Rachel Huggins is an established consultant at Audeliss and a vocal brand ambassador for race representation; driving through the importance of having diverse representation in boards and companies. This year, she will be taking a step into a brand new role at Audeliss – Head of Race Representation, a first such role within the UK recruitment industry. In this interview, we chat with Rachel about her journey so far, and the importance of a role dedicated to representation.
Rachel’s own journey was shaped by many strong women in her life; from her nan who came to the UK as part of the windrush generation; to her mum, who enrolled her in a school in Lichfield to give her the best opportunity she could; to her Psychology teacher in Sixth Form, Mrs Brown, who inspired her to go to university; and to her colleagues and leaders who pushed Rachel to be herself.
Starting her career in recruitment, Rachel worked with Sam Silva, a woman of Sri Lankan heritage who showed her the value of having a drive to succeed, ‘That was amazing to see quite early on in my career because I hadn’t really seen that within a professional work environment, and especially from a woman of colour.’
However, the biggest influence on her approach to recruitment came when Rachel moved to work under Kate Barron who was establishing and growing her own executive search company. In Rachel’s words, Kate created the “Rachel 2.0”, ‘She was just this inspiring female who was very driven, very knowledgeable, and really taught me the art that goes into recruitment; the relationship building that goes into it and how to use my psychology background […] This is the person who had basically shaped me, empowered me every day, and was just a phenomenal leader.’
“I always want to give candidates a lasting impact of how I made them feel and how I’ve empowered them. Especially when I’m talking to candidates who look like me.”
In 2020, Rachel joined Audeliss’ as a Delivery Consultant to help level the playing field for diverse leaders within executive and board appointments. ‘Joining Audeliss has definitely been a highlight. When I think about my career, everything has built to this; my personal passions and experiences, combined with my trajectory and slowly finding my voice. And now they’ve magically collided.’
What Rachel enjoys most about working at Audeliss has been the conversations with clients and the relationships she builds with candidates, ‘Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I always want to give candidates a lasting impact of how I made them feel and how I’ve empowered them. Especially when I’m talking to candidates who look like me.’
When asked to reflect how her lived experiences helped her get to where she is today, Rachel has chalked that up to two main things: having strong female leaders and being a mother.
‘Having so many strong female leaders like Sam, Kate, and Anja (Audeliss’ Managing Director) has definitely shaped me. Kate empowered me to be me; I used to have long black hair extensions, and I remember going to her and saying, “I’m thinking that I might take out my hair extensions and have my own hair out”. And she’s like, “That’s amazing!” What she didn’t know was that I was actually seeking her permission to have my natural hair. Because if she said no, I wouldn’t have done it.’
Being a mother, Rachel can see what could happen to her daughter’s future, having lived it herself, ‘My mum told me when I went to school, “you have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” And it’s true!’. By finding her voice throughout her journey and surrounding herself with women who encouraged her to grow, Rachel has helped lead the change she wants to see for her daughter. ‘It was only when I joined Audeliss that for the first time, in 12 years of recruitment, I’d been in a room where the hiring manager looks like me – that had never happened before.’
Reflecting on her personal experiences, Rachel explains, ‘I will always share my personal story, I have no shame in it whatsoever. I’m so proud of where I’ve started and where I am now. I think that human connection is important because we are working with people who have emotions, and that’s an important factor to remember. So I’ll always bring my full self.’
“By breaking those barriers and presenting candidates who are doing the work that they’re looking for, we’re going to drive that change.”
Rachel’s personal and professional experiences have culminated into her new role for Audeliss and the UK recruitment market, which she will be stepping into in April: Head of Race Representation. This role will guarantee that ethnically diverse candidates have a representative who will ensure that they are being put forward and have their voices elevated, and making sure clients are getting race representation at their most senior level.
As a Head of Race Representation, Rachel will lead the way to greater representation in Executive and Non-Executive boards in FTSE-listed businesses and private sector organisations. She hopes that whenever a candidate of colour gets interviewed, they are seeing themselves reflected. ‘That’s the goal, to see the representation so that when I was 11, looking at these organisations thinking, “what am I going to be when I grow up?” I can go on to a website and I can see somebody who looks like me.’
Many companies have set targets on diverse talent hiring, and Rachel is ready to test them, ‘I’m only going to work with organisations who have done the work and who’ve made sure that they’re not hiring somebody from a tokenistic perspective – I’m not interested in that whatsoever.’ In this role, Rachel will challenge how companies think, ‘We know that there are so many candidates with great experience, but do they need to have a 2:1 from a redbrick university? Because they’re going to reduce the diversity there. By breaking those barriers and presenting candidates who are doing the work that they’re looking for, we’re going to drive that change.”
Speaking on the importance of the Head of Race Representation, Rachel says, ‘I think about my own experience, and to know that there is somebody out there specifically who has your back, who understands the challenges and the biases that you’ve been through, that’s really important’.
‘Everybody deserves a cheerleader, but we know that ethnically diverse candidates probably don’t have as many cheerleaders as they need. I can be that person; I can impact change and I can ensure that when we look at an Executive and a Non-Executive board, that people can see themselves reflected, regardless of where they are in society from a social mobility and race perspective. Because representation matters, our stories matter.’