Zoe Sinclair is celebrating being named one of Red magazine’s Red Hot Women of the Year. She’s had a good 2010, with her business Employees Matter expanding its remit to support for a wide range of employees, including carers and parents, and the launch of a new parenting website.
Zoe Sinclair is celebrating being named one of Red magazine’s Red Hot Women of the Year. She’s had a good 2010, with her business Employees Matter expanding its remit to support for a wide range of employees, including carers and parents, and she has launched a new parenting website.
Just eight years ago she was a BBC producer, having started her career with the BBC straight from university. She had worked her way up to being a producer in the factual entertainment department, which at the time produced programmes like Watchdog, the Holiday programme and Crimewatch.
She had travelled the world with her work and loved it. However, having her first child marked a “turning point”. She had gone back from maternity leave as the department’s first job share, working three days a week, but life felt very different. “I had joined the new unspoken club of mums,” she says.
She started thinking about ideas for changing her life and hit on the idea of support for parents at work. “I didn’t know what I meant with the idea, just that it would be something to do with experts and support at work,” she says.
She had only had six months’ maternity leave and was still in the throes of weaning when she returned to work. “I remember struggling with weaning and working. I needed someone to talk to,” she says.
She decided when she fell pregnant with her second child 18 months later that it was time to take a career break and see if she could set up a company to support parents using experts who would go into the workplace. Through her work at the BBC, she had good contacts and she spoke to Miriam Stoppard and Penelope Leach to get their views on her idea. They thought it was a good one and Leach told Zoe that by offering workplace support they could also reach dads. At the same time, the BBC announced a wave of redundancies. She applied and was successful. “It was time to leave and I have never looked back,” she says.
Five years later she is working with investment backs, law firms, supermarkets and the like, offering support to working parents and others. Her company was originally called Parents Matter as it was focused on parents and the seminars her experts ran in the workplace covered issues such as sleep deprivation, nutrition, potty training and bullying. They were generally one hour sessions held in the lunch hour. Up to 200 people would attend.
The company has, however, evolved and now reaches employees in different ways, such as through online webinars. This means they can reach SMEs and companies which are multi-sited. Zoe also realised through her contact with diversity specialists that there were lots of other issues employees might need advice on, including issues around disability and elder care. As the company evolved and took on experts who could give advice on these areas, Zoe felt it needed a name change. Towards the end of 2009 it relaunched as Employees Matter. Zoe says that around 65% of its work is still parent and family-based.
Last year, she decided to branch out even more. Through the Employees Matter sessions she realised that there were many parents who needed expert advice on a one-to-one basis. “They want to talk to real people rather than just access information through the media or internet,” she says. She was working with a sleep expert who had run telephone consultations. The expert had been asked by clients about other parenting issues. They decided to work together and set up Daisy Chain Parents using many of the experts who were on board for Employees Matter.
The idea is that parents contact the experts through an online registration form and pay for either a half hour or hour long session on the phone. They might then need follow-up sessions or one session may be sufficient.
Zoe says one client contacted them about weaning after going to her GP who directed her to her health visitor. Her health visitor only had five minutes for her which was not enough to cover all the general issues she wanted to talk through. “She just wanted someone to talk to to guide her through it all,” says Zoe. She adds that the most popular subjects that people want to talk about are behaviour issues and nutrition. Most of the parents who get in touch have primary school-aged children and Zoe says there is little available for them in the way of readily accessible expert advice since most is aimed at parents of babies.
Zoe hopes to be able to hire someone full time to work on Daisy Chain Parents. At the moment she is slotting it in around her other work commitments. Zoe, whose children are now 9 and 7, works from home, but is very mobile. Her home is very close to the tube in London so she says it is easier to work from home than commute to an office only to have to then commute to meetings and advice sessions.
She works school hours and employs three other mums who work from home as well as working with around 30 experts.
She says she has tried most forms of childcare, but realised she wanted to be at home for her kids after school so she works school hours and then logs on again at night. Her children also go to their grandparents once a week so she has one long day, working from 8.30am to 7pm. She also has a good support network.
She is ambitious for the future and hopes eventually to set up an office for Employees Matter with five to 10 people working there. She says 2008 and 2009 were bad years with the recession, with companies tightening their belts, but thinks things are improving. “I genuinely believe that companies see the benefits of providing flexible working and support to parents and carers because real people come to work, not robots. If they want the best people, they need to acknowledge this.”