My latest Inspiring Women Interviews Podcast has just been broadcast on iTunes and Stitcher. This episode is an interview with Tina Freed, founder of E2W and a champion of flexible working to support talent retention and attraction.
Tina has been helping highly talented women in the city to continue with their careers since 2002, when she and her husband formed E2W, a company with this objective as its primary driver.
Tina’s philosophy is:
“Flexible working is not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity – and we can prove it”
Before setting up E2W Tina worked in the city within financial services for over 15 years. When she had a baby, she realised that the choice, then- 16 years ago – was to either have a child OR have a career – not both. But she didn’t think that was right, so she did something about it.
She saw a gap in the market – the opportunity for people like her to continue working in the city AND to fulfil her aspirations as a mother were nonexistent, so she started her own business. E2W was created so that Tina could be a mum without sacrificing her career.
She knew that she wasn’t alone in wanting this balance, so she set out to find a way to offer flexible working for women who wanted to develop their hard-earned careers and still be a mother.
She also felt that the city-based firms that she’d worked for could benefit from the experience of such women, and potentially it would be a much more cost-effective way of using these talented women.
Tina sought to tap into the big resource pool of mainly women who’d left the city when they were excluded from financial institutions, because those firms couldn’t offer that true work-life integration. E2W set up offices where the women lived, as opposed to where they were working. This obvious solution helped women to overcome the challenge of juggling the daily commute with childcare.
Tina understands that flexibility means different things to different people. Some want to work short days, some want to work 3 long days. For others, an ideal flexible working week might be a traditional 9-5 day, simply because they are currently working 6pm -11pm.
Whatever people’s definition of flexibility, the point is that there are may different patterns that companies can put in place to enable women to continue to work. It starts with thinking creatively.
“Some of our employees work 9:30 to 2:30, and they do as much in five hours as they would if they went into the city and worked eight hours.”
Many women in middle management face career stagnation, not advancing because of a fearful mindset about the scarcity of opportunities for professionals that also advocate flexible working patterns.
These talented women feel that they can’t leave their current company or seek promotion, because they won’t be able to retain the same level of flexibility they’ve enjoyed. There is a commonly held belief that flexible working patterns are only offered to those who have served their time and proven their loyalty. This results in many talented women staying in roles that they have outgrown, simply because they see it as the lesser of two evils.
Challenging a limiting mindset is one of my favourite things to do as a Coach, and it’s also a big driver behind me launching the Inspiring Women Interviews podcast. I want women to learn from role models who have proven that it IS possible to combine a great career with having a life!
I’ve coached many such women over the years and I know that the only way around this is to challenge them to be courageous. Often easier said than done, of course, especially when well-intentioned family and friends reinforce the fearful belief.
My clients frequently tell me that their partners or parents urge them to keep their head down and make the most of it –
“You’ve got a good thing going here, it’s not that bad – don’t rock the boat”.
We need to actively support and encourage more women to challenge the status quo, perceived or otherwise. Ultimately it is up to them. This requires courage and often a suspension of disbelief, but also confidence in their abilities.
Tina agrees: She encourages women to thinks about what they can offer, how they might be able to support a new company, and to position themselves from this perspective.
“It’s about saying, ‘Look, I’m valuable. I have lots to offer. I have lots of experience that you would benefit from. For me to be able to do this, I would like to work in a flexible way. Flexibility to me means … Whatever it is’.”
I encourage the women I support to change their internal language from:
“But why would they employ me and offer me flexible working?”
“Why wouldn’t you employ me? Because I can do this role and make a valuable contribution.”
Attracting and retaining middle management women is crucially important to filling the leadership talent pipeline. There’s an onus on companies to give these women explicit permission to step up and fulfil their potential. This means that employers need to be open-minded and creative about flexible working and communicate this position loudly and clearly.
But equally as important is the onus on women themselves. They need to take a deep breath, screw their courage to the sticking place and step up. Try this for a career affirmation…
“Flexible working is not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity – and I can prove it”
And then… go and prove it!