005 Tina Freed on How Flexible Working Supports Talent Retention

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
005 Tina Freed on How Flexible Working Supports Talent Retention

Tina Freed is the co-founder of E2W, a financial markets Professional Services Company delivering Business Outsource Processing, Consulting and Contracting Services with a twist. The twist is that E2W have built a successful global business based on flexible and agile working by establishing a model that solves the challenges facing a diverse talent pool of women from a financial services background.


Amanda:  Today I am really pleased to be interviewing Tina Freed of E2W. Tina co-founded a company called E2W, which is a financial markets professional services company. She founded E2W about 10 years ago. What E2W does is they deliver business outsource processing and consulting and contracting services, but they deliver those services with a bit of a twist. Here’s the twist that I think you’ll be really interested in for this interview. E2W have built this global business based on flexible and agile working. They’ve established a model that solves the challenges facing a diverse talent pool of women, in particularly from financial services background.


I’m really excited to be interviewing Tina today because I know that she is going to give us a real insight into what you need to do if you are a woman and you, perhaps, have a family, and you’re looking to continue your career, and you’re thinking, “How on Earth do I do this given the level of flexibility that you perceive, that your organization, or your industry might need?” Tina is definitely the woman to be asking these questions. Tina, welcome. Oh, I want to say, also, is Tina is obviously a mum herself. I’m going to ask her about how she started E2W right now. Welcome, Tina!


Tina:   Thank you, hello.


Amanda:         Hi. You started E2W. I believe you started E2W because of your experience of becoming a mum yourself?


Tina:   Yes, absolutely. Briefly, my background has always been within financial services. I worked for over 15 years in the city. Then I had a baby, and that was a huge impactful moment for me. I realized that the choice, then, about 15 years ago, was to either have a child or have a career. I didn’t think that was right. I saw a gap in the market. The opportunity for people like me to continue working in the city and meet my aspirations to be a mother were really nonexistent, so I started my own business, really, to make sure that I could satisfy both my need to be a mother and my need to have a career. I knew I couldn’t be alone in that experience, and I’m obviously not. I knew that there must be a way that we could offer flexible working for women who want to develop their hard-earned careers and still be a mother.


I also knew and sensed that the city-based firms that I’d worked for could benefit from the experience and expertise gained, and potentially it would be a much more cost-effective way of using that talent. From the outset, we sought to tap into that significant resource pool of, typically, women who’d left the city when they were excluded from financial institutions because those firms couldn’t offer that true work-life integration.


Amanda:         You’ve got a pool of women who are saying exactly the same as you, that it just feels like we can’t do this because the demands that the organizations are putting on us, we can’t meet because of our roles as mothers as well. What response did you receive when you started talking to employers about these women and your idea?


Tina:   When we started, we effectively wrapped services around these women and took those ideas back into these institutions. The idea of needing to be visible, or the term presenteeism is used quite regularly at the moment, was and still is a big issue in some areas. You had to be visible, sitting in their offices, to be working. We proved that, actually, it can be differently and this is certainly not the case. We have done a lot to change that attitude. The other lesson that we learned very quickly and that we were able to get over, was the issue about location. We set our offices up where the women lived, as opposed to where they were working. That helped, hugely, with regard to time for commuting and traveling.


It enables them to be more flexible, purely because their workplace is not very far away from their home life.


Amanda:         You actually setup teleworking-type offices. Would you have different working for different organizations within one hub? Is that the kind of thing?


Tina:   Yes. The other thing which we learned very quickly after [inaudible 00:05:32] setup is that also, women, we didn’t want home-based employees. We wanted women working in an office because that’s what they wanted. A lot of the reasons for that is that intellectual stimulation that people get when they meet and they work together. All our team work in our offices, whether that’s in the UK or in the States, or [inaudible 00:05:57] in Asia, recently, they like to go to work. They like to discuss their – both home and work – aspirations with each other. They deliver services from our offices into our various clients.


Amanda:         How many offices do you have now, and where are those offices?


Tina:   We now have four offices, globally. We have an office in Kent, which is [inaudible 00:06:21] 30 miles outside of the cities. We [opened 00:06:27] in the USA. We have an office in Morristown, which is New Jersey. Again, people who deliver into Manhattan, but they live in New Jersey, so the office is there. We opened, about two years ago, in Singapore. Also, recently, in Zurich for all the same reasons.


Amanda:         You do realize, Tina, that after people have listened to this, you’re going to get calls and emails saying, “Please, can you open an office in [Hull 00:06:53], in [Cornwall 00:06:55], and in [Cheshire 00:06:55], in [Liverpool 00:06:57]?”


Tina:   Yes. We’d be delighted to. Obviously, the more we can grow then the more people we can help, and that’s what we’re about. Interestingly, the last couple of years, we have broadened the services that we’re offering to enable people, particularly women, who actually can work within their clients’ sites, but again, in a flexible way. Flexibility does mean different things to different people. That can be they want to work short days, it can be that they want to work too long days, it can be that they … Some people want to work 9-5 because they’re currently working 6-11. There are different ways and different practices that we can put in place to enable women to continue to work.


Amanda:         If you have a woman who comes to you and she says, “This is what I do. I have this expertise.” Will she typically ask you what opportunities there are? Or will she be asking you, “This is the kind of flexibility I’m after?” How does it tend to start?


Tina:   We do a lot of work in building what we’re calling E2W community, which is full of women who actually want to work in a flexible way. We do a lot of work in understanding what “flexible way” means to that person, because I think that’s fundamentally important. Now, sometimes we have client requirements where we need specific expertise, and others we have brilliant resources, women who actually can offer clients certain expertise. We try and match it that way, as well.


Amanda:         Is there an art to it, rather than a science, or is it a bit of both?


Tina:   I think it’s a bit of both. Obviously, what you’ve got to offer has to be in demand. I think what’s in demand is sometimes … If you like, clients don’t necessarily know what’s out there, if I can say that.


Amanda:         Yes, I know what you mean. You have to educate them.


Tina:   Yes, absolutely.


Amanda:         How have attitudes changed since you started E2W? Is it easier now to convince employers to be more flexible?


Tina:   Yes, it is. Over the last ten years, really, there’s been huge amounts of work in addressing the gender diversity issues. Attitudes have changed. Most organizations, now, have put gender diversity on the agenda. They’ve got to have a sustainable policy. We have, however, had to ensure and educate, if you like, that that’s not just a tick box exercise. [inaudible 00:10:06], in that contracting, consultancy markets, it is quite a challenge because it is a male dominated sector, but we’re making sure that they are aware that there’s a credible talent pool of women who can do the job just as well, or even better.


Amanda:         When I was a project manager many years ago, the new right to request flexible working in the UK had just come in. It was the right to request, which I believe it still is. I exercised my right and requested flexible working. The response that I got is, “There’s no such thing as a part time project manager.” Faced with that kind of response, how would you respond?


Tina:   Because I’m being interviewed, I would respond with, “Actually, we’ve proved time and time again there absolutely is such a thing as a very, very good project manager who actually works in a different way.” You can label it part time, you can label it full time, whatever you want to do, but let’s look at what that person can deliver. It’s the outcome of that work that’s important, not how many hours it takes the person to do it. I think that mindset has changed, but it needs to still change. I will say, also, I think it’s incredibly important, and a lot of the innovation now is around what is flexible working. Ten years ago, flexible working was only part time. 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.


Amanda:         I think, as time has gone by, you must have amassed a great deal of proof and testimonials from organizations where it’s actually working.


Tina:   Yeah, absolutely. We’ve absolutely proved it has, and it does. It’s focusing on what that role requires, what the outcomes of that role that you’re looking to fill, is much more important than the metrics, if you like, of how many hours that person’s doing. I think if we can start shifting that mindset and stop writing a job description and put how many hours it’s got to be, let’s think about the output, then I think that’s where we’re going to start winning even more.


Amanda:         Yeah, the Google model is trailblazing that, isn’t it? They have no fixed hours. They have no hours contract at all. It’s about putting the employees’ well-being first, but still expecting a lot from them, as I understand.


Tina:   Yeah. That’s a lesson we’ve learned, and also that for people working long hours, their payoff is that they get the flexibility they’re looking for. They work really hard and are very productive in the time that they’re working.


Amanda:         You know what? I don’t know if you know this, but that is based on the principle of reciprocity. As human beings, we have certain drivers, and one of them is reciprocity. You give somebody something, then they feel the need to give back. It’s a fundamental human driver. So simple!


Tina:   Yes, it is simple. I don’t know why, in a work sense, we haven’t really done more about it. It’s there. It’s happening and we’ve proved it.


Amanda:         I’d like to ask you something about flexible working. It’s come from my own experience with my clients. In fact, I was coaching someone just this morning, and she’s a sales director. She was saying that she’s not as happy in her company now as she once was. There’s a few things that aren’t quite doing it for her, as it happens with every career in every company at some point. She has got a blocker. That blocker is the perception, the believe, whatever you want to call it, that if she leaves her company it’ll be much, much more difficult for her to achieve the same salary, the same seniority in a new company because she hasn’t proven herself.

She hasn’t got that relationship. There’s not the loyalty-based, there. I’ve found that, over the years with so many of my clients, that they might have flexibility within their company, but they feel that it’s almost career-limiting, in a way, because they feel like they have to stay where they are because it’s just going to be far, far more difficult to establish the flexibility with a new company.

My approach to that is that, when you’re looking for a job, you have to establish what it is that you want the flexibility, and have the courage to actually present your worth, but to stick to … Obviously, have that discussion, but to have your set in stones in place. What would be your advice to women like that, who feel like they can’t leave the company they’re in because they won’t get the same level of flexibility?

Tina:   Maybe this is a [trait 00:16:14] of women, a little bit is [confidence 00:16:17]. If they thought about what they can offer and how they can help that business and how they can support a new company, surely then that’s attractive in its own right. Again, the pay off of that is actually you will deliver that, but in return, you want to work in a different way. A lot of people listening to this may think that’s easy for me to say, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Again, 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.”


There is no harm in trying. If the company that she, potentially, could go to isn’t open to that, then does she want to work there anyway?


Amanda:         Yes. It’s about having the courage to go for it, and the awareness to look at the company’s culture.


Tina:   Yeah, absolutely.


Amanda:         I guess, to keep the faith that companies are out there, and, as you say, it’s getting better.


Tina:   I think it is getting better. It is keeping the faith. It is saying, “Look, I can really help you. This is how I’m going to do it.” It’s challenging that. It’s challenging the status quo. It’s challenging them to say, “Why wouldn’t you employ me? Because I can do the role.”


Amanda:         Knowing your value.


Tina:   Yes, absolutely.


Amanda:         Thanks, Tina. Maternity leave and the whole game of playing catch-up on your career or dropping out altogether. I guess, one thing that we can do to address this issue is to introduce more flexibility. Do you have anything to add to that, as to what we can do to address the issue of losing women after maternity leave?


Tina:   Where we are, I think it’s accepted now, and I think it’s got to be, that women have babies. End of. Women do have children. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a difficult thing if you have the right [inaudible 00:19:03] in place to support them during that time. There’s some very simple things that I think you could do. From my own experience, nobody spoke to me during my maternity leave or pre or post having children from my organization. I would’ve appreciated just a call occasionally to update me on what’s going on, and also to make me feel still involved. I think that should be done as a matter of course, and I think companies are better at doing that. I also think that you should have a conversation with your employer about what it is you’re looking to do. Now, you’re not necessarily going to be able to say what you’re looking for in two, three years time, but you can certainly explain what you’re looking and what your requirements are now, and try and work a way that that’s going to work for both of you.


Amanda:         Collaboration, essentially?


Tina:   It’s collaboration, not [assumption 00:20:10]. A lot of the antiquated old maternity leave “let’s leave them alone” I think is completely the wrong approach. I think it is collaboration, it’s understanding what your requirements are now, not assumed that they’re potentially not going to come back, or they’re looking for something else. I think it’s a conversation that, absolutely, you’ve [fundamentally 00:20:32] got to have to make sure that your requirements are understood.


Amanda:         Although, certainly British law, actually, doesn’t facilitate that because employers have to be very, very careful that they don’t contact someone on maternity leave if the woman has said she doesn’t want to be contacted. Am I right?


Tina:   Yes, but again, what I’m saying, it’s about choice. You can say, “Look, I don’t want to be contacted for six months.” Or you can say, “Contact me after two months.” It’s that absolute openness in terms of what you’re looking to achieve from this and what you think you’re going to want now, not in three years time. I think a lot of the issues come where there’s assumptions from both sides as to what the maternity actually means.


Amanda:         Yes. I like that. Collaboration, not assumption. Tina, I’d liked to move on. I would like to ask you about a blog post that you recently published on E2W. For anybody listening to this, if you go to E2W.co and search for the blog post, “Forget supermums. We need real working mothers.” This is the one that I’m going to be asking Tina about. I was really pleased to read this. I found it really refreshing that the anonymous guest post on this blog said, “Forget supermums.” It reminded me of the interview I did with Kristin Pressner, who’s the first interviewee on the podcast. She said she didn’t think it was possible to have two alpha careers, as she called them.


She said that the reason that she was able to grow her career was with the support of her husband, Daniel, who is the … I don’t know if I used the wrong word [inaudible 00:22:35], but the house husband. Daniel holds everything together at home and is there whilst Kristin is growing her career. I’d love to know your thoughts under the whole concept of supermum, because I think it’s one we’re going to be talking about more and more. Has your experience been that there’s a conspiracy of silence amongst a few elite women to make it look as if you can have it all, only if you’re like them?


Tina:   I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. What I think has happened is that the focus has been very much placed [inaudible 00:23:18] publication, it’s investment, if you like, have been in the Top 100 companies which is where you get that supermum. There has been lots of work done, and it’s very good work by the [inaudible 00:23:33] club which targets women on [boards 00:23:36]. All the press coverage has been around these fantastic women who’ve achieved that board level position. A lot of people now are saying, “One, not everybody wants to get to the board level. Two, there are lots of different women, at different levels within their organization who should be recognized, and aren’t.” I think it’s purely been the focus. I think, and we believe, that the gender centric innovation, really, is much more rife in the SME markets, the smaller companies where it’s about encouraging and repeating the innovation that smaller companies have been able to adopt, rather than the larger companies.


We’ve got to shape the way we work and what we’re trying to do, and E2W’s trying to do, is encourage the larger companies to adopt some of these practices and innovation that we’ve put in place which addresses women at all levels. From people who start, to, very importantly, the middle managers, to actually get to the senior managers, or give them the choice to work in the way they want to.


Amanda:         That point about middle managers is very important, I think. We were talking about this before we started the interview. We both believe that the middle managers is where the difficulty lies because the support structure is not quite so easy to put in place. What’s your thoughts on how we can support that vast army of talent, that is middle manager talent?


Tina:   I think, again, there’s lots of ways we should be supporting the middle managers. These women really are the future board members, if you like, from the larger organizations. They’re also the people who will provide the innovation in the future in whatever field they’re in. Just to share an example with you that I came across recently from somebody who was a middle manager who was asked to take a promotion. She said no to that promotion because, at the time, she wanted to finish what she felt was her current role. She enjoyed working with her team and she wanted to finish it really well. She also wasn’t sure that the area where the promotion was in was the right area for her to go into. What happened to her was there was an immediate assumption where she wasn’t ambitious, which meant a year later she was passed over because nobody asked her again because they felt she just didn’t want to do anything else other than be in that role.


I feel like there’s lot of lessons there to be learned. At the time, it wasn’t right for her, and that’s a great thing, but you need to have the framework to enable these women middle managers to [state 00:27:05] that, and also understand that their requirements are different. Maybe, in that situation, a man would’ve said “Yes, please” and [inaudible 00:27:14]. That’s the differences. We need to embrace differences, but we need to understand why people are saying what they are, and the women are saying what they are, because we need to understand what their aspirations are, and the time scales [for 00:27:28] that.


Helping middle management women is fundamentally important. Understand what their comments are is important to have that mix, and to retain them, to allow them to continue to grow and [inaudible 00:27:45] wherever they want to be.


Amanda:         What I’m hearing here is it’s all down to communication, isn’t it?


Tina:   It is communication, yes. Yes, absolutely.


Amanda:         Thanks, Tina. Thank you. I would just like to ask you a few questions, personal questions, really, about how you make it work, how you run this global company and keep your head. What’s your work-life balance? What’s your definition of flexibility, for you?


Tina:   My definition of flexibility for me is allowing me to achieve in my career and achieve in my family life. What I again learned very quickly, and had to be very disciplined at was to set priorities in both areas, and make sure that I’ve met those priorities in both areas. We know what’s important to us. We know what’s important to our family. I think I was lucky, because I do have a great support network, both with my colleagues in work and with my family at home, to enable me to do that.


Amanda:         What are your priorities for your life and how you run this business, how you are outside of business?


Tina:   My priorities are to … It’s simply to achieve in both and to make sure that everybody around me is also benefiting and getting what they want from it. That’s fundamentally important for me. It’s huge satisfaction when we employ different women and suddenly it all clicks. They feel that they’re able to go and watch the school play, they’re able to continue with an MBA, and they’re also able to help and support clients with their knowledge. It’s a great feeling of satisfaction, that is.


Amanda:         Oh, gosh. I can understand that. For you, you said to me, twice, “What’s important is I achieve, I achieve in both.” I was going to ask you what does that mean? Achieving? It sounds like what achieving is, is that you help other women to achieve their goals.


Tina:   No, absolutely. Yes. It is about that. It’s something that I’ve always been very passionate about. Achieving at work means everybody is literally working the way they want to do it, and that’s great. There’s a great environment in the offices because of the framework that we’ve got. Achieving it in family life, as we all know, is sharing our successes with [our 00:30:35] children, but most importantly being there to share their successes because, as we all know, you sometimes get a finite time to listen to that story, or see them cross the line, and I think it’s been lovely to be able to do that.


Amanda:         Your children are grown up. The youngest is 19, is that right?


Tina:   19, yup. 19.


Amanda:         My children are 8 and 13 … Having children from that age to 22, how do you create that family time when two have flown the nest and one is perhaps about to?


Tina:   How do I what? Sorry, I didn’t hear the question.


Amanda:         Create that family time, that time with your family.


Tina:   Again, it’s priorities. It’s when you’re at home, they’re my priority. When at work, my work is my priority. What I’ve been able to do is mix the two. One [couldn’t 00:31:38] exist without the other. All of us at work share our family lives. We’re all very much aware of where each of our children are. It’s funny when the [11+ 00:31:49] results come out, or the [TCS 00:31:51] results come out because we all share in those conversations. At home, all the children are aware of what we do. I think that’s the balance that I want. It’s not one without the other.


Amanda:         I like that. It’s integrated rather than never the twain shall meet. Is there anything in your life that’s consistently challenging? Do you ever feel like you’d like more time? Or less something?


Tina:   The consistent challenge, really, is the constant obstacles that we face around flexible working. I also, to be honest with you, see that as an opportunity, because the more people who raise it as an obstacle, the more people we can say, “Actually, it’s not an obstacle, and we can prove it.” It is a challenge to constantly have to say, “Look at your outcomes, what are you looking for? We can work in a different way.”


Amanda:         I want to ask you about purposeful life. I suspect that you probably already answered that in terms of what is your life purpose? A huge, huge question.


Tina:   I’m going to go back to sharing both my achievements with family and career both at the same time. It’s sharing and being able to engage and succeed in both areas.


Amanda:         Great answer, love it. Thank you. Do you ever doubt yourself? Have you ever doubted yourself with building up this global company?


Tina:   Course I have. I think that’s a personal trait more than anything else. Can I achieve what I want to, is more a question that I would ask myself. Can you really do what you’re setting out to do? I often ask that. It doesn’t stop me trying. I think it’s important to try. Sometimes, whilst you’re trying, you’ll find a different way of doing it.


Amanda:         Whilst you’re trying, and even if you’re having those doubts and fears, etc., is there anything that helps you to keep going, to not give up?


Tina:   Looking at what I’ve achieved, I suppose. [inaudible 00:34:48] Don’t focus on the negative, focus on the positive. That’s very important. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.


Amanda:         Love it. Okay. Yes, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.


Tina:   Yeah, and that’s important with everything you do, I think.


Amanda:         Thank you, Tina. I just want to ask you, just bringing our interview to a close, do you have a mantra or a favorite inspirational quote? Something to leave us with that we can repeat to ourselves?


Tina:   There’s one which resonated with me a long time ago, and that was the Mahatma Gandhi quote, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” That is about self-worth. It’s about trying as much as you can, yourself, to be that person rather than expecting other people to do it for you. Thinking about that also, growing up, both of my parents always said to me, “You can do anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.” I do think that’s very true. I would add, also, to the end of that, “… So what’s stopping you?” Mostly, the only thing that’s stopping you is your belief that you can do what you want to do.


Amanda:         When you get to that old chestnut, that belief or that lack of belief that you can’t do it, what do you do then? What advice would you give then, when that thing stops you?


Tina:   If it’s stopping you, you’ve got to think why it’s stopping you, and then think, “Is there another way of doing it?”


Amanda:         Feel the lack of self belief and do it anyway, a different way.


Tina:   Do it anyway. It can be done. If we want it badly enough, I think it can be done. It’s not going to happen overnight, mostly, but the next step is usually quite small. It’ll give you the confidence to go for the bigger step.


Amanda:         Yes, baby steps. Take the baby steps first and then go for the bigger step.


Tina:   Go for the bigger steps.


Amanda:         Tina, thank you very much. Thank you for sharing so much on this interview.


Thank you for listening to the Inspiring Women Interviews. You can find the episode show notes, episodes, and full transcription of each interview at AmandaAlexander.com/podcast If you’d like to connect, you can tweet me @AATheCoach or find me on Facebook @AmandaAlexanderCoach.


Show Notes


In 2002, Tina and her husband set up E2W as a solution to the thousands of highly skilled, well-trained professionals who, given the right opportunity, would continue in or return to their financial services careers. In 2016, E2W launched its recruitment, contractor and consultancy businesses, and became the go-to place for banks to collect the gender dividend and for women to manage their financial services careers.

Find E2W on Linked In

Connect with Tina on Twitter

E2W Blog Post: Forget Supermums, We Need Real Working Mothers 


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