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A recruitment industry boss is warning that unless businesses in the sector change and become more flexible and diverse, they will not survive.
Chris Leeson, CEO of independent recruiter Huntress, says the recruitment world has a reputation for long hours and few women are found in the upper echelons. He wants to change that and his company is already bucking the trend with 75% of its staff being female, including 75% of its managers and 60% of its directors.
The firm, which has a £40m turnover, employs 180 people.
Leeson says the company’s high female representation is partly historical – Huntress started off recruiting mainly in traditional office administrative roles, where women predominate, and now covers office support, accounting & finance and IT roles across the UK.
That means there are a lot of strong female role models in the business.
In the past few years the company has been looking at ways of making the business more flexible to attract, retain and progress women and currently has high levels of women returning after maternity leave and flexible working.
Leeson says working mums are among its top performers. Half of the firm’s branch managers are working mums, for instance.
Leeson interviews all new joiners. He says younger starters do not see family friendly benefits as a priority when they begin – they are more interested in training and development, but they become more important as they progress through the company and are an important retention issue.
Flexible working has become more of a focus in the last few years. The company recently moved offices and has been looking at how it can better use office space, given around a third of London office staff have flexible working patterns.
One of the biggest innovations in flexible working that Huntress has brought in in the last two years is its job share programme. It currently has four job share workers, all of whom are parents and all work three days each. Leeson says they are “the most successful people in the business”. Both job shares have been promoted.
Leeson is passionate about the importance of ensuring part-time workers can progress their careers, but recognises that it can be difficult for those on three days to compete with people on full-time hours. Job shares gets around this and offer “a huge commercial advantage” to Huntress, he says. All the job share partners have over five years experience in the industry. “It would be such a shame if their experience was lost to the industry,” he says.
Huntress is trying to target returners and Leeson says its job share programme may be one way of doing so.
Other flexible working patterns that are popular include homeworking. Homeworkers are set up with the same IT as they have in the office, including a phone and computer.
Huntress offers a lot of family benefits, including childcare vouchers, family discounts, four days of family leave and healthcare for family members. It also actively promotes Keeping in Touch days, sabbaticals for those with over 10 years in the company and two weeks extra leave for those with over five years in the company.
Leeson thinks the CEO’s role is critical in setting the tone and culture of the organisation. “We want a diverse culture and I know that I can shape that in terms of setting values. That is why it is important that I meet everyone who joins the company,” he says.
His previous company had a majority of female directors so he says he has long seen the benefits of a balanced organisation, including the different perspectives that it delivers.
Asked why women often don’t get to the top jobs in the recruitment industry, he says it is well known for its long hours because it is driven by candidates who may only be able to talk to recruiters at the start or end of their working day. Many of today’s managers were brought up on an 8am-7pm working day or longer, he says, with little flexibility and they believe that is how things have to be run. Huntress’ full-time working hours are 8.45am-5.45pm, but with a lot of flexibility. “Times have changed,” says Leeson. He adds that recruiters’ clients are demanding change and often have good flexible working patterns themselves.
“Companies will not survive with that old school mentality and they will lose good people,” he says. “People want to work for a company that values their employees and is flexible and in return for empowering them you get a lot back. The current model cannot survive another 10 years.”