Making Work, Work

Reactivate talent, reignite growth and rebalance our working lives

Without access to flexible working, a large pool of knowledge and talent is going to waste. This is costing us greatly, stifling growth and impacting workplace wellbeing.

For all the progress made in communication technology and digital working platforms, and for all the conversations on work life balance and the importance of workplace wellbeing, it seems society is still attached to a culture of long office hours and presenteeism. Women’s careers continue to stall due to a lack of options for flexible working, so say the findings of recent in depth studies into flexible working and the progression of women in the corporate workplace.

A report compiled by Digital Mums in association with Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found 60% of mothers with children under 18 do not have access to flexible working. 64% of returning mothers found that their skills were compromised in some way in order to find a flexible job. The findings indicate that women are still finding it hard to return to work, and feel unable to progress as a result of career breaks, maternity leave and family commitments.

The Women in the Workplace 2016 study looked even more in depth into women’s career development and presence in the workplace in corporate America, finding that women are still falling behind men on the corporate ladder, with companies struggling to put their commitment to gender equality into practice for a number of reasons, including concerns about positive discrimination. And where flexible working programmes are offered to parents, it was found that 61% of employees worry that working part-time will hurt their career, with 42% believing taking a leave of absence or sabbatical will do the same.

Why should so many women have to compromise their experience and skillset in order to find work that suits them? Why are employers and managers stretching every hour given, instead of calling on the expertise and skills they need when they need them? Why are there pools of latent talent still being left untapped? These are the questions we still find ourselves asking of the legal sector, and indeed many other industries beyond.

What happens when we increase the opportunities for people to work flexibly and remotely, when different life stages mean that they cannot be tied to the office and commute from dawn to dusk? It’s not a stretch to say that productivity is boosted and everyone’s work life balance stands to improve. The real, tangible benefits of flexible working and of changing traditional approaches to legal consultancy can be seen every day at Obelisk. From talent reactivated after a lengthy career break, to those changing to freelance remote work as life priorities change, the talent and expertise is there ready and waiting for the opportunity to take on new challenges, to find work that fits with their lives and fulfils their sense of purpose.

The CEBR also calculated that widespread access to flexible working could add 66 million hours more work per week, with an economic output boost to the UK of approximately £62.5 billion. But the benefits go even further than economic gain. It is not sustainable for business owners to be pulled on all directions when they need the time and headspace to create, shape and grow their business. Nor is it sustainable for employees who will not feel valued or incentivised by restrictive and lengthy hours expected of them, when there are people with the knowledge and talent available. Allowing people the time to concentrate their efforts on their core responsibilities and the bigger picture of their business, rather than fighting daily fires such as contract resolutions and other areas of time draining micro-management can change our overworking, long-office-hours culture for good, for the benefit of everyone’s wellbeing and personal growth, as well as the growth of the economy as a whole.

It’s time we all asked ourselves: What would we do with #MyMillionHours?


Dana Denis-Smith visits NYC with Sadiq Khan to tell the world #LondonIsOpen

Obelisk was one of 30 London-based fast-growing technology scale ups to accompany the Mayor on his trade mission to NYC and Chicago this month. The Attic caught up with Dana to find out how it went…

What kind of businesses and individuals did you meet?

The Mayor of London is a great champion of small businesses, especially given our role as the largest job creators. So it was in this vein that he selected 30 fast growing businesses to join him on his US trip. The businesses had to focus on the B2B market as the nature of the trip was to introduce us to large corporate buyers and to showcase the strong businesses that are London-based.

The other businesses were absolutely fascinating – very innovative services and amazing variety of sectors. Most of them are technology-enabled ground-breaking businesses that are reshaping the industries they serve. The energy of the founders and leaders that joined was truly contagious – a lot of lessons can be learned from being in a peer-to-peer environment that is supportive and ambitious.

How did you enjoy opening the New York Stock Exchange?

This was a unique moment and without a doubt the highlight. It was wonderful that only the women leaders on the trip were invited to join the Mayor to ring the closing bell. Sadiq Khan is not only a supporter of SMEs but also a great believer of the economic value of women in the workplace, so that was truly a special moment.

What do you think of the work the Mayor and the London and Partners team is doing to show London is open for business?

The #LondonIsOpen campaign was a brilliant and positive response to the Brexit vote. It has kept the world’s eyes firmly on London as a business destination; they have done a lot of work to highlight the strength of the private sector, they showcased the fast growing businesses and the general open business environment that London offers as an enabler of building a business.

How important is it for growing London-based companies such as Obelisk to present themselves to the US market in the wake of Brexit?

All fast growing businesses are looking for markets in which they can grow, for business partners that value their services and that can underpin that growth. So being able to be in the US with the Mayor was fantastic from an access and credibility point of view. We now know we have a lot of help at hand to push for growth in the US, across that whole market.

Did you get much down time to explore as a tourist?

I started every day with a long walk – around the financial district or walking along the Highline which is a suspended garden walk along some decommissioned train tracks. Nothing beats jet lag like a walk and a hearty breakfast.

What was the most important take away for you from the experience? What do you hope to see in future once we leave the EU?

If you have a strong business, although a ready-to-access market can help, in the end you can take your services anywhere. Success has no borders.

Family & Work Trending Women in Law

Let Authenticity Be Your Anchor – In Conversation With Terry Miller OBE

Maintaining focus on personal priorities and authenticity made me a better lawyer, says Terry Miller OBE

“My mom is a lawyer. When she gets home every night she says ‘Boy I’m so glad to be home’.”
These are the words written in a note by Terry Miller OBE’s daughter, then five years old. Terry Miller OBE is an independent Non-Executive Director of the British Olympic Association, a Director and Trustee of the Invictus Games Foundation, and a Non-Executive Director of Goldman Sachs International Bank, having previously worked as International General Counsel. Miller was also General Counsel for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) from 2006 to 2013.

In conversation with Dana Denis-Smith at an event in support of the First 100 Years Project, she told the audience how she kept that note in her office in every role she has had. Looking back over her own prestigious working life, Miller emphasised the importance of being authentic and true to yourself, and not to be afraid to take on new challenges. Making time to nurture outside interests and family life will maintain your drive and avoid burnout.

Miller’s legal career was borne out of realising what mattered to her most. She had previously worked as a journalist and increasingly found she wanted to be at the centre of change, rather than just reporting on it. That drive took her on a path that led to becoming the most senior legal counsel for Goldman Sachs in London. However, like any of us, she experienced momentsof uncertainty and self-doubt. While acknowledging that luck and circumstance play a big part in shaping a career, she also emphasised that one of the biggest elements is overcoming fear. Taking on new challenges builds confidence that you can take into other areas of work, she said. “Every time you can rise above a challenge and turn that energy of anxiety into adrenaline to learn and expand your knowledge; that is an opportunity.” She calls this “trepidation and stimulation” – and we can probably all relate to moments where we’ve felt that trepidation, but haven’t always seized the opportunity!

Miller also sees time devoted to outside activities such as hobbies and family life as not an afterthought or hindrance, but the key to wellbeing and continued success. She said remaining focused on her personal priorities in many ways helped her to be excellent in all of her legal counsel roles. It is therefore just as important to build a schedule to protect time for other activities; to have something that takes us away from it all and allows us to learn and excel in a another sphere With all these elements combined, we can live fuller lives that we and our loved ones can be proud of. Turning to how this can be applied in the legal profession, Miller said that one of the major changes she had observed was the increase in people doing things in a less traditionally linear way, and instead building a portfolio career. On flexible and remote approaches to work, Miller stated that she believes the legal profession can adapt and that changes should be embraced quickly and can be achieved, if it is understood what needs to be done and there is trust in people. She also discussed how careers are on a much longer cycle for women, and it is important for us to think about where we want to put emphasis. It is vital at every phase in life to work out our priorities. We need to be smart and realistic about what’s important at different life stages, whether it be professional or personal. When we’re able to know the distinction and prioritise accordingly, we’re better able to manage our expectations of ourselves and those around us.

In other words, it’s about recognising we can have it all, but that doesn’t mean doing it all at once. We need to continually be honest with ourselves about what matters and sticking to the ethos of authenticity- and it certainly helps to keep a little note or a picture somewhere to remind us.