Erika Saffold on Supporting Those Who Support Others

Erika Saffold didn’t set out to be in human resources. It was a love of people and a desire for fairness and respect in the workplace that shifted her path towards the field. Finding the right fit in the non-profit sector was an added bonus. At Heartland Alliance, Erika discovered that she could achieve her professional ambitions and find deeper purpose at the same time. She is currently a Human Resources Business Partner supporting Heartland Human Care Services with everything from talent development, coaching, and management development, to personnel changes, and job design.

What got you into this work?

I fell into HR. I thought I would be in television – behind the camera, not in front. I worked in television for a while and realized that the way they treated me was not fair. I thought there had to be a better way to be on the positive side of working and maybe even help to keep some of these things from happening. I moved back to Chicago and was working as an executive assistant in a midsized company. While I was there, I helped in the HR department and got to work with people, advocate for fairness, and help to influence policies and rules. I thought it was a good space for me, and the rest is history.

When did you know you were in the place you needed to be?

Before I came to Heartland, I had never worked for a non-profit. I started to research the organization and realized this company does everything I believe in, but I never knew large non-profits with a real corporate structure did that. I felt comfortable when I came here, and then I got deeper into the work and I found out really what we do. It was a different feeling of purpose. I could finally be in a space that I love, which is human resources, while still helping people on a different level. I feel like human resources helps people anyway, but now we are helping employees who are also helping people, which I feel you can’t get anywhere else. I love the fact that I can be supportive to our employees who are supportive to so many other people in the word.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Giving jobs, giving promotions, giving trainings. If there is something positive we get to do for our employees, I really enjoy that. And of course giving jobs to people who just want an opportunity with us, especially those who have been applying with us for years and finally they are offered a role. Those are the ones that really make it worth it.

As we think about having just celebrated the 4th of July and what it means to hold true to “American values” like equality, civil rights, and participation, can you talk about how Heartland promotes those kinds of values to our staff and our participants?

In my opinion, America is inclusive. We respect people’s differences and we promote equality. I think within Heartland, we are ahead of the curve when it comes to that. We have staff that represent all different shapes and sizes and cultures. Heartland embraces that and pushes it forward. We say that we support a wide array of participants and our employee base reflects that.

I also think this is a great time because Heartland embraces women, especially women in leadership. Our leaders really set the stage when it comes to strong women and minority women showing that we can run corporations – and do a great job at it – and we can be graceful, we can be beautiful, we can be everything that you expect from a woman plus more. Since I have been here, I have seen many women being hired into higher positions than what I have seen in my career.

How can others help promote these values on behalf of Heartland Alliance and in support of our mission?

I think a very simple concept is to respect differences. Respect that you work in a place that embraces differences, and you as an individual should as well. If you work alongside someone that is different from you, don’t make it a big deal and focus on pointing out your differences because we are all more the same than you might think. When people feel comfortable enough to share things with you, be open and receive the information, embracing the differences and what they say. Even if it’s something you don’t agree with, like a lifestyle or a career path, you can support the person. Doing that will make people across Heartland feel welcomed and it will show that we embrace equality, and differences, and everything that makes us who we are.