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Five Questions with Barr's New VP of People and Talent

Pam Jensen shares what led her to Barr, how a commitment to racial equity impacts HR, and advice for job seekers in the social sector.

You joined Barr Foundation as a human resources consultant in 2021. What led you to Barr Foundation?

I’d been an independent consultant for over 20 years. I had worked with one of Barr’s education grantees and was familiar with the reach of Barr’s impact. So, when the call for a consultant to work directly with Barr crossed my path, I was thrilled about the opportunity. It felt like a natural fit. Our relationship began like many of my previous consultant engagements. Barr brought me in to support them in developing their HR growth plan. At the time, one person (Denise Gillespie) was responsible for all the functions related to human resources, talent acquisition, and support across both Pilot House and Barr. With Barr having experienced significant growth in recent years, it was clear that the HR role was fast becoming more than a one-person job. Through the consulting assignment, I worked with leadership to scope new roles and identify how to expand capacity thoughtfully.

In October of 2023, you accepted the full-time role as Vice President, People & Talent. What inspired your decision to commit to a more permanent position within Barr?

Before committing to a permanent position within Barr, I worked for a year as a consultant and an additional year as the interim Vice President of People and Talent. During two years, I recognized that Barr could be a place where I could grow, learn, and help create new possibilities for an impactful organization. Additionally, I had formed deep relationships that made me feel strongly connected to the Barr community and culture. Given that the pandemic had so profoundly disrupted how and where people worked, navigating new HR challenges also felt like an exciting next professional chapter. We had a unique opportunity to create something entirely new: a way of working that centers trust and flexibility. All of this could be designed with an eye toward retaining and supporting exceptional talent in the workplace. I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity for a personal career transition.

What engages you most about the work?

At Barr, we have an incredible opportunity to impact the region’s most challenging issues. We want to support passionate, engaged, and humble leaders in every area of Barr’s work. The culture at Barr supports leading with curiosity and openness. I believe this is what creates a high care and high performing organization. I appreciate that we’ve committed to learning as we go; we iterate, learn, and adjust. I value how we engage with every staff person, candidate, and partner as the expert of their own experience and domain. At Barr, we ground our work in a commitment to advancing racial equity and carry that commitment through our HR processes. We explore with candidates how their lived experiences might support what they bring to their role at Barr. We know that living out this commitment in our own talent development will ensure we can attract, retain, and develop talent from a variety of backgrounds. That’s what People & Talent at Barr is all about.

You’ve supported people and talent resourcing across diverse industries for over two decades. What advice can you offer to people who are seeking roles in philanthropy or the social impact arena?

Roles in philanthropy and the social sector require possibility creators, people who are mission based, deeply care, and are incredibly capable with big hearts backed by a humble ambition. It’s also helpful to take the long view. Work in this arena requires patience and persistence. At Barr, specifically, our grantees’ missions are ambitious and vital. It’s helpful to be creative, strategic, and committed to relationship building. It’s equally helpful to be comfortable with ambiguity and willing to nimbly adjust as new opportunities develop.

At Barr, we work to build a brighter New England. On a more personal level, where is your favorite place in New England and why?

My favorite place in New England is my adopted hometown of Duxbury, MA. Although I grew up in Chicago, I live and have raised my family on the south shore in Duxbury. Our community has both a working waterfront (with oyster farmers and a thriving fishing industry) and is a summer beach oasis. It has always felt like the perfect combination of history, natural beauty, and the earth’s bounty. It's pretty special to me.

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Pam Jensen

Vice President, People and Talent