Ella Blakesley - Corporate Responsibility Manager, Ashurst

Originally from a Sport Science background, Ella's breakthrough into the CRS world came through her volunteering work, and she has since moved to a global law firm, Ashurst, to manage their Corporate Responsibility programme. Looking forward, Ella believes that more work needs to be done to recognise the value that CR teams bring to a business, and in particular, making best use of the professional skills accrued through a career in CRS. 


How did you get into CRS, and why did you choose this profession?

After studying a Sport Science degree at Birmingham University, I started my career working in generalist HR and soon specialised in graduate recruitment at global law firm Reed Smith. I have always had a passion for working with young people and graduate recruitment met this passion. However, as time went on I discovered that the work I enjoyed the most involved working with students from 'non-traditional backgrounds' who needed the support the most. I passionately wanted to help to 'level the playing field' and this passion for social justice led me to become more and more involved in the volunteering projects available at Reed Smith. It wasn't long after this that I was asked to run the firm's Prime Commitment work experience programme and then eventually was offered my first role in CRS – a role spit 50/50 between graduate recruitment and Responsible Business. I look back know, knowing how hard it can be to break into the CRS sector and feel lucky for this opportunity – it was a combination of being in the right place at the right time, but also being recognised for my hard work and passion for social justice. In 2015, I moved to global law firm Ashurst to manage the firm's Corporate Responsibility (CR) programme. It was a bigger step up than I realised at the time, but I relished the challenge! I have a huge amount of autonomy in my role and find the work rewarding and varied. It can be hard working in a small team, but I enjoy making good use of the HR skills and qualifications I gained in my early career to widen access to the legal profession and to develop skills based volunteering programmes in support of communities facing marginalisation and disadvantage. 

Describe a typical day in your current role

I work 4 days a week and spend my working week both in the office and working from home. When I am in the office, its full on! Lots of meetings to attend or volunteering projects to deliver as well as dealing with the constant flurry of emails! When I work from home, I spend a lot of time taking phone calls and focusing on written projects which require more thought – communication campaigns, policy drafts or statistical analyses (of volunteer hours for example).

What do you need to do your job brilliantly (qualifications, informal experience and capabilities)? 

A passion for social justice and helping people is essential. Strong communication skills – both verbal and written. A friendly and approachable personality and excellent organisational skills, as there are always lots of projects to juggle on the go! An ability to work individually or in a small team is also key as CSR teams are not usually large. I have also found my HR skills incredibly useful, although this is not essential for career in CRS.

If you didn’t work in CRS, what would you do? 

I could see myself working in a career in the NHS or in the world of sport (I know that these are quite different options)! Outside of my love of working with and helping people, I am very passionate about sport.


What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your role?

I love talking to people from diverse backgrounds, knowing that the work we are doing is benefiting them. My particular passion is widening access to careers in law for young people who otherwise would struggle to access opportunities in the legal sector. In terms of the least favourite parts of my job, as with most jobs, the number of emails I receive is ridiculous! At times it can also be quite lonely, as although I am part of a global team; I am the only person in London currently. No job is perfect – but the pros of my job definitely outweigh the cons!       


Which professional project or achievement are you most proud of? Please include any relevant links and images.

 I am very proud of Ashurst's partnership with arts charity Create, which supports older people facing loneliness and social isolation. Older people are often the forgotten generation and I am proud of our work which uses the arts to bring older people from two community centres together every 6 weeks. More information here:  https://createarts.org.uk/2019/11/ashurst-law-firm-and-create-collaborat...    


If you could change one thing about CRS, what would it be?

I would like to see more focus on long-term skills based volunteering projects and partnerships and less focus on fundraising or 'charity of the year' partnerships. I would like to see larger CRS teams and greater recognition of the value that CRS teams can bring to a business. This includes the recognition of our own professional skills – this is why I personally think the focus on volunteering projects and strategic community partnerships is so important.                          


What do you think are the most important skills for working in CRS?

Passion for social justice; strong communication skills, friendly and approachable manner, organisational skills.


Why should people choose a career in CRS?

It's rewarding and varied. There is lots of flexibility to be innovative and to follow your own passions as well as the businesses.


What advice would you give to others on getting into CRS?

Be open minded about how you enter the sector as pathways into the sector are not as structured as most careers. Consider working in another department for a large business with a CRS function or developing your third sector experience through a charity role or volunteering. Most the most of professional social media such as LinkedIn and connect with professionals in the sector. Explore courses and qualifications in the CRS sector, or take modules within a more generalist degree course which focus on CRS. 


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