Hi-tech & high heels – Joanna Sposób

Joanna Sposób - Head of People
7 minutes read

Joanna Sposób, Head of People Operations at Polcode, shares insights about her HR career, and development opportunities in the IT industry.

You joined Polcode as a recruiter, later advancing to the roles of HR Business Partner – and now, Head of People Operations. What keeps you tied to one company for over 8 years?

Many incentives influence people to change jobs or stay in their current ones.

Nowadays, women and men tend to switch jobs on average about a dozen times throughout their lives, but of course, this figure is still fluctuating. The job market is becoming increasingly flexible each year, new professions keep on emerging, and our attitudes towards workplaces are also evolving. And mind you, we are not referring to Gen Z exclusively. Nevertheless, the most common reasons for changing jobs are still salary concerns, and the relationship with the employer.

When I joined Polcode, it was a company with a great potential - already successful, with a stable position on the market. Yet there was still plenty of room for growth and an open-minded we-do-things-our-own-way management.

Being someone with many strategic, visionary, and maximalist traits, these were ideal conditions for me to grow and flourish professionally. I could always be myself in this company. It often happens in my life that if everyone is learning the right, I am hanging out on the left. Weirdly enough, it works for me this way. Many times, I could have simply applied this to my initiatives in the company. But let’s be real, none of that would have been possible without a supervisor who simply understands who you are.

On top of that – freedom is an important word in my personal and professional dictionary. Here at Polcode, I have been given plenty of autonomy and empowerment in what I do. That freedom also manifests itself in the way we work and function together.

Thanks to the fact that we can work from virtually anywhere in the world, with flexible hours, I have never had to give up my personal plans because of work. Whenever my life changes 180 degrees, Polcode is that element that perfectly fits into a new reality. At the same time, I also enjoy taking a break in the middle of the day to go for a walk in the woods with my dog, whenever my schedule allows. Or to put in some extra hours on Tuesdays to wrap it up earlier on Friday afternoon. Here it is possible :)

Over time, we have formed an awesome team in People Operations. We know each other well, are aware of each other’s strengths, and we drive each other to succeed. We complement each other, but above all, we share a genuine affection for people and aspire to create a workplace where life is better than merely good.

As I reflect on many years of working together, it was fully accepted to march to one’s own drumbeat. Working alongside such exceptional individuals in a company where HR holds such a pivotal role in shaping its culture is truly wonderful. So, there are countless reasons why I continue to find joy in being a part of Polcode.

What skills are worth developing in the industry in roles other than programming? What in particular should one pay attention to (when working in IT, or planning to switch industries)?

Actually, I don't know if there is one simple answer to this question. It depends.

For me, communication is a crucial skill that helps us navigate through life and business. However, since we all differ, the need to develop specific skills is very individual-dependent. I have a T-shirt that reads: "The portal to the next level is through the parts of yourself that you avoid". We should learn to live in truth with ourselves, to explore those places inside us that might not always be comfortable.

Regardless of what roles we talk about, I would say that our way of thinking is flawed from the very start.

Work is reminiscent of making friends or finding love. The people we end up spending more time in life are those with whom we can truly be ourselves, without the need to conform. In most cases, we share a natural connection, and sparks just fly between us with no need to put up appearances.

Choosing a profession is no different.

Let's begin by discovering who we really are in that moment, what we are good at, what brings us joy, what our strengths are, and what we can accomplish. Only when we have a relatively good grasp of it, we can delve into exploring professions, roles, and workplaces that align with our potential. We can then go with the flow instead of struggling against the work-life current.

In today's world, mental health is becoming an increasingly important matter. How can leaders (and employers) take care of employee well-being?

"PERMA" is an acronym for five important elements affecting employee well-being in a company: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishments/achievements. In my view, HR teams and managers should act with these elements in mind to ensure that employees feel safe, comfortable, and satisfied with their work. However, it's no longer just about supporting employees in stressful situations anymore. We are facing a growing problem.

According to the WHO, 280 million people worldwide grapple with depression. In 2020, it stood as the second most prevalent disease, and by 2030, it may be the most widespread health challenge. It also affects children and teenagers, so those who will soon enter the workforce. In my role as an HR professional, I am also exposed to specialists who are burned out. It seems to me that the most common coping tactic among people is changing jobs – while it doesn't actually solve problems.

Well, okay. How can we deal with it then? More than ever, the world calls for compassionate leaders who are attentive to what might happen to their employees, open to talking it through, and committed to taking care of their mental health. When an employee needs time away from work, the approach should provide reassurance and convey that their role is waiting for them. Initiating genuine conversations about mental health and treating the subject with the gravity it deserves is extremely important.

A couple of months ago, Polcode started using a platform that provides high-quality psychological support around the clock - both to employees and their loved ones. Ensuring that employees have access to crisis interventions, personal development tools, and therapy is, in my opinion, a must-have these days. Additionally, our People team arranges many sports events throughout the year. Personally, swimming has been a great outlet to let go of difficult emotions on more than one occasion, and I can't imagine my life without it. Addressing depression is a significant concern, and employers can establish a supportive and encouraging environment for its treatment.

Also, the HR department should collaborate more closely than ever with executives, offering support to managers, providing them with training, and assisting in personal decision-making whenever necessary.

What do you think supports the enticement and retention of women in IT? How to support team diversity?

I have been in the IT industry for quite a few years and I have noticed some encouraging shifts toward gender equality during that time. Witnessing the increase in women in managerial roles, especially in my company but also globally, brings me a sense of pride. Polcode, in particular, boasts a significant number of women in senior positions, ranging from the Board of Directors to department Heads and Managers. Our Solutions Architect is a woman, and our project teams proudly include talented female developers, designers, and testers.

This field, however, still faces challenges. To make our industry more appealing to women, many factors must be considered, including the efforts taken by companies, society, and the women themselves.

First and foremost, we should ensure that recruitment processes are fair and free of bias, eliminating barriers that may discourage women from applying for IT jobs. Equal pay is another aspect that companies should take care of. To foster equality in the workplace, it is key to ensure that women and men with equivalent qualifications and experience are remunerated equally. The impact of additional social benefits, such as child care or professional development funding, as well as hourly or full-time flexibility, cannot be overlooked.

Education is another important factor. Offering mentorship programs in which experienced females share their know-how and experience with other women, facilitating workshops, training, or conferences that connect the community around technological matters. We need to continue and increase the reach of the school and university involvement in showing the opportunities in the IT market.

The last aspect I find important is encouraging women's success in IT, both within and outside the company. We are warriors! The champions of special tasks. Let's inspire and encourage each other to further women's careers in this field.

Based on your experience, what would you advise people who take on managerial/leadership roles in teams they previously worked in?

I found myself in a comparable position two years ago. The support and confidence I received from Polcode's Board of Directors and the team I now lead were instrumental. They are dedicated, fantastic people that are a pleasure to work with. If I said there were no difficulties and challenges, that would be a lie, but in my case, they were mainly operational. The changes were not only related to my new role but also to reorganizing everyone's responsibilities.

Nevertheless, no matter what kind of team we manage, regardless of whether we have managerial experience or not, it's worth being authentic – not focusing on how we present ourselves, and not building a false image of invincibility. The reason for this is that we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to validate our status.

Now is the era of receptive leaders, as I mentioned earlier. The emphasis should be put on helping the organizations grow. Humble, courageous, leaders, aware of their limitations, and curious enough to form sincere relationships with other people are the best and most flexible leaders in today's complex and uncertain world that requires agility and constant development.

What have you learned from the recession? What best practices or mistakes - your own or those of other companies - can you share?

Considering the area that falls into the scope of my responsibilities, I can certainly say that in difficult economic times, flexibility in employment forms and outsourcing are crucial. These components enable adaptation to shifting economic conditions without resorting to cutting jobs.

Despite the cost-cutting imperative - eliminating unnecessary expenses and optimizing business processes during a recession are essential - employers must not overlook the importance of investing in their employees.

Companies that maintain profitability while cutting costs are more resilient, but, in my opinion, we should be careful that the process doesn't put employee development at risk.

Last but not least is flexibility - by the way, this is also a Polcode value. I'm referring to both internal activities within an organization as well as diversifying a brand's offer or investing in innovation. A company with a complementary range of products or services can be more resilient to changes affecting market conditions, and innovative products or services can gain popularity even under difficult circumstances.

To what extent does AI affect the work of your department? How do you use it in your daily work?

I would start by admitting that yes, naturally, I am curious, but I am not trying to succumb to all the AI hype just yet. I am observing and testing.

An increasing number of employee or recruitment systems are powered by artificial intelligence. Algorithms can reduce the time spent on candidate selection in recruitment. They are capable of analyzing vast amounts of data to identify potential candidates. AI-based systems can help in the onboarding process of new employees, and support predictive analytics to anticipate employee turnover trends, skill needs, or training. Additionally, AI can be used to conduct more sophisticated salary analyses.

However, the use of artificial intelligence in HR departments is subject to certain challenges, including data privacy, algorithm integrity, and maintaining a balance between automation and human oversight. Human resources should therefore use technology thoughtfully and responsibly.

Monitoring and overseeing algorithms is crucial to prevent issues related to integrity and broader equity. Employing artificial intelligence in HR departments demands a heightened level of caution.

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