Monday, 21 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK: Q&A with Karen Mattison MBE, Co-founder of Timewise

Karen Mattison MBE

Multi award-winning Karen Mattison MBE is the co-founder and director of Timewise, along with business-partner Emma Stewart MBE. Karen was initially motivated by the skilled and experienced women she’d meet at the school gates, who wanted work to fit with family, and is now passionate about the gains for business of taking a more flexible approach.

Here Karen answers some questions put to her by Feminist Mum.

1. What was the inspiration for setting up "Timewise”?

Ten years ago I was a senior manager with young children, looking for my next career move. I searched and searched for a source of jobs that were either part time or open to flexibility. But I couldn’t find any. When I spoke to recruiters, they told me that such roles simply did not exist.

This didn’t make any sense. Every day at the school gates, I’d meet skilled, experienced professionals, who also wanted part time or flexible work. Unable to believe that businesses wouldn’t want to recruit from this skilled pool of talent, I began to investigate.

I discovered three things. Firstly, that the term ‘part time’ suffers from a strong negative brand. Secondly, that in spite of this, many employers had considered hiring skilled part time workers: but had nowhere to go, to find the talent. Thirdly, I discovered that people need flexible work for all kinds of reasons – not just children.

There was a clear market, with needs that weren’t being met. By way of solution my co-founder Emma Stewart and I launched Timewise – an organisation designed to build the market for flexible recruitment, working closely with employers to make it happen. We now advertise around 100 jobs a day, ranging from part time finance directors, to marketing assistants, to graphic designers; for small businesses, all the way through to blue chips. We also run Women Like Us, a multi award-winning careers advice service designed to help with confidence after a ‘break’ from work, career direction and the practicalities of applying for a job and going for an interview.

2. How do you sell the skills and talents of women with children to potential employers?

As with any candidate for any job, it is about talking about the talent, abilities and experiences of that individual first, and how closely they fit with the role required. Not their childcare needs or about how long they have been out of work. That up front conversation must be about you as a professional and what you have to offer.

3. How do you think the economic downturn has affected job opportunities for women with children?

The recession had one silver lining. As businesses were forced to look at their reduced budgets and how they could be creative with them, part time working became increasingly used and visible within UK business culture. Some firms offered flexible working structures to existing staff who might want to reduce their working weeks, and could afford to do so. Others needed to recruit but did not have the budget for a full time member of staff. Hence employers became increasingly exposed to the pool of talented people in the UK who are highly ambitious, highly experienced and highly motivated – but cannot work full time. And let’s not forget that this doesn’t just include mothers, but fathers, people trying to balance work with an illness, those who simply want to work less… the list goes on. ‘What can’ be achieved on a part time or flexible business became the focus of conversation – rather than ‘what cannot’.

4. Often juggling family commitments with work seems to fall on women's shoulders. Do you think more Dads should be looking to work flexibly too?

All kinds of people in the UK need flexible work and for different reasons, 60,000 people are now registered with Timewise, and 30% are not parents. I think it’s well recognised that flexible working ‘isn’t just for women’ now. Our working lives are extending and with them, the recognition that things will happen in that timeframe, which might require a different working pattern. In addition, increasingly, the best employers are starting to see that you don’t need a 9-5 structure for every job to guarantee the best result. Sometimes, you can achieve even more, when you introduce even a bit of flexibility.

5. What are your 3 top tips for women wanting to return to work after a career break? 

Firstly, if your confidence takes a dip, take heart and know you can get past it. So many women, whether they are returning to the same job or looking for a new one, go through the same thing. Keep talking to friends and family, and don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice and guidance. The Women Like Us website is a great starting point – with free advice packs, details of our workshops and more.

Secondly, plan, plan and plan. If you are looking for a new job, be sure of what kind of flexibility you can offer and how far you are willing to compromise. And if flexibility is what you want, do register with us and keep an eye on the kind of jobs we post!

Thirdly, address that ‘gap’ openly on your CV, and keep it professional. You don’t need to fall over yourself to explain why you had to take a break and why it was XXX months/years long. Always talk about your skills and experience up front and about why you are such a good match for a role.

6. Timewise is already an award-winning social enterprise. What are your hopes for the future?

In the long term, we aim to grow the market for good quality part time and flexible work – and to shape it as we build. We want to live in a world where anyone who needs flexible work, from any kind of career background, can easily find a role to apply for at their level of skill and ability. Just 3% of job vacancies offered part time hours and salaries of £20,000+ in the UK, at the last count. It’s time to change that number. In the short term, we aim to work closely with more and more employers, to help them unlock the benefits of flexible working, and to stimulate the creation of yet more great jobs. That’s how we’ll make change happen.

Karen both consults with employers and is building the first ever marketplace for good quality flexible jobs. The Timewise group includes Timewise Jobs, Timewise Recruitment and a careers service for women with children, Women Like Us. Karen was made an MBE in 2010; has been named as one of the UK's most radical thinkers by Nesta (the UK body for innovation) and the Observer; is a Management Today magazine ‘small business hero’ and has been listed by Real Business magazine as one of the '12 leading social entrepreneurs to watch’. Karen regularly comments on the evolving world of work in the media, having appeared most recently in Management Today magazine, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, BBC Breakfast and on ITN’s Tonight programme.

To find out more about flexible work opportunities, visit Timewise Jobs, Timewise Recruitment and Women Like Us: Careers Advice for Women.  

You can follow Karen Mattison on twitter @karenmattison.

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