Inspirational mum using her cancer diagnosis to help others
Claire McLean turned what could have been an awful situation into something positive. She is on a mission to modernise and improve HR and the perception of the industry by using her own personal experience of cancer and early-onset menopause.
Last week, Claire marked eight years since getting her diagnosis and decided to raise awareness for breast cancer and menopause in younger women, especially in the workplace. Originally from Rawtenstall in Lancashire, Claire’s inspiring HR Journey began a few years after moving back to the UK from France at 18 years old and deciding that she wanted to help make a difference after working in sales and technical support, Claire now lives in Gretna.
Just six weeks into her new role, and a week before her 38th birthday, Claire received the devastating news that she had breast cancer. Out of the blue, with no family history, and with a young child to care for, Claire powered on despite the devastating diagnosis.
She she said: “I went through six rounds of chemotherapy, 18 rounds of radiotherapy, three surgeries and developed osteoporosis as a result of my treatment. I had to have my ovaries removed two years later to make sure my cancer didn’t come back, and I’ve undergone 12 months of IV hormone treatments. My body and mind have been through quite a lot.”
But, cancer wasn’t the only thing that Claire had to battle. She added: “The menopause kicked in early because of the treatment that I went through. That kind of spurred me on. I felt as though I needed to be in control of my own destiny. I had over 800 people depending on me as their HR lead. I wouldn’t have done them justice. Plus, I needed to get some time back to myself and recover.”
And that’s where her company Realise HR began “It was born from doing the right thing for me and the right thing for the business and their people, as well as my entrepreneurial spirit that I have always had as all my close family have been their own bosses – my dad was self-employed from the age of 13 and ran a successful property development business,” Claire said.
Realise HR has been operating seven years this November and Claire is already on track for achieving a forecasted £1.25 million turnover by 2026. Her team has grown from just her to a thriving team of 10, counting Pladis, AO, and Specsavers among their high-profile clients.
She is now using her personal story to change the face of HR and encourage more businesses to be open to offering menopause and cancer support to their employees – no matter their age. Claire continued: “Imagine a 35-year-old woman with a career trajectory in the corporate world, a diagnosis of cancer or the menopause coming on early could be really damaging to their career without the right support around them. But there’s no need for it to go down that route and there are things that businesses can do to help and prevent that from happening.”
Menopause is a huge talking point within the HR industry at present which makes stories like Claire’s so important. Claire said: “I can talk about the menopause and breast cancer from a mid-30s point of view – we tend to forget about those women. For breast cancer alone, there are tens of thousands of women who are going to be very likely to go through the menopause in that younger age bracket. What are we doing for those women?”
Claire also takes a people-focussed approach to HR, and it is her vision is to be the best independent HR and recruitment consultancy in the UK – but she’s also smashing the stigma surrounding HR with her own people-first view approach. Claire said: “We’re all humans and we all behave differently so you must have a human centred approach rather than a policy driven one. Back when I had an employer, this view often went against the grain – it just wasn’t how you did HR. I genuinely don’t believe in applying a blanket policy – no matter what – and not thinking about the human in it all.
“My view resulted in some difficult conversations with my employers but more often than not it was the right thing to do. But now, since COVID, what we have learned is that people matter, and we should be treating people like humans and not necessarily like employee numbers. It’s massively shifted how we do HR.”
The workforce of today is a mix of generations, each with a different view on the way they work. It’s because of this shift that has brought things such as wellbeing, the menopause and more to the forefront of HR – especially with the help of creative platforms such as TikTok highlighting the way employees don’t want to be treated with token gestures for their hard work, such as a ‘perk’ of payday pizza.
Claire said: “If you think about the trajectory of HR historically, back in the day, HR would get told “there’s no tea in the kitchen” or “there’s no toilet paper in the toilets”. We’ve moved on since then, but that may be a reason why men haven’t necessarily seen it as a career that they can add to. We’re much more than this now and key part of a successful business.
“This year at Realise HR we are creating an early careers programme to take around schools and bust myths about HR to educate the younger generations about this amazingly rewarding career. Hopefully, this will help break the female-only stigma and encourage more men to consider HR as a career path.”