Blogcast #24: Empowering Women with Elizabeth Willetts

Investing in Women to Empower Women in the Workplace

Rebecca: Hello and welcome to the Entrepreneurial Journey podcast. Today I have Elizabeth Willetts with me from investinginwomen.co uk. Hello, Elizabeth, how are you?

Elizabeth: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

Rebecca: So Elizabeth, tell me about your business. What do you do?

Elizabeth: Yeah, so my business, it helps people find flexible and part-time and remote jobs and those forward thinking companies that want to hire those people that are looking for more flexible work,

Rebecca: Which is perfect for this day and age. Absolutely. When I looked to your pages and ages ago, I was like, oh, I wish this had been around when I had small children.

Elizabeth: Yes, yes. I mean that’s why I set it up because I couldn’t really see that many companies that offered it and they’re still not loads and a lot of recruitment agencies are geared up towards full-time work and a lot of companies need educating on the benefits of employing people on part-time contracts as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think the key is the flexibility. We have some full-time people in ours, but we are tiny. We only have one employee and then there’s me and the directors, but we all work really flexibly. So some of us might do some stuff on a Saturday or a Sunday but not do anything on a Tuesday, and that changes from week to week depending on what’s going on in our lives and it, it’s not even fixed part-time hours. It’s that flexibility that we all absolutely love. Now, how did you get it started and what happened and where are you up to?

Elizabeth: So we’ve been going now it’ll be three years in June, well done. It’s come up to our three year anniversary and it started just after, well during the Covid Pandemic, so a lot of people made redundant during the Covid Pandemic. I was part-time actually in my job I was fortunate because I had managed to negotiate part-time and was coming up to the end of my second maternity leave and then was made redundant. Then I was the only part-time person on my team and was the one that was chosen for redundancy. My background’s recruitment, so I’ve been in recruitment since 2007 and I just couldn’t find another part-time job, every job I applied for and when I mentioned I’m looking for part-time, I was ghosted straight away or they just came back straight away and said, no, the world’s full-time only.

I could see what had happened to so many of my friends where they’d changed career.s They’d worked really hard for, they’d done a lot of training, they were being well, paid something a lot lower, paid a lot lower skilled in exchange of that flex. I just thought, I still think it now. I thought then that is, I think one of the main reasons we have a big gender pay gap that doesn’t seem to be budging is because a lack of senior roles that offer flexible work and they get to a point, particularly in women because we know that women do about twice as much housework, childcare, et cetera, as their male partners in heterosexual relationships. At this point in time, they still need flexible working more than men and hopefully that’s changing and I think flexible working for both parties is great. It does improve that quality at home. But yeah, I still think now that the reason for the gender pay gap is there’s lack of flexible work at senior levels that keeps women in employment on that rung that they were on and then promotes some up that ladder.

Rebecca: I couldn’t agree with you more, I get there was that massive report produced last year by Alison Rose about why women aren’t getting to the top and it’s like it’s bleeding obvious. We don’t need a report. Thanks very much. What we need is affordable childcare and flexible working. That would solve it overnight.

Elizabeth: Exactly.

Rebecca: It’s not rocket science to work this out.

Elizabeth: I know there was a report that came out as well last week. I dunno if you saw it, I shared it on Monday in the Times about flexible work, they went, oh, remote working. It wasn’t flexible, it was obviously remote, which is apart, flexible working, keeps women, keeps mothers in employment. I thought that is just obvious. That’s what we’ve been saying and why they have to, I mean, I’m pleased. I don’t on the study hitting the news, but this is obviously the danger of this whole return to the office mandate, the monitoring, et cetera, is so there’s a risk that’s going to push women back out of the workplace and a lot of them are really thriving I think in work because flexible work is now becoming a lot more normal and I get a lot of messages from particularly women that have had their employer say, you need to be back in four or five days a week and it’s just not sustainable for them. They’ve got children.

Rebecca: Yeah, it’s not you. The reason I’m self-employed is because I’ve got children. Back in 99 when I left, I used to work for a huge recruiter, international recruiter, and their idea of part-time was working 8:30 – 5, five days a week.

Elizabeth: Yes. Oh, that was part-time. Yeah, I know what you mean. I was in a recruiter, it was half eight to six and part-time was nine to five.

Rebecca: That was part-time. Right. I still achieved more than everybody else in that time because part-time workers do and flexible workers tend to be more productive. I found.

Elizabeth: Yeah, the clock watching in a good way, not in about a full-time, employee’s clock watching often just scrolling or through social media, whatever, waiting for whatever, 5, 5 30,  6 to roll around. Whereas if you know you’ve got a hard deadline, it’s like the day before you go on holiday, you just whiz through it,

Rebecca: You get it done. You can’t mess about. You know that you can’t do your client calls when you do the nursery, the school run, the dentist, the doctors, the hairdressers. You’ve got to fit it in. Yes, totally. So, okay, this is great. Now you’re out there and you’re obviously approaching employers to put those opportunities. What kind of response are you getting?

Elizabeth: I mean obviously it depends upon the employer, but I mean I think actually more employers are opened to flexible working than even you think. And even looking at, because I get jobs advertised on the job board and they might not mention flexible working, and then I go back and I say, can this roll off a flexible working? And they go, yeah, we could could do part-time. We could do it is hybrid, it is whatever it is. And I think there’s a disconnect between employers actually advertising what they can offer and then actually putting it on and then people don’t know and then it’s all that ambiguity. So I would encourage people if they see a job that doesn’t mention flex to still apply because I think increasingly employees are often flexible working and it isn’t just ones that want it. There’s a lot of evidence like the Gen Z want flexible working because they’ve graduated during the Covid pandemic and they may enjoy going to the office, but they probably don’t want to go in five days a week. We used to. Well, I used to. So I think it is becoming more of the normal and those employers that don’t offer flexible working just can’t attract the talent.

Rebecca: Yeah, I would agree. And it is that war for talent because, well, you and I have been in recruitment, we know good people have always been hard to find and the more flexible an employer can do and the better. And also you get the right person three days a week rather than the wrong person five days a week. Exactly. To me, it’s a bit of a no brainer.

Elizabeth: And there’s certain skills obviously, so in demand and they can really demand, I’m thinking developers, it’s actually quite unheard of for them to go into an office. They are quite used to working from home and they can ask for that and they get it

Rebecca: And they probably get more work done because actually being a developer you have to concentrate quite hard. Yes. Okay. Now your business model, do the employers pay to put their jobs on your platform?

Elizabeth: Yes. That’s how it works. They pay or they pay us. We don’t charge as much as a traditional recruitment agency, so they would pay us a small retainer to do searches as well. So there’s different packages. It’s like start an advert through tool, full recruitment service, depending upon what the client wants and how much time they have. Because actually it’s often not about finding the candidate. I mean that is obviously time consuming. It’s actually also about that shortlisting and screening and getting the right person.

Rebecca: I shortlist by writing an ad that puts most people off.

Elizabeth: Okay. Yeah. That’s one way of doing it.

Rebecca: So a really, really specific about exactly what I’m looking for because if you’re a recruiter, it’s different. You want to cast the net wide and I totally get that. But as an employer, when we were looking for Lauren, my assistant who psychic and understands everything, it was like if I put a general executive assistant role out there, you

Elizabeth: Would’ve got a lot of applications.

Rebecca: I really, really would. And I just didn’t have time to deal with that. So I made it as close to the wind as I possibly calculated that it was quite PC and I just went, I just need somebody who loves admin, who loves the detail, who wants flexible working, who doesn’t mind me swearing from time to time and is quite happy with dark humour.

Elizabeth: I’m still surprised you didn’t get a lot of applications to that, to be honest.

Rebecca: Didn’t even post it as a job. It was just a post on LinkedIn and I got five cracking people and could have taken probably three out the five quite easily.

Elizabeth: That was the hardest thing, I think is actually the short listing. They’re actually really good. And obviously it’s not me because I’m recruiting on behalf of the client, but you think it’s difficult to make that call when you get three good ones?

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So what size is your team?

Elizabeth: I’ve grown. So I’ve got a recruiter and then I’ve got somebody that helps with social media. And so they work every day. They are both part-time, but they both work every day. And then I’ve got a developer that helps more ad hoc really.

Rebecca: So your platform is not an off the shelf platform then.

Elizabeth: On WordPress.

Rebecca: Oh, right.

Elizabeth: Plug in actually.

Rebecca: Oh that’s cool. It looks like a proper sort of software developed type thing.

Elizabeth: I mean he’s made it look amazing. There is no way I would’ve been able to make it or like that without him. But yeah, it’s WordPress.

Rebecca: Yeah, that’s really cool. Okay. And how are you getting the candidates? Because there must be a huge market of men and women, but I’m guessing mainly women who want this flexible working. How are you getting your message out there?

Elizabeth: I mean, predominantly LinkedIn. LinkedIn has been always my favourite platform to be on. We’ve got a Facebook group. We do a lot of sourcing on LinkedIn. We’ve got that LinkedIn recruiter licences and that’s where we’ll get a lot of candidates. And then obviously just the job board, so the site’s all optimised, SEO optimised, so people will find it naturally. Obviously coming on podcasts like yours, people will listen and hopefully come visit the sites.

Rebecca: That’s really interesting. Our model is self-employed model, and we use ads on LinkedIn, recruitment ads on LinkedIn, and we’re just dipping our toe in the water for Google ads. Yeah, so it’s really interesting you say that.

Elizabeth: Unless, yeah, you have to spend, I mean, it’s taken me, I’ve done quite a lot of SEO courses, but I mean even that slogan, it’s not like instant like ads Ads, you will get traffic overnight, but is that traffic then? I guess you would only know, I think if you were an e-commerce site and you could see those conversions better, you’d think those that would be a better spend. You can see that. But a bit with ours, we get our money obviously from the employers.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I totally agree. We’ve had some help from the Google Ads, like account managers. They seem to have moved from India to the Philippines, and the guy we had last week was brilliant, and he got our click through rate from one point something to four point something. That’s really good. Yeah, I know. In 24 hours I’m like, that’s really impressive. But they changed it for, again, any entrepreneurs out there going, oh, just going to stick some Google ads on. They change the account managers every three months,

So you sometimes get a cracker, which we’ve got in the moment, and then they’ll change it and you’re like, oh, this person is useless. So at the moment we’re okay. But it’s interesting you say quality, so I’ll keep my eye on the quality. Right. LinkedIn quality is just, it’s fantastic for applicants. It really, really is.  Now are you just UK based at the moment?

Elizabeth: We’re ust UK based at the moment. Yeah, I would potentially go international. I mean at the moment, just the time, isn’t it? And it’s the funds and it just like, yeah.

Rebecca: And have you had any investment?

Elizabeth: No, I’ve not had any investment, so it’s all, so I just funded it initially from my redundancy money.

Rebecca: Well done. Good for you. Where do you want to take it? Where do you see it heading?

Elizabeth: I mean, I love recruitment. I actually genuinely love recruitment. It’s one of my, and I know it’s obviously not for everyone, so I would always hope it would stay as a recruitment business, but we’ve got consultancy arm now, so we help clients that want to learn how to attract and retain women because I get a lot of clients that come to me and they’re just not ready. So they might have the intention, but they’re not ready. So that’s to help them. And we’d just done the other week, which I loved. A client asked if we could do an employer branding video for them.

Rebecca: Cool.

Elizabeth: And it was amazing. So we went to their factory, me and my social media manager, we went there, did all the filming, she’s editing it the moment and then that’s going to go on their careers page. I’ve loved it, so I was like, this is something I think we could definitely get into more employer branding as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. It’s so important when we work with businesses, we work with them from the inside out, so culture first and we say, look, your internal brand is as important as your external brand. So your brand promise has to deliver to your internal customers, which is your staff, and then to your external customers. And you’re right, some employers aren’t ready for that. So if an employer’s not ready for that flexible working, what kind of things do you help them with?

Elizabeth: So it would be talking about how, how they can offer that flexibility, because we’ve got a lot of employers that maybe have to be on site five days a week, which is fair enough. But then can they offer job sharing? How would they implement successful job share into their organisation? What other things can they do to support particularly women in the workplace then that maybe at the point where they might drop out of their career if they’ve just had children? Can they offer maternity return to work coaching? Can they offer a mentorship scheme? What would that look like? So we are looking at other ways that they can support women, particularly women in the workplace. Can they offer any assistance with childcare? Things like that. Yeah.

Rebecca: Do you think it’s just lack of imagination that they’re just not spent time thinking about it?

Elizabeth: I think so. I think predominantly it’s because a lot of senior leaders in most organisations are white men of a certain age that perhaps had, when their children were younger, had their wife supporting at home and they’re now at the top and it didn’t affect them. It’s quite hard to see that point of view.

Rebecca: And I see out and about just in town a lot more men around during the week with the baby in the pram or the toddler in the push chair. And I see a lot more men at swimming activities and things like that. So do you think the demand for flexible working for men is on the rise?

Elizabeth: Yeah, I think so. And I hope so. I mean, my husband now works from home at the moment, and since he’s been working from home, we are like, so I think we’re pretty much 50/50.

Rebecca: Great.

Elizabeth: And we shared school runs. We share who’s cooking. It does feel quite 50/50. And I think as well as just helping me now, I think it’s quite good role modelling for the kids. I don’t think we have particularly defined gender roles. He’ll brush their teeth through their hair and their hair and get them ready for school as well.

Rebecca: Yeah, I think it is changing gradually. I really do for the better, which is fantastic. I think the law needs to change though, because if we had equal parental

Elizabeth: Leave,

Rebecca: I think suddenly more men would take that paternity leave if it was paid on the same terms as women.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I do. And it’s the moment I think it’s set up, so it takes away, it sort of feels like it has to take away from the mum

Rebecca: And

Elizabeth: It needs to change. It needs to be tweaked, doesn’t It

Rebecca: Does. And I think, is it Denmark that does that or one

Elizabeth: Of the Yeah, it’s a Scandinavian country. And they do have more equality, don’t they? Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. And I know, again, I’ve sort of looked at studies as that it doesn’t completely change the caring responsibilities, but to think it shifts things a little bit more. So they’re a bit more equal in the workplace from an employer’s perspective.

Elizabeth: So they’re less likely to discriminate against women in that recruitment process, which unfortunately does still happen.

Rebecca: Yeah, it really does. Somebody said to me the other day, those kind of very macho bosses that stamped their fists on the table or a thing at the past went, no, they’re not. No, they’re not.

Elizabeth: I know so many like that.

Rebecca: They’re really, really not. So no, there’s still loads of discrimination of people going, you can’t possibly do this. Yeah, I know. It’s sad, but it is changing.

Elizabeth: I hope people are getting, because my friend, she was unfortunately made redundant two weeks ago. Again, the only part-time on the team, the other two full-time are still employed. And I sat actually speaking with an employment solicitor. But it’s actually, I think being quite open about there is things you can do if you think you’re being discriminated against at work. I think we need to be doing that more because there’s things you can, I always say to people, you submit a subject access request.

Rebecca: What’s that?

Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s basically you do it through, I think it’s through ACAS, go on the ACAS website, double check. And then the employer legally has to release any emails that you’ve been mentioned in all the data basically they hold on you. So it’s a real pain for employers. They have to go through every single email ever and then black out the other people’s names that are in the email. But you then get  to whether you have been discriminated against in work, a subject access request, and employers probably don’t want you to know about that.

Rebecca: No, I would imagine not.

Elizabeth: Because you can then get the evidence. I mean obviously maybe you haven’t been, not everyone probably has been discriminated, but you can then get that evidence to show you have, and obviously you can go through early conciliation, which is through ACAS, which is before tribunal, and often hopefully a lot of employers will settle. You can appeal redundancies. There’s quite a lot you can do. And I do think knowledge is power. There’s a lot you can do, even if it just scares the employer, so they stop doing it.

Rebecca: Yeah. Until I spoke to you, Elizabeth, it had never occurred to me that people being made redundant were likely to be part-time.

Elizabeth: And that’s discrimination. That is, I think ultimately discrimination, predominantly women that work. So you could argue an employment solicit would argue that it was like a sexual discrimination or…

Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. Or if you had caring responsibilities. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Elizabeth: You need that subject to access request, I would say to get the compelling evidence. I mean, speak to an employee. And also a lot of people don’t realise a lot of home insurance policies offer legal support, so you get your legal fees paid.

Rebecca: I did not know that either.

Elizabeth: Yes. So check your documents.

Rebecca: Oh my God. It’s like being on a call with Martin Lewis.

Elizabeth: This is all, I dunno anything else about any other finance stuff. I’m like, just want people to know their rights if they’re in that situation and you have a lot of rights.

Rebecca: Right. Okay. So if you’ve done all that and you suspect you’ve been discriminated again in the UK what are you then allowed to do?

Elizabeth: Well, you can make a claim. Okay. You start initiating the tribunal and you’ve got three months less one day from the last point of that discrimination. I would say log everything as well, even if it’s just been something that’s been said to you ideally with the date, because this will all be evidence. You can just put it in your notes, do your subject access request. Obviously, if you’ve got an employer, it can afford an employment solicitor grade, a lot of them do offer free consultations as well. Yeah. I mean, or you could do it on your own through ACAS and you would get assigned like a caseworker.

Rebecca: Oh, right.

Elizabeth: ACAS is free.

Rebecca: Free. Right.

Elizabeth: You’ve also got Citizens Advice, I think, and then there’s Pregnant And Screwed. There’s a lot of helplines.

Rebecca: I’ve seen Pregnant And Screwed a lot, so that obviously a very specific area.

Elizabeth: ACAS is just more generalist or Citizen’s Advice.

Rebecca: Do you partner with them?

Elizabeth: No, I’ve not ever done anything with them. I’ve always wanted Jo to call my podcast. I’ve asked her, but yeah. Yes.

Rebecca: Yeah, I follow her and you probably follow her as well. I’ll tag her on this because I can see that working really, really well. Definitely. Yeah. No, that’s really good. So this is very exciting. It’s really important. Where do you want to, I don’t know. I’ve changed how I ask this question, Elizabeth. I normally say, where do you want to take the business and things like that. But I’m going to change it from now on in because I experienced a significant change the other week that I won’t bore you with. But what do you feel your purpose is in growing this business? What’s kind of your destiny do you think about growing this business?

Elizabeth: That’s a really good question.

Rebecca: I’ve changed it. I have changed it.

Elizabeth: I think it’s been actually empowering women to actually realise that they don’t have to take the, I don’t want to swear on this…

Rebecca: You are allowed to swear, I’m from Manchester.

Elizabeth: I take the bullshit that the corporates have fed them for so long, and yet it’s placing people. I love recruitment, but it’s also, we do weekly Facebook and LinkedIn lives, and I have benefited from doing those as much as the people that watched it because it’s not your fault. The workplace was set up over a hundred years ago when women were at home. It was set up when a time when men went into work, women were at home and the stuff at home, unfortunately, all that stuff hasn’t disappeared in terms of the laundry, the cleaning, et cetera. It’s not your fault if you feel you can’t fit it in, if you feel you’re struggling, it’s not your fault that childcare is too expensive for you to feel like it’s worth going into work. I think that’s what I want people to say. Realise it’s not your fault. There is other options. You can say no, and I really want to see more women’s voices saying no enough.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Whether they’re self-employed or corporate. I did some interview coaching for a lady yesterday and she said to me, I said, you’ll maybe get asked this question, where would you like to be in five years time? And she went, well, if I was giving you the honest answer and then she gave me this honest answer, I’m like, why can’t you just say that in the interview? And I think it’s that empowering women to feel confident enough to be honest and advocate for what we need.

Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. I agree. I love that. Empowering women that is your destiny. Or as the Hindus would say, your dharma, which I’m getting right into at the moment. Again, I won’t bore you into details. So for me, I’m growing my business, which is great, with the intention of eventually having somebody else run it. So my eldest daughter really wants children. She’s with a long-term partner. They’re going to buy a house. I see grandchildren on the horizon in the next couple of years, and I want somebody else, I’ll still be involved in my business, but want somebody else to run it so I can do grandma duties so that she can go to work and build her career and not worry about baby one maybe two days a week. And her partner again, because modern, they’re in their twenties. He’s like, well, I’ll probably work part-time as well. So between us all, we can probably cover it because otherwise they’re haven’t going to have to pay another mortgage.

Elizabeth: I know. It’s ridiculous.

Rebecca: To have the child looked after, which is ridiculous. So there we go. There’s my honest answer. But I can do that because I’m not employed.

Elizabeth: I know. It’s so easy to have that honesty when you don’t have a big corporate.

Rebecca: I know. And I’ve coached many women, many moms in big corporates, and the unreasonable demands are just off the scale. They’re like unbelievable how people are physically expected to do the quantity and quality of work. It’s not humanly possible, actually. And I don’t know why corporates expect that. I really don’t. Anyway, so if your business had a personality or a character, Elizabeth, who would it be? Or how would you describe it?

Elizabeth: I dunno, gosh, personality. I think it’s like the empowerment thing as well. And also I feel there’s a message that too many women are written off after having children, and we write ourselves off as well. I think it’s a little bit of both, because we see the obstacles and, oh, we can’t do this, we can’t do that. And actually, I personally, being very redundant and having children has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my career,

Because there is no way I’d have set up this business without being made redundant. And I would’ve probably gone back to work, kept my head down, kept quiet. I wouldn’t have found my voice. And I think having children has given me that confidence. Good. And I see a lot of women that actually, they seem to flourish after having children. I mean, obviously not everyone has children. Not everyone wants children, but I think we need to stop writing people off if they have other commitments, whether it’s us or somebody else writing us off. Yeah. I think it’s the positivity thing. You can still achieve amazing things, whatever age you are, whatever your circumstances is, just about being focused

Rebecca: And

Elizabeth: Getting it done.

Rebecca: Yeah, I agree. I agree. That’s amazing. Thank you so much

Elizabeth: For this. Alright, thank you.

Rebecca: That’s pleasure. We’ll be sharing it far and wide. We are even on TikTok.

Elizabeth: Like that. At least you get the on feedback loop.

Rebecca: Do do. Right. I wish you all the success in the world, Elizabeth, thank you so much. And yeah, I’ll point people in your direction. Definitely.

Elizabeth: Thank you.