Pioneer Profile: Meet Yasmin Russell

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 Yasmin Russell, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager at Flexified company Unibuddy, 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.

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'm Yasmin, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager at Unibuddy. We're a venture-capital-backed EdTech business; building technology that supports millions of students to make the right choice about their higher education path. We have a team of 65 employees or "buddies" in 6 different countries.

But, I actually started my career in hotel management! I loved delighting customers and leading a small team but the working hours became challenging which eventually prompted me to seek new opportunities. This led me to pivot into recruitment, where I spent four years in fast-paced agency environments, driven by ambitious sales targets and long office hours. Despite the challenges, I really thrived in the energetic atmosphere

However, I reached a point where I felt my career growth was limited within the agency environment and seeking a deeper engagement with a single business, I transitioned into internal recruitment within the tech industry. Over the past five years, I've been dedicated to supporting tech companies in attracting and retaining top talent.

Joining Unibuddy as the first Talent Acquisition Manager in the UK presented an exciting opportunity to build and optimise hiring processes from the ground up. As part of a lean team, I've had the privilege of overseeing the entire hiring lifecycle and expanding my role into areas like talent management. Remaining hands-on with recruitment allows me to stay closely connected to the job market and create a modern candidate experience that supports job seekers.

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

My interest in flexible working, EVPs, and employer branding was sparked when I transitioned into my first internal recruitment role. I realised the critical role that employer branding plays in attracting and retaining top talent.

One key lesson I've learned is the importance of authenticity in an employer brand. If all companies offered the same employee experience it’d be a very boring world of work, highlighting the special things that make a company unique has helped me attract and hire the right people. 

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

In my three and a half years at Unibuddy, I've witnessed remarkable transformations within the company, with one of the most impactful changes being the intentional restructuring of our entire policies and benefits framework.

When flexibility is undertaken by accident, without guidance it doesn't really work for anyone. Recognising the need for a more deliberate approach, we implemented comprehensive policies for hybrid working, flexible working, working abroad (temporarily or moving permanently), and holidays - we launched floating days to allow people to substitute a national or bank holiday for a day of their choosing in line with their religious beliefs, aligning with their personal beliefs or preferences.

At the core of these changes lies our commitment to enabling choice and balance. 

For me, I’m most proud that these efforts have been recognised by awards we’ve been nominated for or won for our culture. This acknowledgment reaffirms the positive impact our policies and cultural shifts have had on our employees' lives and experiences at Unibuddy.

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

Flexible working has had a profound impact on my life—I was able to adopt a rescue dog! Within 2 weeks of being offered her, she was living with us. Taking advantage of my company’s remote-friendly working environment meant it was a no-brainer to say yes to getting her. 

Our company culture is that we focus on impact over input, this means we measure ourselves on how we move closer to achieving our goals rather than measuring the number of things we do in a day. I am trusted to make choices on when, where, and how I work to reach my goals. 

I work from home 3-4 days a week, working from the office is not mandated but I find face-to-face time with my colleagues valuable. Flexible hours were crucial in the early days of having a puppy. We even have a dog-friendly office space and she's made a few appearances there over the years. 

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

Doing more with less. The last 12 months have been a real challenge to the global economy and tech start-ups have felt that pinch. Talent acquisition teams are being asked to deliver the same, or even more, with constraints on tools, staff, and budgets. 

Our remote-friendly culture has been instrumental in overcoming some of these challenges by allowing us to expand our hiring pool beyond a single location. However, this has led to a significant increase in the volume of job applications - thousands even for some roles. Each application represents a person deserving of a timely and thoughtful review. So every part of my hiring process must be scalable and automated where it can be. No one likes to wait around - right? 

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

More workplace transparency.  With some states in the US already implementing laws on salary transparency, this practice is expected to extend to other regions. Companies that embrace clear and transparent communication will foster a culture where employees feel valued and trusted, leading to more open and honest feedback loops.

In addition, particularly as we start to see more of Gen Z enter the workforce, companies that prioritise social good and corporate social responsibility initiatives will have an edge when it comes to attracting talent. As flexible working becomes a basic expectation, companies will need to cultivate a more holistic working culture that goes beyond when and where we work. 

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