Juanita Peter, an HR Lead for 24 countries, believes that honesty coupled with raw determination and being true to yourself is what ultimately sets one up for success both professionally and personally. She’s eager to point out that we all must contend with life’s unending challenges; however, the determining factor is how we navigate them. Integrity, self-respect, determination, and authenticity will always win. Because she is someone who walked a diverse and exciting path filled with “life’s magical challenges,” we asked Juanita to take stock of her current calling, her professional path and how she strikes a balance or rather juggles the myriad of priorities in her life.
You are originally from South Africa, coming from Singapore all the way to Ireland; how did you manage to be at the top of your career with such a diverse path?
I think growing up in South Africa, particularly during my formative and early adult years, cultivated a unique appreciation for social justice, equality, and inclusion. It helped give me a voice. As South Africans, we experienced many challenges such as racial segregation, socioeconomic issues, and just general state-sanctioned inequality. We also experienced epic and positive change, from an apartheid state to the one with the immense promise of a new democratic country. These experiences have shaped my life and taught me to appreciate the humanity in others, to speak truth to power and most importantly, to dream big – beyond borders, boundaries, and limitations. Nothing is impossible.
Having relocated twice in the last 8 years, I’ve learned to adapt, live in harmony with my surroundings, ground myself, and create a community for myself. I always try my best to be selfless and to contribute to the lives of people I’ve encountered.
Of course, Microsoft has helped enable my journey, where I can be a strong advocate for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) and use my skills and life experiences to contribute to what matters both to Microsoft and me personally.
How much difference did you notice between Ireland and CEE Multi-Country Region?
With over 82 nationalities in Ireland, I had the opportunity to engage with people from different cultures and backgrounds in one location. In MC, we are dispersed across many locations. The beauty of MC lies in the strength of our diversity. Our HR team, leadership team, and employee resource groups have enabled me and many others to build networks virtually during the pandemic, to think about our overall D&I strategy, and to focus on creating thoughtful conversations in the workplace. I find it very rewarding to be able to draw on different ideas, perspectives and to increase my cultural awareness every day.
As you are a big ambassador on diversity and inclusion, how much do we have to work on it as a society?
We still need to learn to be aware of our unconscious biases and consciously do away with them when relating to people that are different from us. Diversity and inclusion starts at home. I feel it is very important for parents and teachers to share with their children and students how to live and work together with people that are different from them, learning to really listen, be curious, understand them, and encourage positive interaction within the community where we can celebrate diversity.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” – Nelson Mandela
I am proud to work for a company that believes that diversity enriches our performance and products, the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our employees.
What are some ‘musts’ that all business owners have to include in their management regarding diversity?
Diversity and inclusion initiatives must align with your organizational goals and company values. Employees observe and model their leaders’ behaviors – what leaders do, what behaviors are rewarded, who they hire, where they spend their time, what they talk about in meetings. As HR, we are working closely with leaders and managers to be more intentional about building a culture where employees feel valued, respected, and have a sense of belonging. With the pandemic, the world of work has changed dramatically. We have colleagues working from many different locations with very few opportunities to meet in person. As leaders, we need to hold ourselves accountable for inclusive leadership practices and for creating psychologically safe spaces where employees can feel it is safe to speak up and be their true authentic selves. At Microsoft, we believe that allyship behavior is key where an employee can make an intentional decision to understand, empathize, and act in support of someone else. It is not an identity – rather, it is a lifelong commitment and practice.
Since the world has changed and remote work has become new normal, what is your work routine? How do you keep balance between private and professional?
Flexibility is a huge bonus to remote working – I think it was important for me to adjust my mindset and to take the necessary steps to make it easier to work from home. I get my energy from people, so it was a huge adjustment not being able to connect in person with my colleagues. My husband and I live in a lovely seaside village, so I introduced regular walks in the mornings and evenings. These days I usually go for an early morning run before I start my day. I have also joined a Pilates studio up the road, which helps me focus on myself and de-stress. Microsoft Teams has mindfulness apps built into it, so every now and then, I get reminders to move, focus on my breathing or meditate.
I also leverage the Microsoft MyAnalytics feature in Outlook, where I can get personal productivity insights as I work. I receive AI-powered suggestions in Outlook from MyAnalytics to help me set aside focus time before my week fills up with meetings, stay on top of tasks and emails, and follow up with important people.
With my team, I love to make time for casual chatting about non-business-related matters and we all keep an eye on each other’s well-being, so we adjust our priorities when necessary. I also discourage working after hours. As a manager, it is important to understand your team’s different needs and circumstances so adjustments can be made, especially when it comes to their health and well-being.
What are some pros and cons of working from home?
Since working from home, my screen time has significantly increased with online meetings, so I am trying to build in natural breaks. Like many people, it is not possible to stick to my working hours. Sometimes I am able to shift my schedule so I can fit in that Pilates or Yoga session, but it does impact my working hours. The biggest benefit is being able to take walks and have lunch with my husband most days.
At the end of our conversation, we asked Juanita if she would ever change anything in her career if she had a chance, if she would take some different turns. Reflecting on her past, she told us that all her previous experience has shaped her into the person she is today. Observant and grateful of top executives in HR who shared their knowledge, skills, and wisdom, she says she is fortunate for being able to learn from such incredible leaders and to work with amazing people from different backgrounds and cultures.
‘’It is an immense honor to be appointed to this role’’, concluded Juanita Peter.
We guess she wouldn’t change a thing.
Tags: Juanita Peter