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Equal Experts aspires to be “a company of grown-ups”, where staff are recruited on the premise that they will be able to act autonomously, seeking advice on the decisions they make rather than adhering to a strict hierarchy.
The software consultancy’s flat management structure earned it third place in the first ever Leadership and Culture at Work: the CMI/Glassdoor Top 20 report – which reveals the UK companies with the best management and working cultures.
Workingmums.co.uk spoke to two mums at the firm.
Katie Coleman is an engagement manager, working across multiple clients. Her job is to manage the client relationship and allows her to manage her own diary. She works a four-day week.
Julia Bellis is a product manager and also works four days a week. She is an associate contracted by Equal Experts, which means she works for herself. The Equal Experts network of experienced professionals is made up of associates, permanent staff and partners. Julia says being an associate frees her up to work more flexibly and be more in control of when she works. It also means, she says, that she is highly incentivised to do a good job. Like Katie, she worked four days a week at her previous job – at the Guardian – after her first child was born.
Both women said it was easy to raise working less than a full week when they were recruited and that agile working is in the DNA of Equal Experts. “Our software works along agile principles and around the concept of self-organising. Extending that to an organisational culture is a natural extension of how our software works,” says Katie, adding that that culture is built on trusting people to do a good job. “That is part of the core culture. As long as people are delivering that is all that matters. At previous jobs it has felt as if flexibility is a favour or that it is being offered because the organisation feels it is the right thing to do,” adds Katie. “At Equal Experts it is part of how the organisation works. It took a while to get used to that. I kept asking people if I could take holidays, for instance, and they said I just needed to talk to my team.”
Katie acknowledges that the company’s core flexibility can be more of a challenge for those working directly with clients, depending on the client’s own work culture. However, Equal Experts explain how they work to their clients and if there are any problems with any particular member of the team’s work patterns they can find another person to take their place. In most cases, because of the nature of the agile software they are providing, the client wants to work flexibly and they like that Equal Experts is modelling the culture change they want to make, says Katie. In that way she feels the company is influencing change. “We demonstrate the benefits of flexible working for all by what we do,” she adds.
Everyone on her team works at least one day from home a week and flexi hours are the norm. Both women and men work less than full weeks, she adds.
The company is keen to get more women on board. Like many in the IT world, it wants to encourage greater diversity and has started a diversity and inclusion initiative which is looking at areas such as unconscious bias. Part of the recruitment issue, says Katie, is that people don’t know about the flexibility the company offers and are worried that its associate model might be inflexible. “In my experience,” says Julia, I have more flexibility than before. It’s just about how you manage it.”
They both hope that awards like the ICM/Glassdoor one will mean that their agile model becomes better known and can attract a more diverse workforce.