Moira Slape, Chief People Officer at Travers Smith.
In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky’s guest, Moira Slape, Chief People Officer at Travers Smith, shares lessons learned over a highly successful career.
From legal secretary to the highest ranks of decision-makers, Moira has carved her own path by leveraging several key traits - most notably an incredibly strong work ethic. It has been a journey full of constant learning and development, which Moira unpacks over the course of this fascinating discussion.
Moira explains why trusting one’s instincts is critically important and why hiring people from diverse backgrounds is a corporate super-power - something she understands intuitively because of her own working-class roots.
In this episode, you will appreciate Moira’s practical tips for navigating career transitions as well as her thoughts on the importance networking and mentorship (both giving and receiving).
Above all, it’s clear that Moira loves what she does and has thrived in the management of people because she brings to her work both a great capacity for empathy and an unwavering authenticity.
Listen to the podcast here
Moira shares her upbringing, including her policeman father’s strict work ethic. Although she worked hard at school, this didn’t come naturally, and ultimately Moira decided to forego university and head straight into the working world.
She enrolled in a two-year course to become a legal secretary, applied for jobs and ultimately landed her first role just as she was turning 18.
Moira soon discovered that she had a knack for teaching people IT skills, which blossomed into a larger role as a professional trainer, directing learning and development teams.
A passion for the legal sector
Moira was managing teams, embedding herself within the legal sector and forming relationships with clients – one of whom, in 2000, approached her to lead their firm’s training and development department.
Nearly 23 years since her start at Linklaters, Moira is still fascinated and excited by the legal sector and understanding what makes people in the industry tick.
About seven years into her legal career, Moira felt wobbly about her qualifications and wrestled with a bit of “Imposter Syndrome.” Thanks in part to the help of a supportive boss, the Director of HR, Moira became a fellow at the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development in order to realise her ambition to ascend to a HR leadership role.
Moira passionately believes that part of her mandate as a leader is to help employees reach their full potential – even if that means they change roles or leave for another organisation altogether.
Taking on a more international set of responsibilities as Director for EMEA at White & Case, this introduced Moira not only to places she would never have otherwise visited, but also to the nuances of complex cross-cultural communications. It was a tremendous learning curve – and Moira thrived!
Irrespective of her very focused goals and timelines, Moira felt intuitively at one point in her career that she needed to change firms, even if it seemed to be a non-traditional transition. She has never regretted jumping when she has felt the need.
In her newly-created role as Chief People Officer at Travers Smith, Moira has made D&I a priority, including overhauling recruitment screening processes.
Does Moira feel she’s more engaged with social mobility and inclusivity because of her own working-class background? Absolutely.
Moira’s husband of 25 years has been her No. 1 champion, counselling and reinforcing her. But she has also nurtured many ongoing relationships with the people for whom she has worked over the course of her career.
The pandemic was especially challenging for Moira because of its impacts on her ability to network and solicit feedback about career options or considerations. It also made the master coaching programme she was completing all the more challenging!
Securing that first job!
Starting her first job in the legal sector, not knowing where it would lead.
Joining Travers Smith, which has been such an amazing fit.
Securing advanced accreditations.
Being promoted to the highest leadership level at Travers Smith.
Words of wisdom
The only time Moira felt she made a career misstep occurred when she didn’t trust her instinct. It was a setback but also a valuable lesson.
Moira’s biggest challenges
Imposter Syndrome, which she manages with behavioural tools she has developed.
Multiple demands on her time that can feel overwhelming.
Physical fatigue at points where she was simply worn down and in need of a break.
Advice for those who aspire to a career in HR or the legal sector:
Trust your instincts.
Carefully cultivate relationships; they play a critical role in success, especially at the more senior levels.
Being able to see things from other people’s perspectives is fundamental, even if empathy doesn’t come naturally.
Never underestimate the power of mentoring and networking.
“There have been some bumps along the way, but overall I’ve loved what I’ve done and still love what I do.”
“If you work in an elite firm, expect to be challenged. Because some of these people are the best people in practice and the best people in the country.”
“Diversity is all about difference – difference of thought leadership and experience.”
“I don’t see resignations or people moving on to a different role or different organisation as a setback. I see it as part of my responsibility.”
“The ability to navigate a complex (international) environment required me to become smarter and braver about pushing boundaries with Partners much more than I ever had done … because it was critical. I had to get stuff done.”
“We have a huge focus on D&I, like every other law firm does. I don’t think we necessarily do things that are radically different, but our commitment is absolutely second to none.”
“Effective decision-making, I believe, is driven by a diverse group of people.”
“The pandemic hit and I thought ‘*#&@! How am I going carry on doing this?’ But you just do it. You dig deep. And everything converted to this thing called Zoom.”
“I knew instinctively that I’d found my home (at Travers Smith) and instinct really, really matters to me. Trust your instinct. It will very, very rarely let you down. And I know that from experience.”
“I don’t live to work. I work hard and I love my work, but I don’t work the weekends unless I absolutely have to.”
About Moira Slape:
Moira joined Travers Smith in November 2015. Having worked in the legal sector in other international firms since 2000, she brings extensive HR and learning and development experience, alongside a deep interest in employee engagement, health and wellbeing, talent management and reward to the role.
Moira’s formative career focused on learning and development. She moved into the legal sector in 2000, working for four international law firms of various sizes and culture prior to joining Travers Smith.
Moira moved into a senior generalist HR role in 2003 and has always worked hard to balance the development and implementation of people strategies alongside doing the “right thing” for the firm. She is the firm’s inaugural Chief People Officer.
About Nicky Acuna Ocana:
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of UK, Europe and USA at Ambition, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas.