make adaptations to their recruitment processes to ensure that they are not screening people out before they even get into the interview, which can happen it can that can happen just by how you post the job, for example. And then once you've posted the job, if you manage to attract the right people, then potentially your screening process could be designed, consciously or unconsciously, to screen people out of that process. So I think there's a lot of things that could impact why employers maybe aren't effectively recruiting talent in people with disabilities.


Eoin 17:58 

I sometimes find that adherence to processes driven by anxiety, and perhaps an anxiety about being held accountable as to what might happen, what might go wrong, if you veer outside of the process. So it's perhaps a fear about personal accountability?


Leslee  18:28 

I certainly suppose that could be the case. And I think again, when we started this journey, I probably would have been very careful to you know, reach out to senior managers and, you know, I suppose ask permission rather than forgiveness, so to speak. But to be honest with you, I think it's just a case of, you know, being open to trying new things. Being consultative with people who are in the interview process. Sometimes it's really simple adaptations that you need to make to an interview process because quite frankly, one size does not fit all - one size fits one. And I think, you know, just really being open and listening and asking the right questions to ensure that you're sometimes people maybe don't even realize that their processes are, you know, are designed consciously or unconsciously to screen people out and enter the now the scope of the talent that they're going to attract or to recruit. So any personal accountability, I think it's true for all of us. But I think also that, to me, that also is cultural. You know, if, again, I would I would reiterate that I feel quite lucky to work an organization where diversity and inclusion and the expectation that we're hiring a diverse group of people to create a culturally aware workforce is that's message really comes from the top down


Eoin 20:01 

Is Ireland very different from other countries? So the United Kingdom support for people with disabilities has gained all the press attention recently, the support there appears to be more mature and easier to access. Is that is that a reasonable perception? Or is that just my displaying my own ignorance of what's available?


Leslee 20:17 

I do think Ireland has some great supports and programs in place. For example, there's the Workplace Adaptation Grant, which Enterprise has used when hiring people with disabilities, and we've used it quite successfully. I think probably employers don't always know how to access that grant. And I think maybe the information isn't widely publicized, but I've used it several times. There's also programs like the wage subsidy scheme. You know, the government introduced the Make Work Pay Policy, which was introduced to allow people with disabilities to retain their benefits while taking up employment. Is there work that we still need to do in Ireland around things like infrastructures and universal design? Absolutely. I don't really have any experience in the UK. I know my colleagues and co workers in the UK, have done a great job at successfully recruiting people with disabilities, and even more importantly, retaining people who have developed disabilities in our business, which will happen a lot as well. So, but I do think there's, I think Ireland is moving forward. And I think we have some really great programs and some great supports for employers who are looking to engage this way. But I think sometimes it's just a lack of awareness and a lack of knowledge of what what is out there and how to access those funding. So


Eoin  21:35 

I think that's a really interesting point for anybody listening to this might be looking for a first step like what get over that lack of awareness. What would you suggest is sort of the first step for somebody listening to this and they, they go to Google and they're looking for what to do next? What is their first step?


Leslee 21:50 

Well, personally, I think when we started this journey about 10 years ago, I think, find the right partners. Who will help you and support you? Again, I refer back to AHEAD. They have been a great partner for us over the last 10 years. And quite frankly, you know, as a graduate recruiter, if I have a question, or if I'm, I'm looking to recruit somebody who has a disability, and I need to be sure that I'm doing it the right way for that person, then I will, obviously consult with the person but then I'll reach out to AHEAD. I also think it's very important for companies to look internally at anything from their culture. Is there a culture conducive to a truly inclusive environment? Do they have the right training practices in place? Do they have the right level of awareness? Do they have, I suppose, top down support, so they're not pushing a boulder up the hill when they're trying to hire people with disabilities? I think that they need to look at anything from how they post a job. You sometimes will read a job posting, and it seems almost designed to screen people out and just the way it's advertised. So I think how they're posting opportunities and then their hiring managers, you know, what, how how well trained or their hiring managers? Are there higher minute hiring managers thinking about inclusion, hiring for talent and diversity. So I think starting internally at your own practices would be key and then making sure that you have the right resources. Now, if you go on to AHEAD’s website, they'll actually direct you there's a link on how to access some of these, you know, these wage subsidy and workplace adaptation schemes. In fact, that's how I found how to help them and was able to make use of them. So but i think you know, culture, you know, your own job postings, your own hire, advertising the role, how you're running your own recruitment practices, is really going to be key to this process. That's a big first step that most employers probably need to take.


Eoin 23:49 

Thank you. And can I ask you, if we will, for you sort of flip over to the candidate for a moment, is there any challenge to candidates and given the uncertainty employers feel and as you highlight and perhaps There's a lack of awareness or training that the hiring managers might have two candidates feel any anxiety or even perhaps cynicism?


Leslee  24:09 

I think that's a very real possibility. And certainly I've experienced that from my own candidates in the past. You know, one of the big things that always comes up when you are recruiting a candidate with a disability is the is the topic of disclosure. So, and for a candidate with a disability, it's always a question, and it's always one I get from the candidates themselves, of who do I disclose to and when do I disclose? And do I need to disclose my disability and that can create a significant level of fear and anxiety in a candidate because they might believe that if I if I disclose my disability to the employer, is that going to then be what screens me out of this interview process? So and that can create a lot of fear for a candidate. So and then also just you have candidates with disabilities who haven't Really enjoyed the luxury of being employed during their school year or, and I'm not saying that everybody but in some cases, but specifically because of their disability, they may not have had the option to get work experience, I've certainly come across that in candidates that we've employed


Eoin 25:14 

And so they may not feel like their CV is going to go to the top of the pile. And that can create a level of anxiety and concern and, you know, a lot of employers talk about confidence in a candidate and confidence, I think is born from experience. And if somebody doesn't have the experience of being in a workplace and, you know, learning to, you know, navigate the complex political structure of sometimes in a work environment, and they don't really have those experiences and can also present challenges for them when they do access employment.


Leslee  25:44 

So it's not just about being able to access employment. Sometimes it's being able to be successful once you've entered employment, not just getting the first step on the rung of the ladder, but being able to successfully climb the ladder along with your colleagues and coworkers because maybe you don't have the experience of working in a in a professional environment in the past so you're just really learning that now.


Eoin  26:05 

I think it's something we can all relate to perhaps for we've all had that sort of worry when we've gone father our first job more years ago that I would care to admit or change roles or change disciplines and you are very conscious, you may have measure up against other candidates with the same level of experience. And then that worry and anxiety undermines your confidence, which indeed, on undermines, your employability, perhaps, and that becomes quite a negative circle. Which one is hard to break out of?


Leslee  26:36 

Absolutely. And then there's potentially the stigma that somebody might be facing if they feel like they have to ask for time off potentially. So, you know, there's the whole issue with you know, maybe I need an accommodation for me is that I need to attend a medical appointment every so often. Now, I feel like I have to ask for that from my employer. What's their perception of that? That can create a level of anxiety for somebody who really wants to come in and make a great first impression.


Eoin  27:06 

So something I've done, we're in this conversation is focused on to the challenges and problems, I think that's useful to pop the conversation about solutions and what one can do, but I'm conscious that it can paint quite a negative picture. So as we're coming to a close, can I ask you just to share a few real success stories are aware of?


Leslee 27:31 

Well, I can absolutely share success stories that we've had in our own organization. So I'm a certified diversity trainer within Enterprise. I would train our management team every year on Enterprise's culture of diversity and inclusion and why it's important and why it matters. And when I had done this training in the past, maybe eight years ago, for example, I would find that My own employees might be very had kind of that negative approach to disability in the workplace, for example, where they perhaps just didn't see how we could make our environment conducive to employing people with disabilities, probably because we were only starting this journey in Ireland's eight years ago, eight to 10 years ago. And since then, we've had some great success stories of you know, hiring wheelchair users, I've hired people who are I hired a woman who was was blind and completely adapted our technology for her and was able to successfully and get workplace grants for that. We've taken our buildings and completely restructured them to be accessible for a wheelchair user who we hired in the business. And suddenly, when I'm doing training Now, those barriers, those negative thoughts have completely gone away. And I've seen my management team, I see this real optimism about you know, what we can do and how we can do it and it's become a actually quite mainstream to, you know, have a blind person working in a business where we never had a blind person before, and to have you know, wheelchair users working in the business. So it just becomes Derek's a normal, which in this context is to me is great because they don't see barriers anymore. They see opportunity.


Eoin  29:18 

And I think that's a fantastic story to tell.


Eoin  29:21 

So Leslee, I'd like to just thank you for your time today. It's been really interesting for me and a lot of things there that I just was not aware of so it's been an eye opener for me. I'm sure it will be if anybody listening live Thank you especially for ending on such a positive optimistic note that not only is there room for change, but also such positive change has happened. And has now, as you say, become the norm.


Leslee  29:58 

Thanks very much, Eoin. It was a pleasure being here and I really enjoyed the conversation.