Pioneer Profile: Meet Holly Straker-Humphreys

19th Feb 2024

It’s time that we recognise the people behind the evolving world of work. Our working lives have shifted to being more inclusive, more people-centric, more flexible, and just plain better for both employees and companies. 

These changes didn’t just happen: they were put into place and upheld by individuals and teams working to create a better working future for everyone. 

So we’re finally putting the spotlight on the people who make great companies great: the people-people.  

People-people are crucial to the success of every company. They find you the talent that drives you forwards, and they’ve taken on an increasingly strategic role in the past few years – often taking on responsibility for mental health, diversity and inclusion, culture, EVPs, Employer Branding and team happiness. 

Read more about the Pioneers List and go behind the scenes to understand how and why we’ve selected our Pioneers.

We’re delighted to introduce you to Holly Straker-Humphreys, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Improbable, and one of our 2024 Pioneers. Read on to hear all about her career, her experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and her hopes for the future of work.

Tell us a little bit about your career history, and how you got to where you are now. What were the key milestones?

I started out my career at one of the big 4 retailers in a People Admin role after failing to get on loads of Graduate schemes after uni. I was promoted within a year and that really taught me that Grad Schemes were really not the 'be all and end all'. 

This is now something I talk to my mentees about a lot. If you can get a foot in the door, use your voice and stick to your values, things tend to work out! The opportunity then came up to work at Sky Betting and Gaming, a place that really taught me the value you can add by being yourself at work with the right support around you, and it was here that I really accelerated my career. I then decided it was time to push myself, and took the jump from working only at Yorkshire businesses to moving to Improbable in London as Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. It took me a while to be able to say it out loud without cringing, but being a Head of Department before the age of 30 is something I'll forever be proud of!

When did you become interested in flexible working, EVPs, Employer Brand, and the future of work?

In my time at Sky Betting and Gaming our Inclusion & Engagement Team spent a lot of time talking about external perception vs internal reality- basically what's on your careers site vs what it's really like to work in your organisation. I've worked in companies that were on every People awards Top 100 but the day-to-day life working there was completely toxic and genuinely ruining people's lives! This has always stuck with me and I carry it as a responsibility now in my role to be authentic about what we put out there

What is the most impactful change that you’ve implemented?

In my time at Sky Betting and Gaming, myself and the Head of DEI at the time, Greg, really ripped up our approach to DEI. We disbanded our Employee Resource Groups (because why should it be the people who experience the symptoms fixing their own problems for free?!), stepped down our Exec sponsor (because why should only one of our Leadership Team care about DEI?!) and worked with our Leadership Team to create an Inclusion Pledge. This publically gave each and every one of them accountability for their own behaviours, decisions and actions and they each had to lead or sponsor a project such as investing more in Women in Tech or getting investment for our self-funded Kickstart scheme

One of the best experiences we had was taking the Leadership Team out to our local community, as part of their education pillar to get them out of their comfort zone! We visited an amazing charity in Bradford (5th most income deprived city in England), called International Mixed Ability Sport, who bring people of all abilities together to play sports. The Leadership Team were so inspired, we set up a dedicated strategic project group to support and grow the charity, utilising the skills and experiences of our employees and strategic minds of our Leadership Team. Two years on, this has led to Flutter (SBG's parent company) agreeing a £500k partnership with the charity which is INCREDIBLE!

What’s the biggest impact flexible working has had on your own life?

Working in DEI, it's more than 'work'. You're representing the history, lives and experiences of your family, yourself, the people who work within your organisation and the communities around you. This has meant roles in the past have consumed my SOUL and all my energy!! Now working at Improbable, which is based in London, I live in Leeds. I'm on-site in London when I need to be (1-2 times per month) but the physical distance has done a lot for me being able to mentally switch off. It's also the most flexible organisation I've ever worked in, our 'informal core hours' are 10am-6pm so by the time London has woken up and is online, I've been to the gym, walked the dog, had 2 washes on and made my porridge.

What’s the biggest challenge of being in your role/industry right now?

We now have access to so much information which can be hugely beneficial but also means people come to work with misconceptions about what the work of DEI is trying to achieve. There's so much polarising propaganda out there and provocative memes driving incorrect narratives to get likes, that it means you often spend a lot of your time working with people to help them understand what we're actually trying achieve which takes time and energy away from the REAL work.

What do you think the next big trend is in working culture?

I know some people are frustrated by a sense of 'entitlement' from the Gen Zs but I'm absolutely here for their approach to work! My younger brother really took his time after uni to find a career that worked for him after saying to my parents, "I've watched you be tired and stressed standing at the bus stop in the rain at 7.30am for the last 20 years to go to jobs you hate, why would I want that for my life?" Of course there's a balance we need to hit but I think young people demanding more from employers that have previously taken advantage of their workforce will be better for business and better for the mental health of our society. 

Take a look at the other Pioneers who made the list, and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on new Pioneers, guides to help you navigate your strategic role, and exclusive invites to webinars and events