We asked Karen Hernandez, Senior Executive at Enterprise Ireland to share with us some insights on her experiences and how she draws inspiration from the environment around her, role models she had during her careers, the best advice she received since Covid-19 hit the world, and what does the slogan “Choose to Challenge” mean to her.
Enterprise Ireland is the government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets. We work in partnership with Irish enterprises to help them start, grow, innovate and win export sales on global markets. In this way, we support sustainable economic growth, regional development and secure employment. Further details on the organisation and its services are available at www.enterprise-ireland.com.
Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?
Karen: For the past four years I’ve been working as a senior executive at Enterprise Ireland, leading the agency’s centre of excellence in organisational development to support SME growth and job creation. In this role, myself and my team regularly engage one-on-one with companies to support them to put in place the appropriate organisational structures, capability and HR processes to drive business growth. Prior to this role, I worked as a senior programme manager within Enterprise Ireland, designing and delivering development programmes to support client companies better innovate, increase export sales and scale effectively. Before joining Enterprise Ireland, almost 15 years ago, I worked in the banking sector, across several HR and business functions.
Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?
Karen: I’m one of those people who loves getting up early, before everyone in the house is awake. Since the pandemic started, I’ve continued to get up at my usual time, even though I’m working from home. I use this time to think, to reflect on the day ahead and to exercise. I run almost every day and I find it gives me the opportunity to think through challenges I’m facing at work and to create new ideas. Sometimes I just run in silence and let my thoughts flow and other times I listen to music or podcasts. I always return home with a renewed energy and motivation to face the day ahead.
Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?
Karen: I had a couple of very strong female managers when I worked in the banking industry. Even though I was quite young at the time they gave me the opportunity to work with and influence senior management early on in my career. This enabled me to find my unique voice within the workplace and have confidence in the value I bring to my role.
Voltedge: What is the best piece of advice you received since Covid-19 hit the world?
Karen: There are a couple of pieces of advice that have resonated with me and which have helped me through the ups and downs of the past 12 months. The first is to take each day at a time. I am, by nature, a planner and like to have my weeks and months mapped out in advance. However, we’re living in a very uncertain world at present and no-one knows what the coming months will bring. Although it was uncomfortable at first, I’m getting used to thinking and planning in terms of today and this week and not worrying too much about what I’ll be doing in 3 or 6 months’ time.
The second piece of advice is that it’s ok not to feel ok. This pandemic has impacted all of us in very unique ways and it’s hard not to have days when we’re feeling down. We need to all look out for family members or work colleagues who may be struggling and be there for them and provide whatever support they need.
Voltedge: Can you share with us 2 or 3 positives in your personal life that you have discovered during the pandemic?
Karen: One of the benefits that the pandemic has brought is that it’s opened up more time in my day to focus on personal and family activities. Although I find I’m working longer days because I’m not commuting, I still make time every morning to exercise and I try to get out of the house for a quick walk with the dog at lunch time.
Because a lot of the kids’ activities have been cancelled, we’re now spending more time together as a family during the evening time, whether that be having dinner together or a pizza and movie night at the weekend. Having this time as a family is incredibly special to me and it’ll be important to continue these activities as much as possible once we’re out of the pandemic.
Voltedge: In light of so much remote working and social distancing, what practices or approach have you taken to try to communicate and collaborate effectively during this time and to support employees?
Karen: As I’ve already mentioned, I’m conscious that this pandemic is affecting people in different ways and at different times. Regardless of the level of work I have, I try to stay in touch with my team and colleagues as much as possible, to check in with them as to how they’re doing on a daily basis and to be there for them if they’re having a difficult day.
During the first six months of remote working, I hosted a daily catch-up session with the wider team of 20 people – this was primarily a well-being initiative where we all caught up for 10 to 15 minutes and chatted about non-work activities. In hindsight, this was a really critical initiative as it brought us closer as a team and laid the foundations for how we all communicate now with each other as we continue to work remotely.
Voltedge: What does the slogan ‘Choose to Challenge’ mean to you?
Karen: To me the phrase ‘Choose to Challenge’ reminds me that I need to proactively look for opportunities to change and challenge things that I perceive as unfair, whether that be at work, at home or in my community. I truly believe that each one of us can make a difference and if we all take just one action to promote or to challenge inequality, we can have an incredible impact.
Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?
Karen: One of my favourite quotes is from Henry Ford who said ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right’. We can all easily find excuses and talk ourselves out of doing things that are hard. The truth is that we never know what we can achieve unless we try.
Having self-belief and picking ourselves up when we fail is so important. When I first started running ten years ago I struggled to run to the end of my road. I never imagined I’d be able to run 10km, let alone a half-marathon. Life is full of so many opportunities and I don’t want to look back on my life when I’m older regretting not having made the best of all that I could.