Jessica Williams founder of PA and secretarial recruitment company, Sidekicks, is urging other business owners to enforce a dynamic of trust firmly in the foundations of their business values.
Adopting a refreshingly millennial approach to employment, Sidekicks are a beacon for the benefits of flexi-working, with much of Jessica’s work force being comprised of working parents who are employed on a part time or flexible basis, whilst delivering a level of commercial success which is testament to adopting a trust-based employee approach. Having grown her team from one to ten after just one year in business, Jessica is more passionate than ever about the benefits of allowing staff the space and trust to work in the environment and circumstances which allow their creativity and productivity to thrive.
With discrimination rife in the recruitment sector, after over a decade of working with billionaires and successful business people, Jessica recognised that her industry 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of modern support and would prioritise the needs of candidates as much as clients, simultaneously challenging the outdated ideals and protocol so endemic within the market.
Already well known within the industry for making decisions which might be viewed as risky by traditional employers (recently employing a heavily pregnant staff member) it can be no coincidence that, as Sidekicks approach their first anniversary, the business is thriving and driving healthy industry change in the process. Jessica doesn’t feel that staff who are hardworking, diligent and dedicated to their careers should be penalized for the fact that they are of an age and gender where they may want to have children, and she is urging the business world to be inspired by her flexible, dynamic recruiting ideas.
“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candidates, it is possible for a person of any gender to have everything as long as they are operating outside of this outdated, rigid environment. I honestly believe in ten 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.”
According to the ONS*, 77% of people working within Administrative and Secretarial occupations are female. Given the high proportion of women in the industry, Jessica feels it is even more critical that attitudes towards expectant and working mothers are open-minded, fair and nondiscriminatory. This kind of employment helps foster a sense of trust and likewise a sense of responsibility to deliver and honour that trust. This trust dynamic allows employees the freedom to work in an environment within their circumstances and the most conducive environment for happiness and productivity. The return on that investment for the employer is that the employees take on a sense of responsibility and enjoyment in delivering great work.
‘Before founding Sidekicks, I worked for twelve years in administrative roles supporting CEOs and successful businesspeople – within industries as diverse as US-based investment banking to London retail property. During this time, as many other females in their twenties will also tell you, I noticed that potential employers (particularly small businesses) were often nervous of hiring women who appeared to be of child-bearing age because they were apprehensive about the cost to the business of supporting maternity leave. A recruiter once advised me to take off my engagement ring for an interview in case the sight of it ‘set off alarm bells’. I was explicitly asked in interview by a potential employer whether or not I wanted to have children and when I was thinking of having them. Although replying in the negative, I was quickly reminded that I was approaching thirty and so might change my mind ‘within a year or two’. Unsurprisingly I didn’t get that job’.
Sidekicks is proud to have taken on one of the most capable, high achieving Directors of Operations in the industry. Katie Booth has two young children, and she works a flexible week in the office to allow her to juggle her time effectively. By the time she arrives at Sidekicks HQ in the West End at 8.00am each morning, Katie has already got her children out of bed, made sure they are washed and dressed, lunches made and ready for school. This translates to a dedication and determination not to waste a single moment of each working day which seems to be a trait common to many working parents. This ultra-awareness of time and the ability to manage it so effectively is an incredibly powerful asset to any employer – it translates into enormous productivity within a business.
Jessica wants employers to lead by example – and yes, it takes a little juggling, and for a small business it can be daunting – but the long-term benefits in terms of employee retention, team spirit, dedication and personal accountability are colossal. The solution to addressing old-fashioned attitudes toward hiring disabled employees, expectant and working mothers isn’t to get angry about it; it’s to educate employers about the benefits these candidates will bring to their businesses. Fundamentally, what it boils down to is that it’s the sensible – and decent – thing to do. Our children deserve to inherit a working world where starting a family whilst having a fulfilling career isn’t seen as a selfish attempt to ‘have it all’ – it’s seen as normal, and where years of dedication to an employer can rightly be expected to translate to a supportive and progressive attitude towards maternity policy and flexible working. Employees and employers really can have the best of both worlds – we just need to work together.