My SDF Story with Penny Foster

by SDF Comms 0

My SDF story – Penny Foster



Where do you work and what is your role?

I am currently Acting Manager – People and Organisational Development at the University of York. I am responsible for the operations of the POD team and ensuring that what we deliver is focused on the organisation’s priorities and that our provision enables all of our staff to be as effective as they can be in their roles.  I also consider myself to be extremely lucky in that part of my portfolio includes Student Leadership activities – we deliver a number of leadership programmes for undergraduates in partnership with our Careers and Placements team. I love the fact that as well as working with staff we get to work directly with students – they continually inspire me and remind me what we are really here for.

When did you join the SDF?

I have been a member of the SDF for around 10 years, apart from a period of a couple of years when I worked outside of the sector. 

Why did you want to join the SDF?

At the time I worked at the University of Leeds – I loved my role and the people I worked with, but wanted to feel part of a wider community, where I could contribute to discussions on topics that connect us all professionally.

What’s the best thing about the SDF?

I love the sense of community and how helpful people are – whether it’s asking a question to the group forum or meeting people at conferences, I am always struck by people’s enthusiasm and passion for what they do and willingness to share their expertise and experience. 

What are you working on at the moment?

Like everyone, we’re responding to the challenges that have been presented to us by Covid. The team have stepped up hugely in the past few months and are now working in a completely different way, delivering webinars, online coaching and producing digital content. During this time we have actually increased participation in our events and we’re getting great feedback on what we are delivering. I’m now looking at what we can learn from this period to enhance what we do in the future.

What does a typical day look like?

My typical lockdown day is very different to what it would have been a few months ago! I have two young children, so at the moment it’s logging on to my home laptop in our spare room, working through e-mails and either taking part in Zoom meetings or delivering sessions with my team. I am often joined by my delivery partner, my four year old son. Inevitably, things don’t always go to plan!

Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career

Having a family definitely made me reevaluate my career choices. I changed jobs – moving out of HE, to be closer to home and so I could take my kids to school – that was hugely important for me at that point in my life as I knew it would be time I wouldn’t get back. I’m really lucky now to be in a role that offers me flexibility to manage work and family time.

The person who has influenced you the most is

My Dad – he was an academic and so my love of HE came from him. He was values-led in everything he did and was passionate about both protecting the environment and education being accessible to all – principles that have stuck with me. 

Work life balance – what leisure activity you enjoy the most? 

I love creating things. My real passion is oil painting – but since having kids it’s hard to find time and space to work on that! So my next best thing is knitting – I can take it anywhere. I also love being outdoors and going for walks with the kids and our dog, a rescue Podenco who came to us from Spain last year. Finally, music is a huge passion. I play guitar, not particularly well, but enjoy it all the same. 

Something about you people would find surprising

As well as two guitars, I also have three ukuleles!

What’s your greatest fear? 

I tend to try not to sweat the small stuff, so the things that keep me awake at night are the big things, like inequality, cruelty and climate change. The latter is definitely my biggest fear, as I worry about the future we are creating for our children. 

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? 

Rather than a dinner party I might have an all gals brunch – so perhaps Michelle Obama, Glennon Doyle, Miriam Margoyles and Oprah Winfrey. That would be some conversation!

What would your super-power be?  

Like Hermione in Harry Potter, the ability to turn back time and therefore be in two places at once.

What’s your favourite/least favourite food? 

I love anything Italian – I am at my happiest with a great bowl of pasta. Least preferred – probably oysters or liver.

What’s the worst job you ever had? 

My worst job was also a great experience – during University I worked in a busy city centre bar. While I was dealing regularly with aggressive and at times violent (alcohol fueled) behaviour from customers  it gave me a huge appreciation for the service industry. I also worked with a great team, and it was a lot of fun as well. 

What thing would improve the quality of your life? 

Leaders who would actually tackle the huge problems humanity is facing, rather than being focused on self-interest and power.

What’s coming next for you?

It’s quite hard at the moment to think longer term as so much is uncertain. I’m working with HR colleagues to support our organisation through all the challenges the sector is facing, and to make sure that our people and OD provision continues to add value, remain relevant and is inclusive to all.