- 2 years ago
27 October 2021
A sense of belonging is really important to Bayer ANZ Human Resources Head Karina Raeburn, a trait that most likely traces back to her upbringing in an extended Latvian clan spread across a semi-rural area on Sydney’s northern outskirts.
Raeburn recalls an idyllic childhood growing up in a native plant nursery, her days spent “running through rows of plants and pots with my sisters and driving tractors”.
“I had this BMX Mongoose bike that I just loved. I used to drag it to the top of soil heaps every day after school and ride down,” she says.
“Our family was really big and really loud. Dad was one of six kids so when we all came together, it was about 45 people and being Eastern European, we all worked together and feasted. We ate Piragi, which are sweet bacon rolls, sauerkraut, and sweetbreads till we thought we would burst.”
Appointed as HR head for the Bayer ANZ Group in August, Raeburn had to tackle the challenge of a new senior leadership role overseeing a workforce of some 900 people in lockdown and now in plotting their path out, yet she sees the timing as a unique opportunity for Bayer leaders to reset how they lead just as employees reset how they work.
“We know for top talent there’s this strong ‘work from anywhere’ mindset, and roles are being opened up to work from any location,” she says.
“Factors such as flexibility, empowerment, accelerating new ways of working, those kinds of experiences that we can create for people and how we reimagine that employee experience is what will help us stand out from other multinationals.
“The way we work and live has changed for good and we have an opportunity to reset that experience and think about the culture we want to create in our organisation, so one of my priorities has been to partner with our leadership team and think about what unique and differentiated experiences we can offer.”
Family values and a thirst for learning
Family is clearly Raeburn’s touchstone, the people leader attributing her discipline and striving for excellence to her father and compassion and kindness to her mother. Along with a strong work ethic coupled with an innate thirst for learning, no one was surprised when she excelled at university and was quickly picked up by Macquarie Bank, known for attracting top talent.
Several years in Macquarie’s graduate program was followed by a role at what is now Herbert Smith Freehills, then KPMG, then over a decade at legal firm Baker McKenzie. It was during these years Raeburn married, had two children and grew to understand the importance of an organisation supporting its people through key milestones in their life while also allowing them to grow in their career.
She secured her first healthcare role as ANZ HR Partner for Bayer Pharmaceuticals in 2018 before adding the company’s consumer health and crop science divisions in August in her current senior leadership role.
“I’ve always had a passion and interest in healthcare but the last three and a half years was my first rodeo, so a pretty steep learning curve,” she says. “It’s been an amazing ride and an amazing journey.
“The work we do in pharma supporting and improving the lives of patients, it’s really meaningful, really impactful, and Bayer is doing amazing things to prevent and treat disease. When you add in how we look to feed the global human population, it is a really relevant, meaningful purpose, and why we show up every day.”
Tackling the post-Covid challenge
Managing 900 people at a time when companies face a growing talent shortage and employees are rethinking how they work is a challenge that would keep many leaders in Raeburn’s shoes up at night, but one where she sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Our employees are going to be open to new opportunities, so now more than ever we need to think about Bayer’s unique and differentiated offer to keep attracting and retaining the best,” she says.
“There is no doubt the talent market is really tight right now and we’re experiencing a post-pandemic war for talent. Now more than ever our culture is being tested.
“There’s never been a better time for leaders to step back and reflect on the journey the organisation is on and how we shape that to create the right environment for our people. It’s an exciting opportunity, a unique opportunity to reset the culture.”
Bayer’s leadership team initiated a process earlier this year to re-evaluate its culture, commencing with a survey asking employees what they most valued.
“Overwhelmingly, what we heard is that our people feel really loyal and committed to Bayer. They believe in our purpose,” she says proudly.
“We’ve got really engaged, smart, talented people and the number one thing they value right now is flexibility, so it’s important for us to continue to focus on that. But we also heard we can do a better job of empowering our teams, pushing decision-making down to the lower levels in the organisation, so there’s an opportunity for us to pivot the culture a little bit there.”
Bayer is also accelerating its workplace “reinvention” by experimenting with ideas such as ‘agile flex’ and digital working, exploring what the future of work will look like.
“We’re currently articulating the culture and the roadmap we are on, and it’s about being inspired, being empowered, being inclusive – that’s the culture we are aspiring to,” says Raeburn.
“I’m really passionate about building inclusive, diverse and flexible workplaces, and really passionate about people. People certainly come first at Bayer and I see my role as being here to create an environment in which people can bring their best selves to work and thrive.”
Like many people leaders, Raeburn sees the future of work as a blend of face-to-face and remote working, saying Bayer is empowering employees to determine what this looks like in conjunction with their leaders. But this is just one facet of what, in the end, is a much larger version of the extended family community in which Raeburn grew up – a community with a strong sense of place, and of belonging.
“A strong sense of community is important for me and when I stepped into this role, I was looking forward to driving and building that sense of community,” she says.
“My values were formed in those early years and continue to be the bedrock of my life today. It instilled in me a strong sense of belonging; I knew my tribe and knew I had a place.”