Pioneer Profile: Meet Rosie Cook

4th Oct 2023

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 were lucky enough to speak with Rosie Cook, People Director at Miele GB, Ireland & South Africa about her career, her experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and her hopes for the future of work. 

Let’s dig in! 

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 working in HR when I was at university on a summer placement, after which I applied to the Unilever graduate programme and stayed there for more than 4 years, taking on multiple roles and living in the Netherlands for 2 and a half years in our global food headquarters. Working in an international hub is where I am at my best, so I really enjoyed my time there!

I was then approached by Mars – who I have been involved with since my university days through events and meeting some of the team there. They brought me in for a senior HRBP position but also to work on Inclusion & Diversity, which became a passion of mine, and led to a promotion into the global Inclusion & Diversity team where I led diagnostics, data and approaches to talent and recruitment, which I loved.

I was always quite keen to have a portfolio career with lots of variety, and I definitely got that at Unilever and Mars.

One of the key things in my career has been having mentors and sponsors, and a mentor mentioning an HRD role as a good first leadership position led to me putting my CV into the hat, and – after multiple rounds of interviews! – I became the HR Director for Miele in the UK, Ireland & South Africa. 

I had a goal to get to Director by 30, and I got there 4 days after my 30th birthday, so I surprised myself there as it was a bit of a pipe dream. I've been really privileged to get local and international experience, and to work with brilliant leaders who I have learnt so much from. 

Now, in my first Director position I am learning so much about who I am and who I want to be as a leader, which is an exciting and stretching moment in my career.

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

Since school I have been passionate about making work better, and went on to study a degree in Organisational Behaviour, so I've been fascinated by the structure, power and role of work in society for a very long time. 

Covid has changed everything for the future of work, showing that we can work flexibly and the world doesn't collapse, and that it's best for everyone! I am always reading up on the latest trends in this area, including workplace design and the impact of flexibility on under-represented groups, as diversity and flexibility go hand in hand, and we need more of both!

What's the most impactful change you’ve overseen?

One of my proudest achievements was when I was at Mars, where through our UK Inclusion and Diversity strategy we set up employee network groups who had a massive impact on representation, policy and education on Mars. 

One group trained 5% of the workforce as Mental Health first aiders, another completed a disability audit, it was incredible to see others drive change. 

From our strategy we also identified a female confidence gap and glass ceiling, and from research understood it was often linked to motherhood. A key way to reduce the motherhood penalty is to level the playing field for all parents, so that they experience the same benefits and challenges of time off for a baby... so that's what we did! 

I led the business case alongside a fantastic team, to implement Equal Parental Leave, giving all parents up to 6 months at 90% pay, matching our maternity offering, as well as providing wider clarity and support on infant loss also. 

On catching up with a colleague at Mars I was told that the UK management population 3 years later is gender balanced, so that, and knowing that Mars parents got to spend more time with their children, and supporting women into leadership, is probably my proudest achievement. 

I continue to be an advocate for flexible working at Miele, and we are in the next few years introducing more flexible options into our overall offering to employees. 

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

I have always worked in a hybrid way, and that for me has enabled me to study while working, to settle into a new country, and to flip a house in the Netherlands! 

My husband is away a lot with his work in aviation, so being able to work flexibly and make the most of our time together when he's home really matters to me. 

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

As an industry, consumer electronics (and consumer goods in parts) is facing massive challenges as the Covid boom of people redoing their kitchens has stalled, and the cost of living is pinching everyone's pockets, even in the luxury goods arena. But, we remain confident in the excellence and sustainability of our product, we just have some waves to sail! 

In my role, what this means is that my biggest concern is keeping our people engaged, focussed and thriving amidst a turbulent market, and also to keep on developing our EVP so we can continue to hire great people that represent the diversity of our markets and represent the values of our brand - Immer Besser! 

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

I think the next big trend is individuals wanting to have more agency over the trajectory and makeup of their career, and for more people to consider working for themselves in their own company, or working for more than one company through freelancing. 

Freelancing platforms like Catalant have been around for over 5 years now, but they weren't for all kinds of jobs, whereas I think now individuals can and will hold multiple roles at the same time, as it gives more flexibility, more stretch and more freedom than traditional work at one company.

I can only see work becoming more fluid and less linear and more varied in the coming years, which is awesome for employees, but maybe more challenging for traditional industries.

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.