Speaker Spotlight Q&A: Jennifer Fairweather, Chief Human Resources Officer, Jefferson County, CO
We recently caught up with Jennifer Fairweather, Chief Human Resources Officer at Jefferson County Colorado. Jennifer shares her career journey in the public sector and across HR, her biggest career role models as well as her advice for aspiring young professionals, plus much more.
Q1: Please tell us a bit about what you do, how you got there, and what you love about your work?
Currently I am the chief human resources officer for Jefferson County in Golden Colorado. I provide leadership to the human resources functions for the organization to include talent management, employee relations, training and organization development, total rewards, wellness, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. I originally started my career in the finance industry. When I went out for maternity leave in the early 90’s, before FMLA, my manager role was not available when I returned. So, I was offered an opportunity to work in training. Once I worked in training and started to learn more about different elements of HR, I shifted my career into human resources. What I love about my work is helping people and seeing individuals thrive in the workplace, develop, and achieve their goals and career passions.
Q2: What initially drew you to public service? How has that evolved since the beginning of your career?
What initially drew me to public service was an opportunity I was given to move into a leadership role and build new systems, programs, and initiatives. That was a really exciting opportunity; to be able to build an HR function. Once I started working in public service, I quickly realized that it was a better space for me because I connected with the mission of serving the community and helping others. That aligns with my core values. I very much appreciate being able to do what I love in the public sector!
Q3: What made you gravitate towards human resources in the public sector? What continues to drive your passion for this and how does that manifest itself?
Specifically, around gravitating towards human resources in the public sector, what's special is everything we do, every employee we touch, everyone we hire, they're going to be working in some way, in some segment of our organization that helps others in the community. The work they do is incredible -- it touches lives! They're working with children and families, keeping people safe, building literacy, and influencing a healthier community. All of the things we do are so important to the community and what's amazing about HR is that we always have a piece of that mission. We can keep our focus on what's important. What continues to drive my passion in this area is when I see results. As business partners we're collaborating with our leaders across the organization to achieve our overall goals and when we see those things happen, that's how I see my passion manifests itself in public service work.
Q4: Who has been a strong role model for you in your career? Can you explain why, and how, they inspired you or helped you succeed?
I've had so many role models in my career, people I've worked for, people I've worked with, and people who have worked for me. I t's almost hard to name any one individual but there are some special people who are true role models in that the work they do, which is outside of HR, is just amazing. Especially some leaders I've worked with in the Human Services arena who do so much in a field that’s challenging. The work they do to build up the community and with the passion these individuals bring to the workplace every day is always inspirational to me. I'm also inspired by so many employees who I've been fortunate to know. We all meet people along our journey who overcome tremendous obstacles, personally or professionally, and persevere in achieving their goals.
Q5: What advice would you give to the younger generation of human resources professionals and, more broadly, the next generation of public servants? What is one piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you when you were just beginning your career?
One piece of advice I would give the new generation of HR professionals and public servants is that when you are in any type of a leadership role, it's not about you, it's about the mission. Focusing on what's truly important in your role is a way to ground you. It allows you to let go of things that don't matter. It allows you to be vulnerable. Those are things that I think help you succeed in the public sector. It's not about winning or who was right and wrong -- we all have a common goal, and we need to keep our focus on that vision for our community.
Q6: How has your outlook and approach to your work changed in the COVID-19 era? What key lessons have you learned and applied?
Since COVID-19 I think we've all learned how effective and productive people can be doing their work remotely. We’ve always had people that performed remote work, but not as broad and as often as we do now. What we found is for many people this arrangement allows them to be incredibly productive and use the hours in their day in a way that also gives them time to do things outside of work that are important to them and help with that work-life integration One lesson since COVID-19 is we hopefully have learned the value of disconnecting. For some people having those opportunities to be at home or outside more often, not running from event to event and location to location, hopefully taught us that it's important to schedule that downtime to give an opportunity for rest, not just physical rest, but that mental rest. Perhaps we also understand the need to have time to be present and appreciate what each moment and the humans we have in our lives. Hopefully those are things we can all hold on to.
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