Life & Culture

Timewise power woman fighting for flexibility


Karen Mattison has forced companies to recognise the value of part-time employees and inspired mothers to re-enter the workplace.

But the award-winning British businesswoman, 45, says the fight for flexible working is far from over.

Speaking ahead of legal changes to flexible working, which come into force next month, Mattison says British businesses are losing top talent because of the stigma associated with “part-timers”.

The Oxford University graduate speaks from experience. Before she turned 30, she was made chief executive of a mental health charity. She managed teams, sat on boards and — inspired by her grandmother Gretel Glassman’s testimonial in the Spielberg Holocaust Archive — founded the Mental Health Testimony Project, which is housed in the British Library.

But for all her achievements, the Liverpool-born mother-of-three, a former King David High School student, took on “freelance work after having children, because there was nothing out there that suited me, for four days a week.

Why is working five days a week normal?

She adds: “I was told, ‘you can’t manage a team or work with clients if you’re out of the office on a Friday’. It’s not true.”

After speaking to women in similar situations, Mattison set-up the Timewise group in 2012, in a bid to help part-time employees find “high-quality, degree level” work. She was supported by the Social Business Trust, a partnership of seven companies — Bain & Company, British Gas, Clifford Chance, Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young, Permira and Thomson Reuters — dedicated to helping top social enterprises to scale.

According to national statistics, there are more than eight-million part-time workers in the UK, and 650,000 are in the highest-tax bracket.

Timewise, which turned over £1.5m last year, has supported more than 58,000 people — but an astounding 80 per cent of them are female.

“There’s a massive exodus of women in their 30s and 40s, who are leaving work and having children” says Mattison. “It isn’t good for businesses as teams perform better when there are male and female managers.”

But for Mattison, this is not solely a women’s-only issue. More men are now looking for flexibility in their careers, with an “increasing number using Timewise every month.

“This isn’t just about women.

“There’s more stigma attached to men working part-time. It reduces as they get older, have a portfolio and are looking for a way of easing into retirement.”

Mattison believes that the UK’s “non-stop” culture has led it to lag behind the rest of Europe when it comes to flexible hours: “Technology was meant to make things easier, but we are expected to be available all the time. We check our emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night. There’s a demand for an immediate response.

“Why is working five days a week normal, when thousands want flexible hours?”

Mattison says young professionals — the Millennial Generation — are looking for more flexibility and companies must change if they want to recruit the best talent.

“Work is not a place you go, it’s a thing you do. It’s about delivering on targets and not sitting in an office from nine-to-five.

“Clients now ask if a company has flexibility. They don’t want a bunch of exhausted 23-year-olds working at 4am on a project.”

As a result, Timewise has started delivering presentations to top corporations, but she says that “small businesses get it more.

“With rising real estate costs in central London, why not allow an employee to work at home.

“They can get a prominent person, with great background and experience for 80 per cent of the salary.”

Mattison, who now lives in north London and is a member of Muswell Hill Synagogue, runs a social business. “It’s a financial success and has a social impact,” explains Mattison, who was partly influenced by her year on a kibbutz in Tuval.

“I’ve always been driven by a need to make a difference. When I see something unjust, I have to do something.”

But Mattison, who created and held the first Woman’s Officer post at Oxford University and has received multiple industry awards, is modest about her achievements.

However, she was proud to accept the 2014 Wizo woman in the workplace award and visit Israel with the charity.

“I was amazed by their projects for women,” she adds.

Every year, Timewise lists the most influential part-time employees. Here are the top Jewish women on the list:

Partner at Withers LLP
Days worked per week: 4
Aarons is a senior equity partner and lawyer. With over 30 years’ experience, she has acted for banks, FTSE 100 and 250 directors. She was one of the first women made a City partner on a flexible week. She says: “I strictly adhered to a four-day week when my children were young and as I’m shomer Shabbat, Friday was my day at home. I avoided the phrase “part time” as it suggested less than total commitment.”

Founder of Hot Bikram Yoga
Days worked per week: 3
Allon oversees the management of Hot Bikram Yoga, which she launched in 2006.
She trained to be a Bikram instructor while she was a commercial architect.
Allon’s business now includes three thriving yoga studios in London, retailing yoga clothing and yoga retreats. Working three days allows her to spend time with her daughters, while still being involved in all aspects of the business, from teaching yoga classes to training her 85 staff, with many taking her lead and working flexibly.

Chief executive of artsdepot
Days worked per week: 3
Cooper leads artsdepot, the only professional arts venue in the Barnet, with responsibility for financial management, programming, income generation and external relations. In 2011, Tracy returned to artsdepot part-time after giving birth to twins having worked full time there since 2006.

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