'In HR, I know that I am successful when my role is actually invisible'

May 25, 2007

Edinburgh University's human resources head wants to put policy into practice beyond her own department.

Sheila Gupta, who has just become director of human resources at Edinburgh University, admits her career choice was accidental.

She graduated in history and politics from Keele University at a bleak time for graduate employment but landed an HR post with the London borough of Brent.

"I had applied for a wide, wide range of management training jobs, and this was the first job I was offered." But she found she enjoyed HR, which she describes as simultaneously strategic and hands-on. After another council stint in Harrow she moved to Ealing College and was there during its transformation into Thames Valley University. She has worked in every type of higher education institution, latterly City University, where she was awarded a Leadership Foundation fellowship.

"I don't want people to think HR is about the HR department," she says.

"It's about good people-management practice throughout the whole organisation.

"I know I'm successful when my role is actually invisible. Empowering is a word that's too tired now, but you're enabling people to carry out their responsibilities completely confidently."

Ms Gupta is enthusiastic that Edinburgh, with 7,500 staff, expressly supports "opportunity and diversity". Equality is often seen simply as legal compliance, she says.

"Opportunity and diversity isn't talking about getting the playing field level for everybody, it's aiming to create an inclusive culture where we actually celebrate difference. It's about everybody feeling they've got a part to play."

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