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Louise Winmill of Notonthehighstreet.com as part of our series of blogs on the ‘Agile Work Revolution’

23 February 2017

From unemployment to the #PowerPartTime in a year

On this exact day, one year ago, I was unemployed.

With a ten month old baby and a mortgage on a new house to pay, resigning from my then job, in many respects, seemed like an utterly stupid thing to do. Only it wasn’t. Looking back a year on, it was, in fact, one of my better decisions that has not only moved on my career but enabled me to find a job I love with a company that respects my wish to spend time bringing up my young daughter.

But maddeningly though, far too many, often very highly qualified, experienced people – women in particular – are dropping out of the workforce altogether because they can’t find a way of working that works for them. Current estimates are that the UK is losing out on a whopping £62.5bn through maternal unemployment and a lack of flexibility for many in work. Among my peers, I’ve seen experienced teachers, medics, solicitors, charity workers and advertising execs all leave work because requests for flexible work were rejected.

And this is why the work of organisations supporting flexible working is so important: Timewise, through their Hire Me My Way initiative and #PowerPartTime campaign, which shines a light on people who are working part time in senior positions (I am honoured to be included in the 2017 list revealed last week) ; Digital Mums who provide training in careers that afford greater flexibility; or individuals like Mother Pukka, with her FlexAppeal campaign.

I have learned a lot over the last year about what flexible working really means and how it can work. Here are some of my thoughts and top tips for anyone – mums, dads, or otherwise – considering going part time/ flexible:

  1. Don’t waste time and energy (that could be so much better invested elsewhere) into trying to convince a company that doesn’t believe in flexible working to see the light. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask for flexible working if that’s what you need – but it’s not worth going into battle with a company that fundamentally just doesn’t get it. Plenty do and if you’re hard-working and talented, a decent company will recruit for these attributes, not the hours you promise to sit at a desk. I work for notonthehighstreet.com which was set up by two mums and now works with 5000 small creative businesses – 90% of them run by women, many of whom say the need for greater flexibility was an important motivator to set up their business. I am lucky that I have a very supportive boss but fundamentally the company gets it. These are the sorts of companies worth working for!
  2. If you’re someone that is inherently hard working, I am willing to bet good money that your output and achievement will look no different whether you work 7.5 hours fewer hours in the office. In talking about flexible working, let’s focus on impact not hours. (Amelia Torode, who featured on the 2015 Power Part Time list has written a good blog on this here). After all, we’ve all worked with people who deliver less in five days than a great person achieves in one! QED.
  3. Flexible working works both ways. I work four days a week – three in the office and one from home, the timings of which I spread and flex to meet the needs of the business. And this is the crucial thing: flexible working has to work both ways for the employee and employer. It can be hard to work out the right pattern and it’s not all plain sailing – there are certainly weeks when I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t just be easier if I worked ‘full time’ and I dare say my boss would say the same thing – but on balance, it works for everyone. In discussions around flexible working think about the ways in which you can offer flexibility in return.
  4. Be wary of the recruiter that tells you you’ll never find work on fewer than five days. I can’t tell you how many recruiters told me last year; “you’ll never find a good job part time”, “your best bet is to go full time for a year then ask for four days once you’ve established yourself”. This is defeatist and really just means that the recruiter doesn’t currently have any roles that fit the bill so you should pursue one of the full time roles they do have. Find a better recruiter – someone who takes a genuine interest in your motivations and aspirations. There are plenty around (please contact me for recommendations!)
  5. Network with other part timers and supporters of flexible working. It’s amazing the support that’s out there if you seek it, so use your network. Speak to people who have flexible working arrangements or contacts you know are more progressive in their thinking in this area. These are the people who will help you to find your next flexible or part time role.
  6. Listen to and heed good advice. Obvious right? But linked to point 5, a former boss and one of my mentors, Sam Lythgoe – also a Power Part Time alumna – gave me some great advice last year, which was to hold out for a job that could offer the hours and flexibility I sought and not give up or give in to working full time. Not an easy thing to do when seemingly you have no options but she was right.

So here I am, 12 months on, blogging on my iPhone, on a tube, en route to collect my daughter for an afternoon of fun and games. And yes – it’s a weekday!

Louise Winmill, Head of Corporate Comms and CSR, Notonthehighstreet.com