RCS’s Sandi Richardson all about empowering diversity and driving impact

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Sandi Richardson, HR executive at RCS, shares her remarkable journey in HR, marked by resilience, empathy, and a deep commitment to making a difference.

Born and raised in Cape Town, Sandi’s passion for HR was ignited during her formative years, influenced by the monumental changes in South Africa’s educational landscape.

Reflecting on her upbringing, Sandi reminisces, “I was born and bred in Cape Town but did spend a couple of years of my childhood in Pretoria when my dad worked there.”

She recalls the pivotal moment when schools began opening up to all races, allowing her and her siblings to attend ‘model C’ schools in ‘white areas’, making them the first non-white students to enrol. This experience planted the seeds of her future career in HR, driven by a desire to bridge divides and foster inclusivity.

Where it all began

“I knew from around Grade 9 that I was interested in HR. I always loved that it was business-led but people-focused. Because of this, I went on to study for a bachelor of social science in industrial sociology, industrial psychology and human resource management at University of Cape Town.”

Her passion for the field led her to pursue opportunities abroad, eventually landing her first HR role in London.

Recalling her early days in HR, Sandi says, “To start with, I was in a very admin-orientated role, which entailed scanning HR documents in order to convert employee info into digital files.”

Despite the mundane tasks, Sandi approached her role with enthusiasm, determined to excel in her newfound profession. “I was just so excited to have managed to land a role in HR that I set out to be the best scanner they had ever employed,” she jokes.

Her scanner days went on to groom her to an all-round generalist HR role within a busy HR shared services team, serving the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

“It was a wonderful foundation – I was exposed to labour law and processes across multiple countries, was able to shadow very talented and experienced senior HR professionals and exposed to best practices.”

Looking back, Sandi says the 2008 banking crisis really honed her skills and prepared her for her current role at RCS, which is owned by the global financial services company, BNP Paribas. “The mentorship from senior HR professionals equipped me to navigate constant change and handle difficult situations with empathy and confidence.”

Levelling the playing field

For Sandi, HR is more than just a job; it’s a calling to be the voice of the people and the conscience of management. She views some of the biggest challenges in HR now to be more than just HR problems, but rather national issues.

“The youth unemployment rate in South Africa is well documented as a major challenge for South Africa. We also know that this unemployment rate drops to as little as 10% when someone is afforded a tertiary education. At RCS, we prioritise the upskilling and re-skilling of our employees. We employ many school leavers and then equip them to service our customers and work within our business.”

She adds that the organisation furthermore upskills the high potential teams from this environment to progress in the business by acquiring a formal qualification in finance, IT, digital and analytical skills. “We do this through partnerships with business schools (Tsiba) and online training solutions like SpecCon, to name a few.”

Ambiguity in an ever-changing world is another challenge, she says. “We are having to navigate AI, hybrid working models and the associated workplace dynamics in tough economies with political challenges around the world. All of this while reconciling our own personal thoughts and feelings about how these things are impacting us.”

She, however, remains optimistic about the future, driven by a desire to create a positive impact, and inspired by her daughter. “My daughter… there is nothing like a teenager to be the mirror in your life,” she laughs, highlighting the importance of family and personal growth.

As a closing statement, Sandi shares a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that encapsulates her philosophy on life: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to succeed.” It’s a reminder that success is not measured by accolades or achievements, but by the difference we make in the lives of others.

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