With Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) finding that allowing employees to telecommute even half the time would save companies at least £7000 per employee per year, and numerous studies illustrating the widespread benefits of a diverse workforce, three women in particular have had the chance to reflect on the evolution of working life in the UK.
Charlotte Sweeney is the Leeds-born school dropout who today juggles conducting investigatory reports for government officials and picking up leadership awards from Harvard with advising FTSE 100 companies on why they need to ditch their limited, insular hiring protocol. Jessica Williams is the recruitment start-up entrepreneur teaching her sector that hiring talented pregnant employees breeds trust, loyalty and profits, while Bhavini Shah is a dyslexic, Asian woman who scaled the financial world and is now driving the female pipeline through her City Hive network.
Together they are female leaders championing the collective tribe of women changing British work life beyond recognition.
Charlotte has been recognised as a leader for more than fifteen years in large-scale change programmes aimed at advancing inclusion and diversity in corporate environments. “I feel a person’s background should not define where they end up in life,” she says. “My upbringing enabled me to believe that anything is possible as long as you have the commitment and drive to achieve it; it also drove me to challenge the status quo of stereotypes.”
It is this commitment to challenging inequality that has seen her recognised by Harvard University with a Global Leadership Award, work with the Secretary of State and the Lord Mayor of London on major initiatives, and become Vice-Chair for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills’ external Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Panel.
In an era when simultaneous calls for diversity and flexible working have never been higher, the trio are at the forefront of this much needed cultural and leadership change, leading by example.
For Jessica Williams, the catalyst for starting her business was her disbelief at what she describes as an “often unbelievably antiquated” secretarial recruitment industry. With agencies making money by placing highly skilled, yet frequently undervalued PAs who are often superficially assessed based on the way they look, dress and speak, the Sidekicks London Founder is challenging the status quo.
With discrimination rife in the industry, after more than a decade of working with billionaires and successful business people, the Surrey-based entrepreneur recognised that her sector needed a recruiter who understood the changing nature of modern support and would prioritise the needs of candidates as much as clients, simultaneously challenging the out-dated ideals and protocol so endemic within the market.
Today Sidekicks, the recruitment agency Jessica founded in December 2015 in London’s St James Square, already employs nine staff, made up of some of the industry’s most accomplished recruiters.
Adopting a refreshingly millennial approach to employment, Sidekicks is a beacon for the benefits of flexi-working, with much of her workforce made up of working mothers who are employed on a part-time or flexible basis, while delivering a level of commercial success that is testament to adopting a trust-based employee approach.
“Flexible working isn’t a concession, it’s a life choice. As an employer and an advocate for our candidates, it is possible for a person of any gender to have everything as long as they are operating outside of this out-dated, rigid environment. I honestly believe in 10 years time we’ll all think it’s bonkers that we all had to get on a train and be in the same place at the same time every morning. When you put people in an environment where everything is geared towards convenience, support and common sense, they will flourish – and so will your business as a result,” says Jessica.
Bhavini Shah, who admits to having shortened her birth name to ‘Bev’ in the past in order not to limit her employment opportunities, has 15 years working in the financial sector.
Sharing the ethos that drove the launch of her City Hive network for female asset managers, she says: “I’m not interested in gender diversity for the sake of it. It’s about giving the opportunity to everyone to achieve what they want. In terms of asset management, City Hive is starting by simply letting girls know that this career opportunity exists, removing the mystique and stigma around this area of the financial industry and then driving the pipeline. Once we have female talent at the table, our role is to support the women who come through to thrive and get maximum satisfaction from their job. What we do is critical to society, critical to people and we will do a better job when we are a cross section of views and backgrounds.”