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Amanda Fone has been ahead of the curve on flexible working in the marketing and communications industry and is keen to encourage more companies to embrace different ways of working as a huge business benefit.
Amanda has been working in recruitment for 35 years, starting at 18 and working mostly in recruiting for marketing and communications roles. For 22 years she worked for a big recruitment agency, rising to managing director level, and from 1995 she worked flexibly. She says the agency was a trailblazer for flexible working. She left for the new challenge of running her own business.
She founded her executive search consultancy f1 Recruitment in 2004 after brainstorming with a couple of mentors about where there were gaps in the recruitment market. At the time she was a single mum with two sons aged six and eight. Initially Amanda considered setting up a job share recruitment business, but felt the market was not yet ready for it so she opted instead for a marketing and communications consultancy that promoted flexible working.
She began with ensuring there was a flexible working structure in place in her own business as she felt this would draw talented employees. Her theory worked. The people who she recruited in the first year had had trouble getting flexible working elsewhere. Everyone was set up to be able to work from home when they needed to and over the years f1 Recruitment’s IT staff have built expertise in this area in the recruitment industry. The emphasis for the business was on efficiency. The only criteria was that the clients should not be able to tell where people were working. “It had to be seamless,” says Amanda.
She was also clear that she herself needed to work flexibly. She set a red line that she needed to do 60% of school drop-offs and pick-ups. “That was non-negotiable,” she says. That meant she was in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. She split her hours over the other two days to ensure she could do the school run, working from home and cutting out a long commute. She says having a flexible model for the business was important. “It gives our argument more power when we talk about the positives to other organisations,” says Amanda.
For the first six years she says the business was driven by an efficiency model. No-one was in the office on Tuesdays or Fridays. Everyone had young children and was working a similar timetable. “It was very efficient. Most companies build flexible working onto a traditional structure. We did it differently,” says Amanda.
A multigenerational model
F1 Recruitment continues to eschew the traditional office model. It leases office space through WeWork which means it only needs to give short notice if it wants to contract or expand. It now has around 15 employees, including several graduates who prefer to work from an office. “They have different drivers from parents. Interestingly, we have grafted more traditional working patterns onto a flexible model, rather than the other way around,” says Amanda, adding that that allows for the different stages of people’s careers. She still comes into the office three days a week and works from home on the other two days. The business has a multi-generational workforce. Several consultants are in their 40s and 50s and split their week between working from home and the office. Amanda’s PA works from Spain five days a week.
F1 Recruitment has also been a pioneer in the communications and marketing industry with regard to returners. Five years ago Amanda met with Liz Nottingham of digital agency R/GA. “We were asking where has all the talent gone,” says Amanda. They spoke about the loss of female talent after women had children and the lack of flexible new roles. They decided to set up a returner programme, Back2businessship, to help women in the industry back to work. It is now in its fifth year and partnered last year with PR consultancy Golin and advertising and marketing agency Creative Equals.
The free programme includes modules on career planning, presentation skills, changes and progress in the world of work, including digital, social media and creative changes, how to attack the jobs market and apply for roles and how to manage the first 90 days back in the workplace. There is also a range of coaching and training sessions led by industry professionals as well as case studies and presentations by inspirational women who have returned to the workplace successfully after a career break raising a family.
A supportive partner
Amanda is aware that it is still an uphill battle to get employers to promote flexible new jobs and to take on returners. “It is still very difficult to convince companies to take on returners. There is a lot of talk in the industry, but getting women back is tough. So many women walk away and set up their own businesses,” she says.
Even with the skills shortage and concerns about Brexit, she says companies would prefer to hang on for a person who can do five days a week in the office. Amanda says f1 Recruitment is very direct with the employers it works with, listing the skills of the candidates and the work pattern they prefer so it doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room at the interview stage. She adds that getting a flexible job is the single biggest issue on the returner programme. When she talks to younger women they are already worrying about the career impact of having children.
Her advice is to keep in touch if you take time out and to choose their partner carefully [Amanda remarried and says her husband, who she met on the day she set up her business, is very supportive]. She hopes that there will be more sharing of home responsibilities in the future and that the current work model will change. She says: “It needs to change to reflect different career paths. The vertical career path is evolving and a more flexible, less hierarchical structure will give men more freedom too. It’s exciting. Things are being dismantled and put back together. Therein lies a massive opportunity for women.”