From the slums of Calcutta to Fidelity International, Ranjani Kearsley took the Inspirefest audience on a personal journey with an important message.
While we all have a part to play in shaping the future of work, it’s safe to say that those within HR leadership have particularly strong influence in how they can change the working world for the better.
Ranjani Kearsley is the head of HR at Fidelity International. When she stepped out on the Inspirefest stage, she shared a bit about her background and humble beginnings in Calcutta, noting that anyone who has seen Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire will get the idea.
She spoke about one of the first memories she has, from about six years old, when she was snatched by two men, almost put into the back of a car and taken away, most likely to be subject to some pretty sinister events out on the streets. Luckily, she was rescued from that fate.
“Two men wrestled me away, took a beating themselves to do so and took me back to my father, who had no idea where I had disappeared to. The actions and the kindness of complete strangers in the blink of an eye changed my life.”
Kearsley then went on to explain how her mother once brought her into an elite international school for expat children and asked why it didn’t have anyone from the local community studying there.
“I don’t remember much of this but, as the story goes, I was given a few exams and the head teacher, much to the consternation of the fee-paying, very rich, very elite parents, said: ‘Yeah, come on in, study at the school for free.’”
When it was Kearsley’s time to potentially go to university, she wrote a letter to the London School of Economics and said she would love to study there but couldn’t afford the fees. After some negotiations, the school agreed to pay her fees and contribute to her accommodation costs.
After that, the time came for Kearsley to find a job and, to a chuckling Inspirefest audience, she said: “You can see where this is going.”
So, in the absence of any HR internships on offer at Citi Group, she asked to work there anyway, creating a purpose and a job for herself, writing one of a number of policies that she believed the company was lacking.
“I did a three-month internship with them and they gave me a job … that year, Citi globally won the award for where women want to work all because the head of HR had said to a 21-year-old in 2003: ‘Come and write a policy for same-sex couples who want to adopt children and we currently don’t cater for them.’”
While Kearsley’s story might sound like a mixture of being brave enough to ask for things and a huge amount of luck, it’s actually not that simple. In fact, her message is not for those who can follow in her footsteps, but rather in the footsteps of those who made things happen for her.
“There are so many people out there, people like you, who can give people like me a choice and help us level the playing field,” she said.
She added that while there are some amazing people doing really great things to change the world, it’s not just up to them.
“In some small ways, each one of you sitting in the audience today can say yes to someone like me and change the world.”