Karen Mattison, Founder Timewise Jobs, on The Power of Part Time

The NextWomen Career Theme

Karen Mattison MBE, Founder of Timewise Jobs, was a CEO before the age of 30. She went on to have 3 sons, and looked for a part time job at her previous professional level to fit with her family commitments. She searched for months, coming away with ads for part time caterers, childcare assistants and cleaners.

After meeting hundreds of other women in the same position at the school gates Karen felt this waste of talent was absolutely wrong, and set about building a solution for women: by starting up the UK’s first jobsite for professional level part time jobs.

Karen has amassed 41,000 talented mums, dads, and others who need part time work. She has recruited professional jobs of all kinds – financial controllers, heads of comms & lawyers for employers small and large alike, including Virgin, Ernst & Young & easyJet.  

She is backed by 6 world leading business through Social Business Trust – a partnership dedicated to helping the UK’s most promising social enterprises to scale up. She has been made an MBE for her work, won numerous ‘inspirational business woman’ style awards and is cited by Sam Baker, the editor of Red magazine, as the inspiration for the mags Red Hot Women awards (which celebrate working women), and has sat on the judging panel for 4 years running. Other judges include Karren Brady and India Knight.

Timewise Jobs is part of a social enterprise that is dedicated to helping people who need part time work – to find such jobs, at their level of skill and professionalism. In a bid to tackle the stereotypes associated with the words ‘part time’, Karen this year launched the UK’s first ever Power Part Time list – detailing 50 of the most senior level part time workers in the UK, in a bid to crack the notion that you can’t work part time in top jobs.

Karen is convinced that the only way to crack the glass ceiling is to build a network of good quality mid-senior level jobs that women can navigate through as they build their careers.

We spoke to Karen about the stigma surrounding part time workers; the social enterprises of the future; and lessons in  leadership.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Timewise Jobs and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

KM: In my thirties I hit a brick wall, career wise.  I was an experienced senior manager with two young sons. I returned to work and was fortunate enough to have my role made part time, so I could fit it with family. Though I loved my job, I was ready for a new challenge and I started looking for that exciting next step. I felt like I was in my prime in terms of career, skill and ability. I just needed a job at my ‘level’ that was also part time. Simple right? After six months of looking, I realised I hadn’t seen one suitable part time job to apply for. I began asking recruiters about the lack of quality flexible roles on the market – and was told they didn’t exist. One day, at the school gates, I was struck by a thought – here I was, surrounded by an incredible pool of talent – women who had been TV producers, lawyers and bankers, before having kids.

Who wouldn’t want to hire these exceptional, capable candidates on a part time, and thus more affordable basis?

I began speaking to employers to find out why part time or flexible working would cause them such an issue. To my surprise, they all said they were aware of the potential pool of talent, would love the opportunity to recruit from within it but didn’t know where to start looking for the candidates in the first place. The need from candidates was in place, the reciprocal desire from employers was there – but the two had no place in which to meet. This was the start of the journey that led me to create Timewise Jobs, the UK’s first jobsite to specialise in everything part time and flexible.

TNW: Tell us about working with the Social Business Trust, a partnership dedicated to helping the UK’s most promising social enterprises to scale up. How are they helping you to scale your business?

KM: The support of Social Business Trust has been invaluable. Social Business Trust is a partnership of 7 world class businesses: Bain & Company, British Gas, Clifford Chance, Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young, Permira and Thomson Reuters, that have combined their resources and expertise in order to help the UK’s most promising social businesses to scale up and accelerate their growth. They chose to make us their very first investment. With Social Business Trust’s support were able to launch Timewise Jobs: a source of quality part time and flexible jobs, both for mums and anyone who needs part time work. Meaning we could provide the full-picture – support in deciding what you want to do careers-wise, practical help getting there and a source of jobs too. The brilliant thing about the investment, is that Social Business Trust provided us with in-kind, as well as financial support, meaning that we had access to the skills and expertise of senior consultants within these businesses, who helped us to develop the branding, marketing and IT infrastructure.

TNW: Have you come across any other exciting social enterprises recently?

KM: For those not familiar with the concept, a social enterprise – or social business, as I prefer,is a company that trades in the marketplace for social good. Ours is to help people find part time work at their level of skill and ability. Social businesses work to a ‘double bottom line’ – one that’s financial, and one that’s values-led. I find that operating in this way keeps you ‘fixed’ to your original purpose and strengthens your business. These are lots of oft-quoted examples of famous social businesses, such as Divine Chocolate and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. Two great social businesses I encountered recently are Belu Water and the Emporium Tearooms. Belu Water is the most ethical bottled mineral water available. Belu has pledged to donate all its profits to WaterAid for the next three years. It has also won a prestigious CoolBrands status and is served all around the UK, from Manoir aux Quat’Saisons to Café Rouge and Zizzi.  The Emporium Tea Rooms and Fancy Goods Shop is a beautiful tearoom, local to me, that is staffed by young people with autism, providing them with skills and experience. If I have a meeting near home, I always try to have it there.

Both social businesses are founded upon clever concepts, do good in the world, are future-forward and innovative and provide amazing products.

TNW: As innovators, do you feel that entrepreneurs have a heightened responsibility to tackle social issues? Which issues would you like to see entrepreneurs tackle in the next five or ten years?

KM: Rather than thinking in terms of ’responsibility’, I think entrepreneurs have a real opportunity in front of them – they can apply their creative thinking to tackling society’s problems and build something amazing in the process. For example, the biggest problem I could see, was the paradox we have in the work place that prevents women, and anyone who needs part time work from fulfilling their potential and enjoying ‘true’ careers. This is the core issue I want to see resolved. We have the skills, technology and passion to enable people who want to work flexibly, to be able to do so. So few businesses now operate in the 9-5, Monday – Friday parameters any more. And yet, when it comes to designing new roles, 90% of the time, employers will default to the traditional 9-5, Monday-Friday structure. This is effectively cuts out thousands of talented, skilled people who could really help their businesses to grow. I’d like more entrepreneurs to think outside the box when it comes to recruitment, so that we end up with a fluid, vibrant market for part time and flexible jobs. To me, ‘enable more people to find quality part time jobs’ is the answer to a lot of crucial questions that are facing society, such as ‘how do we prevent the drop off of female talent in the workplace, after kids’, ‘how can we get more women on boards’ and ‘how can we help reduce levels of child poverty’.

We are presented with the rare opportunity to make practical change happen, now – within our lifetime, for this generation.

TNW: As a part time Editor, I think what you are doing is great! Whilst setting up Timewise, you conducted research which revealed a real stigma attached to working part time. Tell us a little about this.

KM: Thank you Beth! We have known for a long time that there’s a stigma attached to part time working. Just look at what happens in the media – journalists often use the moniker ‘part timer’ to suggest someone is lacklustre or uncommitted. Or often, they use ‘part time’ when they actually mean ‘temporary worker’. It’s frustrating. Part time work hasn’t been valued, or been given a platform, until recently. And yet, there are an estimated 650,000 people in the UK who are working in part time jobs and earning at least £40,000 FTE. That accounts for 1 in every 10 part time worker in the UK – or 15% of all those who earn £40,000FTE +, if you prefer to look at things that way. Timewise Jobs recently conducted a study amongst 300 senior level part timers, earning between £40,000 FTE and £200,000 FTE. A third said they would ‘never’ refer to themselves ‘part time’ - a figure that rises to 67 per cent when looking at those earning more than £75,000 FTE. Many reported that they disliking the term and choosing the word ‘flexible’ instead. 1 in 7 attempted to ‘hide’ their hours, preferring to let clients think they worked full time. All this, in spite of the fact that 90 per cent said: “I hit all my targets and enjoy success within my hours of work.” It became clear to me that senior part time working is already happening behind closed office doors all around the country – but it’s not visible. In a bid to challenge this, I launched a search to find 50 of the UK’s most inspiring senior level part time workers. We set the bar really high, and were determined to find incredible people working in business critical roles, who enjoy huge success.

TNW: As an entrepreneur, do you work part time? If so, how do you manage this (I am sure our readers would love to know!)?

KM: I never subscribed to the view that there is only ‘one way’ to launch a business – ie the Dragon’s Den, 24 hour, blood sweat and tears model of success.

You can run things on your own terms, don’t listen to the naysayers. You need to be focused, decisive and bold.

I work 4 days a week. I usually work a day a week from home, out of that. Why? Because I have three boys aged between 6 and 14. How do I get my job ‘done’ in the hours I have?  Like many working mums, I am incredibly focused on my days in the office. I let my staff know when and where I am going to be at all times, and they know to text me if something needs to be looked at urgently on my days off. It’s about being clear and concise with colleagues. Nothing more complicated than that.

TNW: Who are your customers and partners?

KM: More than 2,000 employers have used our services so far. We have recruited top part time staff for SMEs to leading corporates, everywhere from the magic circle to the square mile and in between. From exciting tech start ups to the Virgin, easyJet and Harrods of this world – word about us is starting to spread. A few roles we have filled recently include Transaction Manager with an global remit for a major bank, 30 hrs/wk on £80,000 pro rata; a 4  day a week Marketing & PR Manager for a major beauty brand on £50,000 pro rata, and a HR Assistant on 3 days/wk for a big commercial law firm on £30,000 pro rata. The best paid part time job we have advertised to date, was for a £125,000 FTE 3 day a week marketing role.


TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

KM: We have 35,000 brilliant and talented people on our books, from all kinds of backgrounds. No matter what they did career-wise before coming to us - all share the burning desire to find part time work at their level of skill and ability. This could mean a 4 day week, a 9 day fortnight, or late morning starts, 5 days a week. Our marketing strategy focuses on employers, to ensure we maintain a high volume and good variety of high quality jobs for our candidates. We do this through PR, networking and thought leadership events. 

TNW: What is one lesson about leadership you learned from a boss or mentor?

KM: Someone once told me that you should surround yourself by people who energise you and make you feel like anything is possible.  People divide into ‘drains’ and ‘radiators’ – people who take your energy and those who give your energy.  Surround yourself with the radiators as much as you can and follow your dreams.  There will always be people who say that it can’t be done or someone else has tried it, but growing a new business requires faith and belief. 

You need that belief to push on the doors that close on you. 

When I launched Timewise Jobs, I had huge support from the corporate world, but there were also those who said ‘part time recruitment? That’ll never catch on’. But more than a quarter of our working population now work part time. More and more people are seeing the business benefits of flexible recruitment so you just need to keep positive on the journey. 

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

KM: Surrounding yourself with a great team is the very best thing you can do. Once you open yourself to hiring part time workers, you tend to attract incredible talent you never thought you could find. Our managing director, David, is a former investment banker from Merrill Lynch. David is a dad who commutes from Chester and works full time, but flexibly. David wanted to transfer his skills to an exciting new social business. We also have a former head of business development from a major publisher, top marketing gurus, you name it.

I look for passion, I look for people who get excited by the thought of making change happen and I look for problem solvers.

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