Meet Vivien Whitehead – Director of People and Culture

We warmly welcome Vivien Whitehead, the new Director of People and Culture at Scotch College. Vivien previously worked at Presbyterian Ladies' College in the same role where she supported the school in a range of people and culture strategies. Now that Vivien is part of the Scotch community, let's get to know more about her!


Welcome to Scotch, Vivien! Can you share a bit about yourself and how you found your way into the field of Human Resources?

I studied Organisational Psychology at The University of Western Australia (UWA). It was a fairly new field and there weren't a lot of organisational psychology opportunities when I first graduated with my Masters degree, so I, like a lot of my friends, went into Human Resources.   In my first role in HR, I discovered that I had lots of opportunity to apply my organisational psychology training.  Over the course of 30 years, my career has evolved through my roles in recruiting, business partnering, general HR responsibilities and then into leadership roles for the people-function. I really enjoy being involved in the business and supporting managers in different areas with their people issues.


You have years of experience in human resources, but I noticed you've been very dedicated to the education sector, working in Curtin, PLC, and now Scotch! Is there a reason behind this?

Much of my career prior to PLC has been in large professional services firms (accounting and law firms), and those organisations are large and have fantastic human resources or people-related programmes and strategies. However, I didn't have the opportunity to lead the HR function because most of the roles in Perth report over to the East Coast offices. As I developed in my career, I wanted a role that reports directly to the Chief Executive or equivalent, to lead the function, and have an opportunity to make a real difference in driving people strategy in an organisation.

The role at PLC met all those criteria. Honestly, working in a school wasn't something I had considered, but for the last 6 years,

I've come to appreciate working in an organisation with a genuine community, and I get a really strong sense of that here at Scotch.

Everyone, from the students and parents to staff and alumni, holds significant value. Being part of this community, I can see the impact I can make every day in my role, and that is incredibly satisfying.


You're planning on renaming the function from 'Human Resources' to 'People and Culture', why is that?

'Human Resources' is becoming considered an outdated term. In the corporate world, organisations are moving away from calling the function Human Resources because I think it reflects what the function did in the past, mainly focussed on compliance and operational support.  Those areas are important, and we still do those things. However, here at Scotch College, we also support the growth and development of our staff. Changing the name to People and Culture is a real signal that Scotch intends to strategically focus on supporting its employees as people and prioritise their growth and development.


You talk about leadership, what is your guiding philosophy when it comes to leading and managing the People and Culture function?

I am very much a proponent of servant leadership. That is, acting as a leader in a way that prioritises the needs of the team and the organisation, which is also consistent with Scotch College's Core Values and expected behaviours. I've also recently read a book called "Compassionate Leadership – How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way" (Hougaard and Carter, 2022), which talks about how important it is to balance caring for your people with leadership wisdom and effectiveness, particularly in the current world context.  As a leader, you often need to make difficult decisions which impact the lives of others.  But you can choose to do this in a compassionate and human way.  This very much aligns with my own personal values, and it is how I aspire to behave as a leader.


As someone who will be responsible for guiding the College's people strategy, what steps will you take to foster an inclusive and diverse workplace within the Scotch community?

There is so much evidence to support the concept that an inclusive and diverse workplace leads to better organisational outcomes.  In our case, this would also have positive impacts on our students and families.

We are all individuals. We all come to work for different reasons, are motivated and engaged in different ways, and have our own individual backgrounds, contexts, and drivers.  Finding ways to understand and celebrate these differences and support each individual to realise their aspirations is the best way I can think of to foster an inclusive and diverse workplace culture at Scotch.  Being curious (Thank you, Ted Lasso! 😊) and seeking first to understand others' perspectives is a good place to start.  And I don't by any means have all the answers. I will be very keen to work with members of the Scotch staff community to hear their ideas and thoughts about how we can do this better!


Outside of work, do you have any particular hobbies?

I'm married to John, and I have two daughters, Erin and Katie. My family is a big priority outside of work. Other than that, I'm a voracious reader, mainly fiction.

And this year, I just joined a choir which is something I've been wanting to do for a little while! I've had formal music training, I played piano when I was young. However, I don't have formal training in singing, but I do love to sing! There is so much written about the mental health benefits of singing and it's just fun.


Do you have any plans, or do you have any goals in your first 6 months at Scotch?

During my first 6 months here at Scotch, my goal is to get to know the staff as well as I can and to get to know Scotch as an organisation. Please, don't hesitate to introduce yourselves and remind me of your names, I'm keen to get to know everybody as quickly as I can!

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