Kirsty Green-Mann, Head of CR, at Burges Salmon, tells us all about her career journey and experiences in the world of corporate social responsibility.

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
I’ve been working in the area of Corporate Responsibility / Sustainability for the last 12-years or so. This has been internationally and now with a more local remit as Head of CR for the law firm Burges Salmon. There are a number of things I really enjoy about this area of work which includes: the breadth and interconnectivity of issues which provides a level of intellectual challenge; the range of stakeholders with whom to engage and account for both internally and externally; the level of freedom I have in my role as I provide the thought leadership around the agenda; and, having the privilege of being in a position to help others and to work towards more positive outcomes in the workplace, the community and for the environment. It’s not without its challenges though. Managing a large number of stakeholders is not always easy and it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time. The role also takes resilience or what some may call ‘bloody mindedness’ to push things forward when it’s not always viewed as a priority.

Provide a brief overview of the path that took you to this job – including education, training, internships, any positions that were particularly significant; any shifts in direction.
My career path hasn’t been straight forward but I’ve always been driven and ready to step up to new challenges and opportunities. People often tell me they see me as ‘strong’. I initially studied Mining Engineering at the University of Nottingham and after working for a year as a computer programmer I completed a MSc in Minerals Resources Engineering and Management. On the back of my MSc I was lucky enough to be selected to complete a 3-month work placement working up to 2-miles underground in gold mine. This was a fantastic experience as back in 1998 this was after apartheid had come to an end and the country was full of hope. I learnt a lot not only underground but from my fellow South African trainees who were truly representative of the South African ‘Rainbow Nation’. I also came up against overt race discrimination and what it meant to live in a country with severe wealth disparity and the threat of violence.

What unexpected turns have you faced in your career?
I returned to the UK and took a temporary job whilst I looked for work and was sent to Imperial Tobacco. I never thought I would work for a tobacco company but whilst the woes of tobacco are well known I could see the company was well run, took the challenging issues seriously and had bright and engaging people. I was reassured by health warnings and international marketing standards that were in place for sales globally and that whilst demand existed it was a choice that society had made to keep tobacco legal and heavily regulated.

What skills and experiences led you to your current role?  
I progressed through a series of roles and sought the opportunity to develop and be involved with different projects. I gained experience in technical engineering, product development, process improvement, project management, change management, quality systems management, corporate affairs, ethics and integrity and leading and delivering on global strategy for corporate responsibility. I also completed a MBA over two years at the Cranfield School of Management in 2003. I think having studied Mining Engineering and worked underground in South Africa, I wasn’t put off by the macho manufacturing culture and didn’t get flustered by whatever was thrown at me.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I also delivered a compliance project for anti-illicit trade under an EU Cooperation agreement and lead on the Business and Human Rights agenda most notably as Vice-President for the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation. I feel grateful for all the opportunities I was given, the support of my various line managers and mentors, the range of work and the opportunity to visit and work in many places around the world.

When the opportunity for redundancy came in early 2018 I thought it was time for a change and to pursue a new role outside of the industry where I could make a positive difference with less negative connotations. I enjoyed taking 6-months off to get involved with some not-for-profit organisations in Bristol including Unseen to work against Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking before joining Burges Salmon.

What do you enjoy most about your current role?
With my role at Burges Salmon I am learning new topics and making new contacts particularly in the areas of social mobility, education, diversity and inclusion. I’m also enjoying taking forward a new strategy based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
I think getting on in a career is a combination of drive, ability, having the right contacts and not being afraid to take a few risks. I think succeeding in the area of CR / Sustainability requires skills in the areas of influence, analysis and being able to build a persuasive offering that people can understand and buy-in to. Polite assertiveness is also a requirement – being able to say no and to quietly challenge peoples’ preconceptions.

Have I experienced unconscious bias in the work place? Over the past 20-years or so absolutely – and overt bias too. Undoubtedly I am also guilty of my own unconscious bias. I think it is great that so much work is being done to help people be more self-aware that increasingly diversity and talent is actively being pursued. I think at the end of the day we can’t change other people we can only change ourselves and when we face challenges we have choices how we react. We often have a choice for a negative to be a negative, to walk away or to push to turn that negative into a positive. Empathy and seeking to understand where people are coming from is also an asset but don’t be afraid to have your own boundaries.

And my final thought – change takes time – ‘persistence and patience’ is a good combination when it comes to making a difference in CR / Sustainability.

Kirsty Green-Mann is a one of our Catalyse Change mentors, currently supporting a young woman on her learning journey. She is also kindly hosting our next  at Burges-Salmon offices on 23rd January from 5-7pm.