Emma Codd has two jobs – she is a partner in the forensics team (leading a team of around 50 people) and is Managing Partner for Talent (so responsible for HR and all talent strategy for the firm) at Deloitte, with the latter role also meaning that she sits on the firm’s Executive. She has twin five-year-old girls and a husband whose career makes similar demands upon his time. If anyone understands the importance of balancing a career with family life, it’s Emma.
However, she believes her schedule shouldn’t be seen as exceptional in the modern workplace. If professional and financial services firms really want to attract and retain a diverse workforce, actively promote women into senior positions and keep their employees happy, then agile working should be a central facet of their culture.
How do you ensure both your professional and personal lives work?
We’re juggling plates and this involves a lot of co-ordination, but my husband and I would be the first to admit we’re not as good as we should be about managing our diaries. My husband works in property development, which means he has more flexibility with his own schedule and can take the kids to school if our childcare arrangements fall through.
I have a slightly more conventional set-up, but I don’t apologise for the fact that I’m judged on my performance, not how many hours I sit in the office.
Only the other week I had to cancel a meeting in Europe because one of my children was sick and wanted her mummy. I’ve occasionally had to cancel meetings with our CEO because of family commitments and he fully understands. We all have to take time off when a family crisis erupts, whether we are in a client-facing role or not: people are people and dealing with a personal issue doesn’t make you any less committed to your job.
Are your hours relatively conventional?
Far from it. I have some golden rules like never arranging meetings before 8.30am if it can possibly be helped, but I usually check my emails before the children wake up to make sure there’s nothing too urgent. I make sure I have breakfast with the children when I can and help get them ready for school. I always work from home for an hour or more in the morning, which is a relatively peaceful time when I can get stuff done.
I can then be in the office any time between 9am-10.30am and work through the day; when I don’t have an evening work event (I try to only do a maximum of 2 a week) I get back home in time to put the children to bed. Then I usually work for a couple of hours most evenings. My team are used to receiving emails from me at unsociable hours, but I make it clear to them from the outset that it’s my choice to work these hours and I’m not expecting them to do the same.
How important is agile working to you currently?
It’s very important. I usually work from home on Fridays, when I take the children to school and pick them up. I never book in any face-to-face meetings – although I do do calls - and it’s an opportunity for me to clear some time and really work on the strategic elements of my roles.
I will also be taking a five-week sabbatical this year. My sister lives in the U.S. and visits us every year - this will give me a chance to spend some quality time with her and, of course, be a full-time mum for a while.
Is agile working compatible with a demanding career?
It’s not just compatible, it’s an imperative, particularly for working parents. Both fathers and mothers need some degree of flexibility in their careers and it’s important for companies to provide this if they want to keep hold of their best people. Being successful in your career isn’t just about spending time at your desk, it’s down to performance and we need to move away from this culture of presenteeism.
What advice do you have for other working mothers looking to advance their career?
Remember that it isn’t just about what works for you, it’s what works for the team. Very often agile working arrangements fail because certain arrangements either don’t fit with the team or are not communicated effectively. Make sure that everyone in your team understands your situation and set expectations clearly so you don’t have to keep explaining or justifying your work arrangements.
And don’t apologise for these agile working arrangements. People need to respect that your career and family are both very important. I work in a sector where I’m confident in my abilities and passionate about the job, so I know I can deliver even if I work in an agile way.
Also, make sure you stick to your own rules. It’s likely that at some point I would bend to accommodate the needs of others, but that can quickly become the new norm. My PA is much more conscientious than me and rigidly sticks to my agile working arrangements.
Agile working isn’t just about working mothers. How is Deloitte addressing differing needs across the organisation?
When we embarked on a new agile working programme last year, we knew it would benefit women but the reality is that it’s an important tool for attracting and retaining talent across the organisation. Take fathers, for example. The days of fathers being detached from childcare duties are long gone, so we offered the option of reduced hours and flexible work arrangements before it became law in the UK last year. We’re also recognising that more men will want to play a part in the early months of parenting and so are paying Shared Parental Leave at the same level as our enhanced maternity pay. We’re determined to show that taking time off to be a parent shouldn’t mean that you’re not serious about your career.
We’ve also seen a big uptake of our Time Out initiative, which enables employees to request one month off, unpaid, every year in addition to their annual paid holiday entitlement – without giving a reason. The initiative has been recognised by the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For 2015 where Deloitte took the special award for Innovation in Engagement Practice for Time Out. We’ve seen a 50-50 split between men and women taking Time Out in the firm. You get people using the time for big adventures of course, but often people just want to spend a bit more time with their family.
And, all the research points the fact that Millennials are demanding more flexibility in the workplace and we need to ensure our culture reflects that.
How is the workplace evolving to fit these various demands?
Within the professional services sector the biggest barrier to agile working is the culture of presenteesim. If you’re in a client-facing role the perception has historically been that you need to be in the office to have a successful career. But do you really need to physically be in the office until 9pm? If the work needs doing, could you do it at home without being tied to your desk? The fact is that a lot of clients have recognised the value themselves of agile working and have introduced agile working arrangements as staff have asked and the technology has allowed. If they work this way, why would they frown upon their advisers working in an agile manner?
We want to attract the best people and we don’t want our employees – particularly women – to feel that starting a family is the tipping point in their career. We want a modern workplace and, for us, that’s an agile workplace.
What is driving this agenda across the business?
Attraction and retention is obviously a key concern, but in its simplest form agile working is about keeping people happy. If you’re happy and fulfilled in your job you’ll produce better results. We want people to be able to balance their personal life and their career. We want happy employees and we want engaged employees.
What are you finding the most common requests for agile working within the organisation?
The time out - four-week unpaid sabbatical - has been taken up more than anything. When we first introduced it, hardly anyone signed up, but I think they were just waiting to see who else put their hand-up for it. A few months ago the floodgates opened and it’s been a really successful initiative. After that, more informal arrangements, such as working from home or from one of our offices that is nearer to the home, are proving popular.
What are the obstacles which still need addressing?
The biggest challenges are addressing unconscious bias and driving a culture change across the business. Effectively you have people in leadership positions who are used to long hours and being present in the office every day. This is decades of culture within professional and financial services and isn’t going to change overnight. Role models are a good and pragmatic way to change perceptions – there are a lot of hugely successful people in the sector who work in an agile way, but no one realises that they do. We’re bringing those stories out into the open and sharing them across the business.
How important is getting this right for women’s career progression in the financial and professional services sectors?
It’s absolutely vital. Within Deloitte there’s a huge focus on women in leadership and ensuring we continue to attract and develop the best people. This is a concern across the industry. We saw a drop off point with women going on maternity leave and then all too frequently feeling unable to return or that they had to switch out of a client-facing role. We’re changing this, saying to people that it is possible to do a client facing role and raise a family. We’re also keen to attract back women who took a couple of years out to be with their children and want to return to work. Agile working is absolutely critical – if we don’t get this right I don’t think we can win the battle, but we are determined to do so.