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Stella, Head of Pensions and Benefits, shares her inspiring career story

Posted by Abeera Alam
Posting date:5/28/2021 3:28 PM
Going from success to success inside Atkins

Meet Stella, one of our inspiring female leaders at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group. Over the last few months, her team has been transforming our pension arrangements. As part of her activities, she's reached out to the industry, speaking at webinars for the Pension and Lifetime Savings Association. It didn't take long for Stella's talent to gain attention and get her nominated for 2021's Women in Pensions Awards.

"I always volunteer to go first. It isn't that I have anything more to say than anyone else, but it gets it out of the way and gives other people the time to think."

How did you come to be at Atkins?

I joined Atkins in 2013 as Head of Pensions after being contacted by one of the Atkins team. I was comfortable and content at the time, having successfully improved my previous employer's pensions and benefits situation. The role at Atkins was a sideways opportunity for a larger organization. 

Two years later, I was promoted to Head of Pensions and Benefits. And now I head up the team supporting, developing and delivering our corporate pension and employee benefits strategy for the UK and Europe Region.

How has the company supported your changing needs over your seven years with us?

I'd just had my two sons when I joined the organization. My husband took responsibility for the school runs. Atkins gave me the flexibility to deliver my job and support my family. That has included being able to buy and sell days of leave.

My biggest personal challenge has been eldercare. Atkins gave me the flexibility to work at other locations and from home, which has been invaluable to fitting in with my parents' needs. I've also made use of the Employee Assistance Programme when I've struggled with the changes to my family.

"Atkins has a forward-thinking attitude that values the women it employs and policies that support flexibility. So, everyone can have a work/life balance that's right for them and the company."

What have been some of your successes at Atkins?

I've influenced and driven significant changes to our pension and benefits arrangements. These include actuarial valuation funding agreements between the company and trustees, changes to our investment strategies, the implementing flexible benefits and replacement of providers, re-outsourcing our pensions administration, supporting the organization through bids, and Atkins' acquisition by SNC-Lavalin. I'm proud to have played a key part with my team in delivering each of those successfully.

What has been the key to your achievements?

My career has been built on opportunities. I've moved from pensions and managed share schemes. I've taken part in a project to redesign HR, and I've run payroll. I've joined a larger employer and chaired its Health and Wellbeing Steering Committee. 

"Take every opportunity that comes your way. Or create them within your team. If you have a good skill base, you can adapt to any new role. Remember those around you want you to succeed. Take the chance."

What do you love about being at Atkins?

What keeps me at Atkins is the challenge. Be clear, this organization never stands still. I highly value the code of conduct that it has and the quality and calibre of our employees, especially my team. I also have pride in what the broader organization does.

"I appreciate the continual learning I have here."

What are some of your goals for the future?

Whatever we do, our objectives should be to be happy, enjoy our work and be successful. It's down to you to determine how you measure that success. I am, by nature, caring and a giver. This is reflected in my work and my drive to continuously improve the pensions and benefits that we offer. 

"I thrive on delivering objectives that I can value and believe in as good for the employees and company."

Short-term, my aim is for our team to be recognized for what we do, how we support the employees within our organization and that we deliver! I'm really proud of the change we've made to our pensions this year, including expanding our financial wellbeing initiatives.  

Long-term, my professional goals tie in with Atkins' pension legacy, i.e. the operation of our pension arrangements. I will keep learning about the industry that I'm in and the changes that the government and environment bring, managing down the significant liabilities that run under our pension arrangements and developing our benefits and wellbeing opportunities in Europe and with my global colleagues. 

How has Atkins supported you to follow your interests?

When I joined Atkins, I had some clear objectives for the longer term. I've shared that vision with the management team around me. They have listened to my views, challenged me to substantiate them and supported me to deliver. 

One of those objectives has come to fruition only in this current year: consolidating our defined contribution arrangements; others around funding are still in progress. "Pensions" is a long game – like some of our engineering and design projects!

How much I develop within the organization has always been up to me. There's a wealth of learning and development freely available and support for courses and specialized training, including professional qualifications.

"I've benefited from a personal coach over this last year to help me continue to grow and define my path."

My colleagues supported me generously when I did my tandem jump for Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care. And I've used my volunteer days to support the local community. One of my passions is supporting financial wellbeing with Christians against Poverty.

Why is gender diversity so important to your sector?

Diversity is essential, and not just gender. The Trustee board of the Atkins Pension Plan is comprised of six individuals, three men and three women aged between 40 and 70. Each member brings a different range of specialisms: accounting, change management, strategy, investment, business leadership and governance. We have constructive discussions and reach a consensus in making decisions. Everyone has their own view, and blending our various ideas builds better solutions.  

"Atkins applies itself to making the organization a great employer for our diverse population. I don't think this is a great employer just for women, but for everyone."

How do you set out to be a role model to younger women?

I take an active interest in those around me. One of the things I learnt with my boys was to catch them doing something good or well. The power of positive reinforcement is immense, and not everyone is great at saying thank you or calling out excellent work or behaviour. It isn't easy to remember to do that when you are having a bad day, but it makes such a difference!

"Whether you can or you can't is your decision. So many fabulous women find they can't because lack of confidence gets in the way. I think you CAN. The opportunity and support at Atkins make it likely that you WILL!"

I take pride in what I do and think that my enthusiasm and example help those learning and growing in our organization. I want to be honest about my journey because we all have our own challenges. It’s essential to make sure that those around you realize that it's not all plain sailing. It's also okay to make mistakes and share what you've learnt from them.

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