June 9, 2023

Beth Williams: Do the Right Thing

Beth Williams ’94 was intrigued by human behavior well before she earned a degree in psychology at Mary Washington. Since then, she’s built a dynamic career in human resources, working for government contractors in Northern Virginia and closer to home at CVS, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Hilldrup Moving and Storage.

She circled back to her alma mater this spring, when she became executive director for Human Resources at UMW. Through it all, her focus has stayed the same.

“What’s necessary for any role in HR is a sincere desire to be of service,” said Williams, who’s also on the boards of the Rappahannock United Way and the UMW Women’s Leadership Colloquium. “It’s a commitment to not only doing things right but doing the right things.”

Right down to the details, like the planning that went into tomorrow’s Annual Staff Fall Gathering, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., in the University Center Ballroom.

“Regardless of title or rank, all employees need to feel like their job and their contributions matter, because they do,” Williams said. “So come and listen to President Paino’s message, enjoy some good food and let yourself be appreciated. You’ve earned it!”

Q: What brought you to UMW?
A: I thought it would be pretty cool to work for my alma mater, and the idea of working for the mission of higher education, amid the energy of a college campus, was attractive. And, I got to join a team of leaders who help me contribute to UMW’s success and progress.

Q: Your HR career has been so diverse. What new challenges has higher education posed?
A: Getting used to Virginia state regulations – wow! I’m well-versed in federal employment regulations, but as a state institution, Virginia adds a new and massive layer of regulatory requirements. Thank goodness I have an awesome, experienced team who help me learn!

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: When an employee is in crisis or going through a difficult situation; paradoxically, it can also be the most rewarding part of the job. I’ve had employees who were facing homelessness, domestic violence, terminal illness, the death of a spouse, substance addiction and lots more. Many times, it’s heartbreaking, but when we work with them to navigate their benefits, time off and resources, we’re able to provide much-needed support at a critical time.

Q: What would you say to those who question the role of HR?
A: The profession has evolved significantly from the days when it was known as “personnel,” or as I say, “party planners and policy police.” HR touches each aspect of an organization and thus can be a valuable part of meeting the company’s strategic objectives. Every department plays an important role in the success of the organization and communication is key; HR can help facilitate more effective communication across departments which has exponential benefits.

Q: What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’ve “jumped out of a perfectly good airplane” … twice.

Q: Do you have any mantras you live by?
A: I have many – I love inspirational quotes! Here’s one: E + R = O (Event + Response = Outcome) This little formula reminds me that I can’t always control what happens in life, but I can control how I respond, and my response shapes the outcome.