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Flexible working is an essential component of Leigh Smyth’s life. It has been vital in her climb up the career ladder to her current post of Head of Group Digital Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group and has allowed her to adapt to the different ages and stages of her children.
Leigh says the Group, who are one of Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employers, are the best company she knows for agile working. “They are very outcome-driven and managers are supportive of people with caring responsibilities,” she says. “The culture embraces and encourages this.” Technology has been a massive enabler, whether it is remote working, compressed weeks or reduced hours. Leigh uses Face Time, conference calls and virtual meetings which allow sharing of desktops.
Leigh started at Lloyds Banking Group as a part-time manager working two days a week before going full time in her current role in January. At the same time she was working as Business Development Director for Adjust your set, a creative agency specialising in branded video content across multiple channels. “It was a portfolio career and it worked well,” she says.
Throughout her career, Leigh has adjusted her working patterns around her family life, saying: “When my sons were younger I felt that they didn’t need me so much so I worked full time.” She was fairly creative with the way she organised childcare as she had no family living nearby, even becoming a partner in the small village nursery her children went to. Her husband’s job was also quite flexible which allowed him to help with childcare.
She always knew that she wanted to be around when her children needed her more as teenagers so works from home at least two days a week. She says: “I think they need their parents around to talk to about their friendships and school work. The period from 11 to 16 is instrumental in their emotional development.”
Flexible work life
Over the years she has changed her hours in line with her children’s needs and her husband’s schedule. If he has been very busy at work she has reduced her hours and vice versa. She says that as long as she is upfront,and ensures it works with her teams and delivers work-wise, she has not had a problem with employers. But she has chosen her employers carefully. “I choose to work for companies with agile policies,” she says. “I do not work for employers who are not flexible, this is my primary requirement and its non negotiable.”
Her current role involves encouraging more people and businesses to take advantage of the benefits of digital on becoming more connected and making the most of the digital revolution. She cites some recent research by the Group which shows how much time going digital saves small and medium sized enterprises. “A fifth of SMEs say they don’t have time for digital, but when they do use it they say time saving is the biggest benefit. It can save them around half a day a week,” she says. “I often think it’s the same for me working in a large FTSE, technology allows me to work from home, saving valuable travel time. Parents are endlessly bartering with time. It’s important to work out ways of working that are the most efficient,” she says.
Time is something she is good at using efficiently. In addition to her role in the Group, she is a Trustee of the Just for Kids Law charity, which aims to “transform the lives of children and young people through the rule of law and child-centred advocacy”. She joined because she was keen to get board-level experience and to “give something back”.
Women in digital
Leigh has extensive experience in digital. Her previous employers have included PC World and Becta [originally the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency], where she led a marketing and stakeholder engagement team on a new government initiative to support low income parents and children with the provision of ICT. Before switching to a portfolio career, she was Managing Director in the Office of the Digital Champion and and developed the campaign and partnership strategy for Race Online 2012, Baroness Martha Lane Fox’s national campaign to help everyone in the UK discover the wonders of the web. Leigh says: “I have been very lucky of course working for great advocates of digital to enable flexible working, Nick Williams, my director at Lloyds Banking Group and also, of course, Baroness Lane Fox.”
Although she is full time now, she works from home on Wednesdays and Fridays and says having fixed days is better for the children as they know when she will be around and there is more of a routine. Plus she can take her sons to rugby on Wednesday evenings. She says her biggest problem with agile working is herself , because she loves her job so much it is almost like a hobby so it is difficult to switch off. She occasionally works weekends, but out of choice only. “I am very clear on what I am not prepared to do,” she says. “For me, my family comes first and I have built my career around them.”