Women in Financial Services Blog

City Firm Champions Sociable Hours

City Firm Champions Sociable Hours

Tina.Freed / 18 Aug 2015

In an interview with 2to3days, our CEO Tina Freed tells us why she started the financial services company, with a business model completely based on flexibility and the recognition of a need for a more balanced lifestyle.

 

 

E2W is a global success story that challenges the City’s work ethic of long hours, and champions sociable hours and work flexibility.

 

Why did you start E2W and what is the philosophy behind the business model?

We 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 non­existent, so I started my own business, making sure I could satisfy both. I knew I couldn’t be alone in my experience, and I’m not. Having worked in ‘the City’ for over 15 years, I knew there was a way we could offer flexible working for women who wanted to develop their hard earned careers and still be a mother but I also knew that City based firms could benefit from the experience and expertise gained and save money. Our business model is not just for mums or dads, it is also for people who have other commitments outside of work and require a more balanced lifestyle.

When did you start the business and how has it grown?

I started 12 years ago from my kitchen table and we now we have offices in the UK, US, Zurich, Singapore and the States. 90% of our staff are women and we employ circa 50 permanent employees around the world and 130 consultants.

You’re a mother – how was it for you when you tried to get back into the city?

When I was working in the city, I was ambitious and worked very late into my pregnancy and then returned to work soon after. During that first year of my son’s life, I listened to tales about his day and heard about him doing all the fun things, like going swimming for the first time and I thought I want to experience that with him. I was still ambitious but my options were very limited with regards to working flexibly. I considered working part­time but in the City working 3 really long days with huge costs in child care means you could still be excluded from the major decisions on the days you weren’t around. I just couldn’t see how to make it work.

Do you think this is the experience of many mothers?

There is more flexibility now than there was 18 years ago but I still think there is a stigma to asking for flexibility or part­time work. And sometimes part­time can mean fitting 5 days work into 3. And yet the need to satisfy both career ambition and the aim to be a good mother is the same everywhere in the world. That has certainly been our experience opening offices in different countries. The cultural nuances may be different, for example, in Zurich children come home from school for lunch and that has a big knock­on effect for women trying to find work and in the States, the expectation is that you take very few holidays – but in both cases, we have managed to work around these differences.

What challenges do you face in convincing other businesses in the City that flexible working works?

The idea of needing to be visible or presenteeism is a big issue in the City and yet our business model proves it can be done differently and we are beginning to see a change around this attitude. Location is another issue – if you live thirty miles out of the City – you have a big commute, and that’s why we set up our business close to where many of our workers live, so people don’t have as far to travel – and therefore more time to be working flexibly. There are so many ways of getting the job done – and we’re proving this. Clients were always asking the question: how can you possibility do this job in that time? We’ve had to convince our clients that what they can do in 8 hours, we can do in 5, because the people we have are so focused on getting the job done efficiently and quickly in a shorter amount of time.

How are companies missing out if they don’t employ mothers?

They are hugely missing out. Mothers bring a wealth of experience, talent, knowledge and maturity and it is important to have that in the mix of any business. Different voices balance any discussion and so it is important for businesses – and society – to be welcoming as many diverse voices as possible.

How do we encourage businesses to see motherhood as an asset?

I think we have to prove it, celebrate it, and talk about it. I think the old stigmas around motherhood are beginning to change. As mothers, if we think differently about it, that helps but it’s not just about mothers – but fathers too. Becoming a parent and managing a career is a real achievement and we do well to remember that!

How has flexibility and work, life balance for you and your staff contributed to the success of your business?

Offering this flexibility is at the very heart of our business and it has meant we are able to access fantastic people who would otherwise not be able to work. Because we can offer such wonderfully experienced people to our City clients, this saves them money and time, as they know the job will be done by professionals with many years experience.

How do you operate day to day on a flexible model?

Flexibility means different things to different people. The term ‘diversity and inclusion’ implies that you treat everybody the same, when actually the opposite is true. We need to treat people as individuals and understand their needs and drivers. For example, our core hours are 9:30 to 2:30, 5 days a week but we also have some people who work 9 to 5; and others who start and end later. Our people have diverse needs and we manage to cater for them all – as well as supply our clients with the level of professionalism they deserve.

Are there any difficulties with this model and how have you overcome them?

I honestly can’t think of any. The lesson I learnt very early on was that if a client wanted more work and an individual couldn’t work more of those hours, the answer was not to cut back on the flexibility – but to add more. If you show clients you will always deliver the job – they don’t mind if there’s a team of people involved.

How do we begin to change our culture?

It’s a matter of being open to individual needs – and really listening. Change is difficult, especially in bigger organisations – it’s easier for smaller companies to offer flexibility and it is also easy for big firms to listen and implement some of the learning. But the questions to ask are: what is important here? And what does getting the job done mean? Once you start thinking around those questions, you open up the possibility of different work structures – all with people who are willing, keen and able but who just need to work at different times.

 

In terms of flexibility and diversity in an ideal business world – what are we aiming for?

I think we’re aiming for choice. There is nothing wrong with working 80 hours a week if that’s what you want to do but there are always different ways of achieving the same thing. It’s not just about being a mother or a father; it’s not just about having a great job; it’s not just studying or travelling for 3 months. It’s about celebrating and embracing all you want to be.

 

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