Pioneer Profile: Meet Mary Papagiannis Brown

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 Mary Papagiannis Brown, Senior Talent Manager at Vena, 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?

My key milestones go a little something like this: drop out of studying Psychology at university, work at a brewery, go to college instead for Human Resources, chase my dream and work in the music industry for a few years, help my friends run their bar, start to chase a different dream of having health benefits and a more stable career, start working in People & Culture at a start-up. The last one finally stuck.

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

I had two co-op positions in college that were wildly different from each other - a hospital and a remote start-up. Working at a large corporation like a hospital was the traditional career route I'd only ever thought was possible and I was miserable doing it. I hated having to wear dress pants and work in a basement and play the part of being a "professional". Working remotely at the start-up showed me that there were other career options where I could be myself and still be successful. Ever since then I've been interested in doing things differently and constantly rethinking what work could look like.

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

It's so hard to pick just one. I'm especially proud of how I've expanded boundaries over the years - removing post-secondary requirements in job descriptions, expanding sick days to include sick dependents for caregivers, ensuring mental health is covered in health benefits, having an equitable parental leave package no matter how you've brought a child into the world, and including pronoun pins as swag to name a few. I look at policies and programs with the mindset of who could be excluded from this in its current state, and how do we rebuild it to not only include them but truly support them?

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

I don't know how I would have managed the last 2 years as a new mom without flexibility in my work. If I had to be in an office with rigid hours every day, I would have burned through all my sick days and time off within the first few weeks of my daughter being in daycare. I've never felt like I had to choose between my work or my family because I've had the freedom to be able to balance both.

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

Working in People & Culture during the pandemic was like trying to renovate your home during a hurricane. Amidst the chaos of the storm, you were rebuilding how people work together while trying to maintain a stable foundation and sheltering those around you. We went straight from that into an unstable market where we've been seeing People & Culture teams be reduced in size significantly. I think the biggest challenge in this industry right now is the need to adapt our approach and priorities rapidly while still fostering a sense of community and support for our employees, as well as ourselves. It's crucial to navigate the shifting landscape with empathy, resilience, and to give ourselves our flowers.

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

I would love to see a stronger emphasis on supporting a broader range of diversity at work, like implementing grandparent leave or sick dependent days. As our workforce ages we'll start seeing more people take on caregiver roles outside of being a new parent, whether it's to support their growing family or take care of elderly loved ones, and employers will need to keep up.

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