Posted on 25 Mar 21bySheri Pepper
Melanie Wise is Vice President of Human Resources for Nelson and Higher Growth Search. She joined the organization in June 2019 and has an over 22-year HR career in multiple industries. Her background includes supporting operations across the United States and Puerto Rico and partnering with global HR teams handling employees in China and Canada.
Who is a woman role model for your professional life and why?
My mother is a huge role model, both professionally and personally. She is a person of excellence who prides herself on doing the right thing. She’s in HR as well, so I essentially grew up in the HR world. My mom is a dedicated, loyal worker – she’s always working to do more, from figuring out better ways to onboard and motivate people to trying to get more done with the same output level.
She’s the oldest of 11 kids and grew up in business. My grandfather had an electrical contracting business, and he passed down a very positive work ethic. It was all about integrity, honesty, and lots of output. So my mother passed down to me the idea of being a committed, hard worker.
A role model of someone I don’t know personally but often think of is Maya Angelou. I read all of her books in high school. Most people know her for her poetry, but she also has biographies about where she came from, overcoming adversity, and blossoming like a beautiful flower – like the Phoenix rising up. I loved the messages in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Don’t let adversity hold you back. Adversity makes you stronger. And that’s what I want to help people do: make lemonade out of lemons!
How did you find your career first job?
I didn’t choose HR. HR chose me! In my late teens/early 20s, I started working at the local community hospital as a temp in the marketing department. When the marketing needs fizzled out, they passed me on to every other department: Finance, Nursing, QA, the new hospital project, and eventually part-time in HR while I pursued a college education and raised my twins.
After I obtained my degree, I was offered a full-time administrative assistant job for the Chief Administrative Officer. Although that opportunity was great, the pay and increases at the time were not sufficient to support my family. As a mother of two kids, I expected more.
I discussed those struggles with my mom, and like a true HR professional, she helped me find a more equitable opportunity, which I refer to as my first real HR job. In that role, our team did everything under the sun: recruiting, onboarding, employee development, risk, benefits, compensation, HRIS systems management, as well as payroll for two companies. That was the true beginning of my HR career and set a strong foundation for my path forward in HR.
How has your role changed over the past year, given the pandemic, social events, natural events/emergencies, etc.
HR in general has been impacted tremendously. In normal circumstances, HR professionals expect that regulations will change annually and during certain emergencies. However during the early phase of the pandemic, the requirements and rules were changing weekly and even daily in some cases. HR professionals, like myself, were taxed with navigating unchartered territory on a daily basis for months on end.
And in some cases, HR professionals were burdened with reduced resources while responsible for managing demands requiring immediate review, response and action. This past year presented an environment where many HR practitioners questioned their roles and how long they could maintain stability. Burnout has been real for HR teams, as it was an incredibly stressful time.
For our HR team however, the diamond that formed through the pandemic includes heightened team collaboration, increased flexibility, and an immediate agility that outpaced the highest standards. As a leader in this pandemic, it was easy to see the DNA of the company and culture very vividly. Strengths and weaknesses were highlighted and provided an opportunity to fast–track business partnerships and overcome some of the roadblocks formerly in place. Overall, I believe the pandemic has helped to further the importance of the HR function and its impact on the success of the business.
Since you began your career, what changes have occurred for women that excite you?
HR is a female-heavy function, so it’s exciting to see the field become more strategic and gain a true seat at the table. HR is now considered to be a consistent, critical function, as well as a strategic partner that can accelerate the business.
Technology has really impacted and shifted HR structure by providing more efficient ways to represent the value of HR. With those changes, women now have more opportunities to expand and advance within both HR and the larger organization. HR technology has provided a bridge for women moving from HR into other roles.
For example, the availability of robust and integrated HRIS/HRMS systems creates an environment where HR and technology teams are interconnected. The technology/HR crossover creates advancement opportunities for women and allows for expansion into roles that no longer have the traditional “people” focus.
What advice would you extend to another woman progressing through her career?
Never burn a bridge. Women already have some level of adversity in the workplace, so we need to maintain as many positive relationships as possible.
If you were to make a mark on history, what would that be?
Both professionally and personally, I want to help people feel positive and valued, and I want to deliver that at all times. When people feel heard, appreciated, and optimistic – and I can impact that – it makes me feel good.
What is something you would love to do if you had more time?
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