Working as an energy consultant can be exciting and stimulating, but regular periods away from home can be difficult to cope with, particularly as a parent.
Baringa Partners [www.baringa.com], a management consultancy firm which specialises in the male-dominated energy and financial services sectors, has tried to address this with innovative flexible policies which have just been recognised with two Best Workplaces Awards from the Great Place to Work® Institute.
It also has a raft of policies aimed at families and a women's network group to support and promote women's career progression.
The consultancy firm was set up as Structure Group in the US in the mid-90s and started a UK branch, which then became independent of the States in 2000 and rebranded as Baringa Partners in 2009.
Ellen Fraser, senior manager, joined the company seven years ago. “When I joined, there were not that many women as the company was quite small,” she says – their number has now risen to 75 out of 251 employees. “A couple of us had some tricky times as lone females abroad on trading floors and such like.”
She recalls, for instance, being hemmed into a corner at a social event in Holland one Christmas, surrounded by very tall, confident men. “They didn't mean to make me feel threatened, but I was up against the wall and the conversation had become quite animated. I suddenly found myself trapped being talked at by a group of large men. A partner realised what was going on and literally pulled me out of there,” she says.
She didn't want to “make a song and dance about it” at the time, but found it quite a learning experience.
Instead, she and colleagues set up a women's network group to share experiences and give each other support, although she adds: “Even though it's a male-dominated environment, ninety-nine per cent of the time there are no issues.”
The women’s group has won support from several senior executives, including Jim Hayward, a founding partner. “He passionately believes in building a company that he is proud of and that includes families and social events at every level. It's a very personal thing for him. My husband, for instance, comes along to Baringa events and feels like a part of the company,” says Ellen.
Indeed the company often sends flowers and cards to mark personal milestones such as birthdays, engagements, moving home, marriage, pregnancy and births. They also have an entire intranet area dedicated to baby photos.
The women's network group holds events such as talks by motivational speakers – women who have a strong story to tell. They act both as guidance and inspiration for women in the company.
The group also hosted an event about personal branding which taught employees to be aware of how they present themselves in the office. “We offer opportunities to network, to feel included and we act as a safety net,” says Ellen.
Baringa also aims to retain women employees with a generous maternity package with up to 26 weeks at full pay, dependent on length of service.
In addition, during the recruitment process female candidates always meet at least one other female Baringa employee either as part of the formal interview or informally.
Out of town policy
Baringa was recently named the top medium-sized employer in the UK Best Workplaces Awards 2012. It was also ranked fifth in Europe. The citation recognised its policies on working away from home in particular. Ellen says that work/life balance can be difficult for staff due to the requirement to be work away from home in locations across the UK and Europe.
Baringa's Out of Town Policy aims to make this easier. It includes additional holidays to compensate staff based on time spent abroad. This allows staff members to take the extra days to catch up on personal chores, spend time with friends or family, and/or to just take a well-earned break. It is also extended to employees who have to commute long distances (indeed staff are allowed to live wherever they wish in the UK and are not expected to live within commuting distance of London).
The company also pays staff a premium if they live out of town for a sustained period of time without a break (12.5% for six to 12 months and 25% for those who live abroad for more than a year).
All out of town client work is based on a 3-4-5 policy. This is a model where five days of client billable work are done across four working days on site (plus one day from home or a local office). This means the employee only needs to spend three nights away from home. Other benefits for staff working on long out of town projects include gym membership fees.
When long hours are not necessary the company operates a '6pm and out' policy. It says: “Going beyond the call of duty is recognised rather than expected as a standard.” Staff who do so are recognised with gestures of gratitude.
Work life balance
The company is keen to promote itself as people-centred and has a working group which monitors Baringa’s culture. It says work/life balance is at the forefront of its thinking – indeed, several staff work part time, including some senior managers – and it recognises that having “a positive culture” is a major recruitment draw.
“Baringa is against the models we see too often in our industry of people who are burnt out by their mid 30s and never want to go near the industry again,” says Ellen Fraser. “It's not just parents. A lot of our consultants are keen athletes or into fundraising. Our policies are open to all staff.”
Ellen herself switched between business units after she had her two children, to one whose clients are more commutable. Her children are now two and four. She says Baringa was very understanding when she first went back and her husband was working long hours as a partner in a law firm. He has since resigned and works frequently from home, so is around more to help with childcare at the start and end of a working day.
She has also tried working four days a week, but said it was difficult to get all the work done in time and she found herself working every evening and on Sunday so she moved back to five days a week in October. Her golden rule is not to work at weekends.
She hopes that the women's network group will have a wider impact than simply on women in Baringa. “More and more we are extending it and developing a wider support network for more senior women across the industry, not just within Baringa.”
Picture credit: Nirots and www.freedigitalphotos.net