Ilze Johnston – An Expert in Talent Acquisition Best Practice, Strategic Career Coaching as well as Corporate Diversity & Inclusion

The 10 Most Influential HR Executives to Watch in 2022

‘Success is a mindset not a title’, states Ilze Johnston, previously the Delivery & Diversity Leader of Honeywell Western Europe & Africa (Benelux, Germany, Austria, Southern & Northern Europe as well as Africa) and most recently, Global Process Improvement Specialist for Anglo American EMEA, APAC and LATAM. She currently has 15 years’ experience specializing in end-to-end niche market recruitment, onboarding, performance management, succession and workforce planning, retention, employee engagement as well as Diversity & Inclusion. At the age of 14, Ilze already had five jobs to earn pocket money and worked throughout her weekends at Careers24 while she was a full-time student for her degree, to earn experience and a little bit of cash to enjoy her student life. She was always open to doing anything that would expand her knowledge and her jobs ranged from a General Practitioner’s Assistant to an Administrator at a retail carpet shop. After her degree in Psychology and Communications, she started her career in Executive Recruitment. In this role, Ilze was able to analyze what decisions people make, or do not make, that make them successful. “Falling into this line of work by accident, spiked my interest in how people make choices that impact both their long-term success and levels of job satisfaction,” she says.

Dressing for Success

After completing her degree, she wasn’t 100% sure what she wanted to do next. Ilze went for an interview for an Administration role at the top Recruitment Agency in the country at the time. “I completely overdressed and over-prepared for the interview and ended up walking out with a job working for the Recruitment Agency as an Executive Search Consultant at the age of 21. This was a much more exciting and glamorous role than the initial position I interviewed for,” she says. The salary, with incentives, also paid out more than 5 times what the Administration job was offerering. That was almost 15 years’ ago and she is still learning about the industry as Talent Acquisition and Human Resource Management is constantly evolving. She believes that every person you meet could be a future client, colleague or advocate of your work. Building an authentic connection to people one comes into contact with, will open doors for you in the future and potential opportunities you never could have predicted. This is advice she would write down and fax to her younger self. In her last three jobs, Ilze was referred by someone in her network who knew her and thought she would be a great match for the role. “They were right each time!” she exclaims and gives all the credit to the time she spent building her network.

A Mindset for Sucess

Ilze’s first major career roadblock came when she felt ready to become a manager. She was a specialist for many years, highly proficient in her role and wanted to start managing and mentoring others. She says that she was told by an industry expert that she would not be able to become a manager because she was a white female which was not favourable in the South African market. “The memory of sitting in my car crying about the injustice is very fresh in my mind. However, sitting in my car that day, I realized that the only person that could hold me back was myself. Even though I was heartbroken, I realized that I took someone’s opinion and made it a fact. So, I wiped off my mascara and drove out of that parking lot, leaving behind that limiting belief, determined to reach my goal,” It was less than a year later that she was offered a very exciting opportunity to manage a team. Not only did she get her promotion, but she became the Head of Recruitment for the Johannesburg Stock Exchange which was one of her top employers of choice. “Whenever I doubt myself, I always think back on that day sitting in my car. There were two options in front of me: resolve myself to the fact that my fate was pre-determined by something outside of myself or create my own fate. The biggest fights you will ever have about the decisions you make on the journey to success will be with yourself,” Ilze explains. Along your journey, there will always be people giving you advice on what you can or cannot do. If you believe you can or cannot reach your career goal, you are right.

Preparing for Success

Starting her career in Executive Recruitment for the Commercial Sector, Ilze wanted her next

move to be something completely different. She chose to accept a position within Anglo American Platinum because she knew that mining would be a completely different world to what she was used to. She did not know anything about mining at the time so she asked one of their General Managers to take her down into his mine on a routine visit. They climbed into a shaft and slowly descended 1 km into the ground. “I thought I was going to die that day but it was totally worth it,” she says. There is nothing that can give you a better insight into the heart of the business than to get closer to the operations. That experience gave her a unique perspective of what is really involved in mining and how it relates to the strategy of the organisation. Her reputation and relationship with stakeholders grew so quickly after the experience that she was nominated by her clients for the AVUSA Awards as Recruitment Officer of the year 2011. “It was a great honour to receive this prize, but the biggest honour was creating a relationship of trust with my clients without a background in mining. This experience taught me that when joining a company, always take the time to understand the heart of the business,” she elucidates. You cannot be strategic, move up in a company or lead others if you do not understand intrinsically how the business works.

Redefining Success in Covid

Honeywell is the world’s largest manufacturer of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In 2020, when the world was fully hit with covid, Ilze was involved in a project where they had to triple the size and manufacturing of one of their most remote PPE factories globally. The factory changed all its lines to produce masks and she was part of the team that managed the resourcing of this project. They worked day and night and her kids would often ask for her attention. However, when she explained how her role fit into the bigger picture of the business i.e. hiring more people to produce more masks in order to save lives, her son and daughter understood why it was important to get the project completed as quickly as possible. “Similarly, I advised my friend who works for Multichoice (entertainment, tv industry) and has to work long hours, can now explain to her girls that Mommy puts cartoons on the tv for you to watch every day which has helped with her sense of guilt working long, strenuous hours. Knowing that Mommy puts cartoons on the tv every day makes for two more tolerant little people.” Linking one’s role and individual daily contribution to the overall strategy of the business and in doing so was able to not only motivate herself through an extremely stressful period but was also able to gain support from her own children to continue on her mission. She knew they really understood the importance of her role when they secretly worked together in the kitchen to make her a cup of coffee, which they had never done before. The coffee came with a note that read: ” Here you go Mommy. This is for your stressful day.”

After the project was completed, she and the project team were awarded the EMEA Resilience Award as part of Honeywell behaviors in Action. While an enormous recognition, for her the biggest win was the fact that her children understood, supported and encouraged her throughout the entire period. Often feeling like she was not doing enough as a mother, especially since she had to work long hours and spend less time with her children, their support and encouragement made the world’s difference.  “Covid may be an exception but this evidences the fact that when an employee is so fully connected to the strategy, direction and values of the business, that they will do anything to help the company be successful. And they will do so happily,” she says.

Ilze’s contribution in redefining the industry

In her role in Talent Acquisition and as a Career Coach, Ilze has the special privilege of hearing hundreds, if not thousands, of stories over the years of the key challenges that people face in their careers with job satisfaction and through these discussions has taken a specific interest in the area of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. “Over the last couple of years, I have focused on challenging the landscape of corporate to become more inclusive and diverse by encouraging discussions and education around minorities in the workplace as well as providing women, specifically, a platform to support, encourage and grow through the Lean In Philosophy of equality,” she says. You can read more about Lean In on Leanin.org.  Interestingly, people are most engaged and most productive when their unique differences are recognized. With this in mind, she was part of a team that successfully established Women’s Networks across several locations in Africa, as well as an External Women’s Network for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), leading to a recognition as one of the Top 50 Leading Ladies in 2021 for advocating gender diversity and inclusivity in the corporate sector.

Ilze has taken a specific interest in the development and promotion of women in STEM. With a partner from the industry, Reshma Lutchman (Commercial Head EMEA at CMC Networks), they built an external Women’s Network for STEM. The concept started over a few mimosas when they discussed the fact that it can be lonely to be a female in a technical industry.  There are very few networks for women in business to get together and share their unique challenges with likeminded peers. So they created Lean In Johannesburg STEM and had several successful and very uplifting networking breakfast events. At each event, they had a speaker on topics relevant to women in business, and an opportunity for each woman to share their own stories. “In sharing our own invidual stories and how we have separately overcome hurdles along the way, has been so uplifting and inspiring. It’s about realizing that you are not alone in the challenges you face as a woman in corporate; from imposter syndrome to guilt over not spending enough quality time with your family. This network has enabled women to meet, share, cry and grow together through our unique journeys to success.,” she says.

The next step is to build a larger network for professional women to gather together, share their experiences, partner up for support and encourage each other to sit at the big table with resources that enable them to do so. This is about the equivalent of a group of male colleagues that play golf together regularly and talk shop. If you are interested in surrounding yourself with like-minded women, exchange success stories and have access to resources for managing your health and wealth, as well as mentors who have paved the way in their individual industries, please reach out to the contact details at the end of the article.

Empowering Women to Succeed in Corporate

Sheryl Sandburg first identified the power behind women coming together in corporate, in her book and non-profit organisation ‘Lean In’. “In recognition of the fact that women grow in communities, I partnered with Helen Aracelli Reis (Life Coach, Wellness Expert & Leadership Development Coach) to form Integration Coaching & Consulting”. Ilze explains that Integration takes the concept of Lean In one step further by recognising that women require additional support in order to “integrate” into businesses successfully. This could mean something as simple as knowing that they are not alone in their challenges when joining a new team, all the way through to learning about how to manage their health by avoiding burnout and learning key skills around wealth such as career management, budgeting and investment opportunities. Integration provides a platform where professional women can learn from each other and grow skills required to succeed in corporate, at events and workshops relating to both their health and wealth. Managing these pillars can either lead to greater levels of job satisfaction and a feeling of success or do the opposite. “When women in corporate thrive, it benefits everyone. No matter what your challenges are, you do not have to face it on your own.” Invest in yourself in 2022. Take control of your health, wealth and success by joining an online or in-person networking event or workshop.

As a member of the Integration network, you will have access to networking events, workshops, one-on-one coaching balancing wellness and productivity through neuroscience and skills development as well as support to help you deal with setbacks, business integration, meeting your personal goals while removing limiting beliefs and thriving at work and home. 2022 Is your year to redefine success and thrive at work and home and you are not alone in your journey. If you are looking to join a network of like-minded corporate women or receive individual strategic career coaching sessions, please feel free to reach out to Ilze on ilze@IntegrationCC.co.za or LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ilze-johnston-2834b613