Inspirational Woman: Gill Kernick | Master Consultant, JMJ Associates

Gill KernickGill Kernick designs and delivers bespoke change programs for large complex organisations and works as a strategic partner with C-suite clients.

She is passionate about developing leadership capabilities and culture and believes that the voice and tacit knowledge of the front line are strategic cornerstones for the prevention of accidents.  A champion of diversity in all forms, Gill believes that, beyond a moral argument, it is critical to an organisation’s success in increasingly complex environments.

Her work in high hazard industries focuses on enabling safety as a driver of broader organisational change and has a focus on the prevention of major accidents.

Working across sectors including Oil and Gas, Project Management, Mining and Pharmaceuticals the scope of her work ranges from executive coaching, strategy and values roll outs to large scale strategic safety leadership and culture programmes.  Fascinated by different cultures Gill has worked across the globe including Algeria, Azerbaijan, Siberia, Qatar and Mozambique.

Gill lived in on the 21st Floor of Grenfell Tower from 2011 to 2014 and on the 14th June 2017, watched it burn.  Seven of her former neighbours died.  Promising to make their lives count, she is working to ensure the learnings from high hazard industries are applied to Grenfell.

A sought-after speaker, she has been a guest on BBC’s Today Programme and Beyond Today Podcast, she frequently publishes papers and recently hosted a multi-disciplinary workshop with Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute on Policy Lessons from Catastrophic Events.  She edits a blog ‘The Grenfell Enquirer’ to enable and encourage authentic debate and learning and has recently been commissioned to write a book on systemic change.

Her views are sought by senior civil servants, academics, regulators and policy think-tanks.

Gill lives with her husband in North Kensington, West London.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Professionally I partner organisations in high hazard industries to develop the leadership capabilities and culture to prevent catastrophic events.  I campaign to bring the thinking and learning from high hazard industries to the Grenfell Tower Fire.

After completing a first-class degree in Business Administration, I worked as an academic both in South Africa and the UK.  Disillusioned by the publish or perish culture in the UK, I left and worked for an international personal training and development company for 10 years.  I knew I wanted to move from working with individuals to focussing on organisational development and in 2011 joined JMJ Associates, mostly because I felt they were a match for my personal values.

I adore my job, from travelling across Russia for nearly two days to a work in a remote operation in Siberia, to partnering senior executives in creating environments in which people feel safe to raise their voices and work together to create safety.  My current role (Master Consultant) involves designing bespoke solutions for client challenges which I love.

Having recently moved back to London after doing some work abroad, in 2011 my husband Keith and I rented a beautiful apartment on the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower.   It had the most spectacular views and we fell in love with high rise living.  In 2014 we bought an apartment and moved into the (in)famous modernist tower block, Trellick Tower.

On 14 June 2017 I watched Grenfell burn. Seven of my former neighbours died, including the youngest victim, Logan Isaac Gomez who was still born at seven months. As I watched the fire, I vowed to do what it took to make sure we learned from it.

I speak, write and campaign for this and for the importance of the voice and tacit knowledge of those at the sharp end.  I write and publish a lot and edit a blog ‘The Grenfell Enquirer’ to enable and encourage authentic debate,  I am working with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge University to understand the policy lessons from catastrophic events and have recently been commissioned to write a book on systemic change.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The only time I have done this is for my current role.  I was in my early 40’s and knew that the next step I took would be important.  I spent a lot of time exploring what I wanted and what made me happy and then went in search of something to match that.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes.  I have always spoken truth to power and gotten myself in trouble for doing so.  I’ve had to learn how to both speak up and be responsible for the politics so that I can be heard.

I’ve done work I hated and stayed at companies longer than I should have.  But I’ve learned valuable lessons each time that have all contributed to where I am now.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I have a folder where I file emails from clients who share how they have been impacted by work we’ve done together.  When things get tough, I read some and they give me strength.  You never know what difference you might make with others.   I am lucky to have worked all over the world and remember with fondness all the meaningful conversations I’ve had that will live in my heart forever.

Prior to Grenfell I didn’t want a public profile.  I’ve been surprised about how many people have listened to what I have to say and being asked to write a book is probably the biggest achievement. But I am doing this because 72 people died, so it is difficult to look at it in the context of ‘achievement’.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Well I don’t think I assess myself by traditional notions of success.  I’m not motivated by financial success or roles.  I’m motivated by the impact I have in the lives of the people I touch.  From this perspective, learning to stay true to my values, being willing to speak up even when its difficult and being willing to be vulnerable have been major factors.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Since Grenfell I have been very lucky to have been mentored by some incredibly people who have helped me learn how to navigate creating credibility and gaining a public voice. It made me realise how much I’d missed out on mentoring in a work context and I’ve now got a manager who is also a fabulous mentor which has made a big difference to me.

So, I think I’ve only recently truly appreciated its value and how different it is from coaching (I’m a certified executive coach).

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

That people would understand that diversity (in all forms) is not simply about equality, to function in an increasingly complex world, cognitive diversity is critical.   We need diverse voices at the table not simply because it’s morally a good thing to do.  Good decisions require diversity.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Trust yourself.  When things feel wrong, they probably are.  Be willing to walk away.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Finishing the book.

I would like to look back in 10 years’ time and say that I helped shift the narrative of those in power (in both public and private sectors) to move beyond blame and openly explore systemic issues that are at the core of the worlds intractable problems. This will require a different style of leadership that embraces diversity and complexity.

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