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Conversations with the Inspiring Heather McCollum

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heather McCollum.

Heather, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m from Grand Rapids, MI and came to Atlanta to enroll at Spelman College in the mid-90s. I had a work study job in the career planning office and that’s where I learned about corporate recruiting. I was selected for an internship with JP Morgan in New York City and worked in the Central Recruiting office on Wall Street. That experience eventually led me to pursue a master’s degree in Labor & Industrial Relations at Cornell University. After grad school, I started a path in corporate HR where I specialized in leadership development programming, employee relations and diversity. But most of my career has been as the HR business partner to executives in various functions and for multiple companies. I was on the corporate path for 17 years, having moved from Connecticut to New York and California before returning to Atlanta six years ago. Now, I leverage my experience as a thought partner for small business owners who are planning to scale their emerging businesses. I also do what I call “coaching for the masses” to help non-executive employees interpret HR protocols and learn about what they should do to exercise control over their work-lives. My style is very informal and direct, and I believe that if we approach employment relationships differently, we can change the world of work for the better.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Working in corporate America for the last 17 years, it’s impossible to have had a “smooth road.” The landscape itself has been quite volatile. I can say that there were times the road was “paved” better than other times though or times where I had clearer visibility towards my destination and was better prepared. Major stumbling blocks for me had to do with communication style – especially as I moved around to various regions of the country and advanced from my student internships and entry-level jobs into my professional and leadership roles. I learned that giving and gifting direct feedback was not always the way to go. Some took offense to my style and I didn’t know how to pick up on the indirect feedback I was given by audiences who weren’t skilled at or didn’t have the time to give me direct feedback. I learned to “flex” my style and communicate with the needs of the audience in mind with the help of a coach and some other great leaders who were able to step in with the direction I needed.

My advice to other women, and especially younger ones, is to pursue your career like you would a cross-country trip that can last forever. Know that there will be bad weather or detours and that you may have stayed at lodgings that are less than ideal. However, the goal is to create a great experience and you always have control of where you decide to go and how you’re going to get there. I’d say to pack light and manage your budget, be nice to people – leave a good impression, and enjoy the ride! I give similar, but more detailed advice in my book- Work Like a Pro: Your Guide to Finding, Accepting & Starting a New Job.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Better HR story. Tell us more about the business.
I offer a different lens of HR management to emerging businesses – not simply executing the work of people management but helping small business leaders think about how employees fit into their strategic goals. I want to disrupt the notion that HR is a necessary evil and that doing all the “‘people stuff” boils down to payroll, legal and recruiting. HR, in large part, is a practice. And if you understand some key elements, you can build a strong and winning team that delivers profitability and efficiency. I want to be that thought partner- someone leaders trust to help shape their organizations.

On the employee side, I educate non-executive workers so that they have a better understanding of how to navigate their own careers. Too often, because of experiences with poor leadership and HR teams, employees suffer from work trauma. I want to show people the alternative. I’ll clarify the goals of a good HR management practice and help them create better employment experiences.

The approach of Better HR is to try to be exactly that- Better. But that means engaging with business owners who want to lead better and employees who want to work better. We are not for everybody. Joining the Better HR community is a partnership effort in finding solutions.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
From my perspective, the biggest barriers today in women’s leadership in the workplace are how women treat each other, the abuses we allow to go unchallenged in our midst, and how we have continued to regard the narrative of a male-centered work culture as the norm. I’m not talking about sexual harassment and the #metoo movement; I mean the instances where some women, in their plight to be accepted by a male majority, adopt the rhetoric and ideologies that disparately impact other women – women of color, in particular. These are women who are ok with the fact that no women of color have been invited to the higher ranks of a firm. Or women who snicker about the wardrobe choices (often very limited in options) of women with heavier bodies. They overlook the resumes of women with names that are “too ethnic” because “Sam won’t even want to bother trying to pronounce that.” They talk down to and belittle women who are less educated. They back-peddle when the Administrative Assistant wants to have lunch and discuss her career goals. Or they play up the stereotypes that men have historically ascribed to women who aren’t “leadership material.” In the most impactful ways, these women give license to keeping that glass ceiling firmly in place for other women they are complicit in victimizing. We simply don’t do enough to stand up fully in the power we have. It’s up to us to be courageous and change the discourse. We have to lead the effort and set different expectations about our work experiences and the leadership qualities we value.

Pricing:

  • Free enrollment for my online school: better-hr.teachable.com. Employers and employees can select applicable free and paid courses as they are published.
  • Custom consultation for businesses starts at $350. Businesses can make these requests via email: info@mybetterhr.com
  • Specialized workshops or speaking engagements for professional organizations and groups start at $500 and requests can be made via email: info@mybetterhr.com
  • My book, “Work Like a Pro: Your Guide to Finding, Accepting & Starting a New Job” is available in print for $20 (hardcover) or $10 (PDF) via blurb. com and $9.99 for the Kindle version via Amazon.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Nick Nelson, Tiffany Fitzgerald, LaDawna Barnes, Canva images

Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Glorie Sain

    January 13, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    Heather I am so proud of you. Your mom was my son’s school teacher. I have followed your journey for years. The sky has no limit for you, you have already landed among the stars. With all your greatness I ‘d like to know if marriage and starting a family is in your future? You have accomplished everything else.😊

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