Updated: Sep 15, 2020
In September I chaired the Women in PR panel, "What The F?" at the PRCA National Conference 2019. With a stellar line up of speakers from government, media, agency and corporate worlds discussing how we can all work more flexibly, the issue is still a hot topic in the PR industry. The WPR team (I'm on the committee) chose to discuss flexible working as it’s an issue that affects not only those of us who are working parents, but increasingly the next generation of PR pros who are demanding more flexible working terms from the very start of their career. The survey we did in May with Opinium showed that 49% of respondents said a lack of family-friendly or flexible policies is the number one barrier to women progressing into leadership positions.
If you're time poor (not working flexibly enough?) just watch our 3 minute video.
The National Conference was focused on the next generation, and the panel focused on practical tips for those who want to work more flexibly, but equally importantly advising those agency heads and employers in the room who are keen to attract and retain talent.
It’s no surprise to our clients that my co-founder George Blizzard and I are passionate about flexible working. We set up The PR Network 14 years ago to offer an agile alternative to the traditional agency that allows us, our partners in the PRN business and our 2000+ associates to work flexibly - without any compromise on results.
Our job share is just one example of how flexible working can work in reality. What really struck us both at last week’s conference was just how far the industry has come in the last 15 years. When we set up the company in 2005 flexible working was not encouraged and certainly not the norm. No one would have actively promoted flexible working policies, and those asking for it were almost exclusively mothers returning to work. Today, we are hearing from leading agencies such as Freuds advocate truly progressive flexible practices, as represented by Charlotte Budd, who also talked about the need for more male role models so we start to remove the stigma around men sharing the childcare equally with their partner. Asif Sadiq MBE is championing flexible working policies for all and advocating moving away from the "presenteeism" culture where staff are measured by hours at their desks instead of delivery - which still exists cross-industry, and can seriously hinder policy becoming practice.
Jennifer Thomas from Direct Line Group talked about how flexible working can be far more than a conduit for childcare but also an enabler for people to pursue other passions in life as well as working better for families. For Jennifer her motivation was to continue to pursue her sporting interests as an athlete. The public sector is also surprisingly progressive with regards to flexible working - Laurian Hubbard works for the Intellectual Property Office (currently seconded to the Cabinet Office) which offers a range of innovative policies focused on outputs not hours which has allowed Laurian to work flexibly after having her son. Over from New York, Tiffany Guarnaccia gave some great insights into the different workplace cultures between the US and the UK, and how important it is to measure and demonstrate hard business results from deploying an agile workforce.
The panel agreed that for flexible working to succeed it needs to be authentic, transparent
and driven by management. Although most companies offer some degree of flexibility, it’s not always straightforward in reality. For the individual to thrive and get the most out of flexible working, there needs to be clarity, compromise and the need to flex - on BOTH sides. So, although we have certainly come a long way there’s still more work to be done. I’m delighted that we have some of our industry’s best people focused on changing the statistics so we see more women at the top of our industry - and flexibility available to everyone.
A big shout out to the panel:
• Laurian Hubbard, Brexit Campaign Lead, Cabinet Office, Wales
• Jennifer Thomas, Director of Internal Communications & Experience, Direct Line Group
• Tiffany Guarnaccia, CEO, Kite Hill PR
• Charlotte Budd, Director, Freuds
• Asif Sadiq MBE, Head of Diversity, Inclusivity and Belonging, The Telegraph