“…If you want to do well, you need to research your prospective company to seethe effects of HR in the core business. That’s so important.” – Damla Benli Yıldırım, Human Resources Director, Sodexo Turkey, speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.
As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.
This week, we had a great conversation with Damla Benli Yıldırımat Sodexo Turkey, who began her HR career as an HR Manager at G4S Security Services when the company’s entire operation had 120 employees.Subsequently,Damla tookon roles within the company as HR & Quality Manager and then HR & Quality Director while the company grew to 6000+ employees. She eventually movedto Sodexo as Human Resources Director in 2015.
Can you tell us how you got into HR and why?
At the age of 22,when I was stillin college studying Labour Economy & Industrial Relations, I decided to gain hands-on professional experience through an internship to see how HR was different from Personnel Affairs Departments and what was HR dealing with specifically.At the time,there were few HR Departments and more Personnel Affairs Departments in Turkey. Since I was taking classes at the university on the labour economy, which isclosely related to HR, I was already interested in the subject.
After an internship I did at G4S, I was offereda position in the “Personnel Affairs Department” at G4S. After that, they chose me to a training program in London, where I undertook numerous training from the Quality Department and the HR Department for a period of two years. Then on, I went to work in HR at G4S Turkey for about 18 years.
I think I stayed there for so long because it never got boring—I grew up with the company, and I loved managing the tailor-made projects alongside our clients; managing the size of the workforce, manpower planning, handling shift patterns, and dealing with any legal issues. I have alwaysbeen on-site, working with the clients to understand their needs, and I enjoyed that aspect—I saw so many different working styles during my time, and every project opened a new door for me.There were always new and unique challenges to overcome; therefore, no two years were the same.
I also worked in the industryto search for potential local acquisitions for G4S, and during that time I learned to do due diligence from an HR perspective—that was really interesting, and opened up another way of looking at HR, because I was able to see how other organizations managed that side of things and what they were missing. After that was done, we opened up new segments of the company with new responsibilities, so we were always growing.
After 18 years, I planned to have a baby, and working in the security industry was just too risky. Besides, the nature of the job required working non-stop and travellingconstantly.Additionally, because of the office location, oftentimes I was not able to come home before 9 PM due to traffic jam.Subsequently, I decided to take a break and have my baby, then look for another opportunity closer to home with more flexible office hours.
After about 15 months of break in my professional life, I began searching for a new job and ultimately decided to work with Sodexo.Sodexo and G4S often worked on client projects together, so I knew of the company and their working environment.Since Sodexo is also in the Serviceindustry, and it was very similar to my priorexperience. It has been my conclusionthat my strength is working with blue-collar workforce; rostering, manpower planning, and working closely with the customer. I’ve also taken on some diversity, inclusion and social responsibility projects supporting women in the workforce. For instance, at G4S I initiated “Future Arteliers of Sodexo”, where Sodexo Turkey sponsors the culinary arts programs in vocational schools for female students in low-income neighbours. Sodexo not only provides a state-of-the-art kitchen but also the fresh ingredients such as different types of fish and meat that are expensive and not available through their regular syllabus. After classes, the students take the food they prepare for their homes to share with their families. The main goal is to bring girls into the culinary industry and prepare them before they graduate throughthis hands-on education and the internships that we offer for successful students. There is a shortage for young ladies, especially from low-income backgrounds, in the culinary industry. Our mission with this program is to help overcome the inequality for these female students, and establish a well-educated and sustainable workforce.
Can you tell me about the challenges that you’re seeing across the HR sector?
I would say that an issue here in Turkey is definitely thelack of regulations in our labour markets. The rules regulating things like dismissal are far lessloose compared to the UK for instance.InTurkey,if a supervisor does not get along well with an employee, it’s much easier to lay them off, so our biggest challenge in HR is being caught between the Operations teams and the employees. I’m trying to have a fair system and ensure that we have equalityat Sodexo, and part of that is understanding what inequality can do to our employees on a daily basis. Not having much legal enforcement for the employee’s sake makes these issues much more challenging in my role in Turkey.
What career advice would you offer to someone either working towards a career like yours, or someone just getting started in their HR career?
If you really want to be in HR, you must pay attention to where HR sits in the company you want to work for. I’ve seen so many companies that HR is perceived as just a room to store personnel files in. Therefore, if you want to do well, you need to research your prospective company and to see the effects of HR in the core business. That’s so important. If HR is perceived as a part of the core business, you will be part of management meetings and asked for your thoughts and ideas in every critical business decision.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with companies that are selling a service, so people are their first priority—if those operating your service are good, your service is good, and as an HRprofessional,you become more valuable.
Damla has been working as Human Resources Director since 2015 and provides full HR support for all aspects within Sodexo Turkey.
If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.