Meet HR GIG 7 Speaker, Stephania Dimech Sant, CEO of the Richmond Foundation

Our next speaker in the line-up runs the Richmond Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that is unmatched in providing community mental health services to the most vulnerable in our society.

Posted on: Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

With over 20 years of experience in social and public service, Stephania Dimech Sant is passionate about taking care of the carers at the Richmond Foundation to foster a supportive environment, both internally and externally.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m the CEO of Richmond Foundation and a social worker by profession. I’ve been heading Richmond for six years and I’m a married mother of two teenage boys, so communication is definitely something I work on in all facets of my life.

What is the work culture at Richmond Foundation like?

Richmond works very hard to foster a positive work culture. We’re celebrating our thirtieth anniversary next year, and one of the prevailing principles that has been in place since its inception is taking care of our employees. We provide our employees with support and take an active role in enhancing positive communication. Every one of our teams meets with a professional at least once a month to work on its group dynamics, and it really helps keep our communication open and to resolve issues that crop up very quickly. It also allows respect to prevail, which lets us go on with our work of taking care and supporting people who are going through a mental health issue.

It’s important to Richmond that our employees are equipped with supportive communication practices at work. We can’t really support and take care of other people unless we are well-supported ourselves.

What are your thoughts on silos in the workplace?

Working with silos is challenging because working together is fundamental, and having silos  affects team feeling and output. We want to avoid silos at all costs so that we can work together, to do more and better work.

Because of the nature of the work we do, Richmond has worked to prevent establishing silos from the get-go. We take a preventative approach. We make sure that communication is open and we don’t wait for an issue to escalate before addressing it. Instead, there are structures in place to make sure that people can, and will, communicate.

What this means is that people who join Richmond will ultimately learn to communicate in ‘Richmond style’. For example, meetings can be quite open and transparent, and people are expected to contribute their opinion, which I feel is something that jars with Maltese social culture. Well-managed, positive, assertive communication is not something that most people are brought up with; most people are brought up with either of two extremes – either being very reserved and keeping things to themselves, or at some point communicating in an aggressive manner. Ideally we learn how to voice our opinion, and discuss collaboratively – that’s what we work to achieve at Richmond Foundation.

Could you tell us a little bit about HR GIG? 

It’s an interesting event which brings people together. It’s a great forum to decide how to work better. I like the fact that this year’s edition is focusing on such an important aspect in work, and I’m really looking forward to the discussions and outcomes.

How can CEOs foster a better environment for communication and trust?

I believe that the role of the CEO can very much set the communication culture within an organisation. For example, I completely believe in the effectiveness of an open-door policy and flat organisations where discussion is frank and people have the space to voice their opinions, where we have time for the informal chat and the coffee together, where we meet up and work together. COVID-19 was quite difficult for Richmond in that respect, and I believe we were one of the organisations which flocked back to the office as soon as possible as a result of the way we communicate in the office. In our case, it’s the nature of our work: we need to be in touch to be able to work effectively and I think it’s important that CEOs are aware of the importance of a personal connection – although we can work remotely, human interaction gives our work a deeper kind of value.

I think the role of the CEO in fostering communication is very important. I’m not sure that all CEOs appreciate this, and I would very much like to share how open communication and people working closely together contributes to giving good quality service and results in a generally happy workforce. Having a happy workforce will give everybody better results.

There’s a very strong social element to work which is stripped away when we work remotely.

Can CEOs eventually become more transparent with their employees?

I am all for CEOs becoming more transparent; however, there is also the responsibility to achieve a certain level of clarity before you can share things. Whereas I understand that, for example, sometimes there are issues about contracts being renewed and when employees’ livelihood is in the balance, they need to be informed about what’s going on, but at the same time they need to be protected.

There is this fine balance which any CEO would need to find. It is not simply giving out information, but also being aware of when it is the right time to share that information: when it is clear enough to know at least partly what’s going to happen so that you don’t just create anxiety.

What are the benefits of attending HR GIG?

I think it is on the same lines as what we have just been saying: working together is extremely important, CEOs and management tend to find themselves at the top where it can be quite lonely. You carry certain responsibilities and you can’t necessarily share them with people who are accountable to you, and so you’re carrying them on your own. It’s so helpful to meet other people in similar roles and hear speakers who can shed light on certain aspects of being a CEO, being an HR professional and dealing with employees. After all, society has evolved, and it has definitely evolved much faster during the COVID period. We are facing unprecedented demands in terms of work and within the workforce.

HR GIG is an excellent place to meet others who may be facing the same issues, creating a space to exchange information and ideas.