Ogunte: What is it about your work that energises you the most?
Karen Mattison: It’s easy to feel energised by your work if you’re doing something you fiercely believe in. I’m passionate about unlocking the job market for flexible workers, so I get a real buzz from meeting or hearing about people who have finally found a way to combine their work and personal lives without having to compromise on job satisfaction.
Ogunte: What three qualities distinguish the best leaders, in your opinion?
1- A clear sense of purpose, knowing where they want to get to and why.
2- The ability to inspire and empower others to join them, to take the lead and strive to be the best they can be.
3- The wisdom to know that we all learn from making mistakes, and to encourage their teams to understand that it’s better to try and fail than to always play it safe.
I am a big believer in the power of storytelling
Ogunte: How do you measure your impact? Could you share a highlight of your journey so far?
Karen: We do a lot of data analysis to show the impact of our work; tracking the job market and seeing how many flexible jobs are available at the point of hire, as well as measuring the social impact of what we’re doing.
I am also a big believer in the power of storytelling, so we regularly share case studies and insights into how people have overcome the barriers to flexibility.
A real highlight for me is when we break into a new sector, and start delivering real change for a whole new group of individuals. For example, we are currently working with some leading retailers, including the John Lewis Partnership and Tesco, on designing flexible jobs with proper career progression. I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the retail sector and the people who work within it.
Ogunte: What were your most stubborn obstacles, and what creative strategies did you implement to overcome them?
Karen: The biggest obstacle we have faced is breaking down a set of assumptions about part time and flexible working:
In reality, both men and women want and need to work flexibly for a whole range of reasons – and the benefits this offers to businesses are huge. So we’ve worked to change the conversation by encouraging employers to be proactive and talking about the business case, focusing on how flexibility can help an organisation attract, motivate, inspire and retain all kinds of talented people, as well as improving productivity.
Ogunte: What key principles should entrepreneurs bear in mind when trying to increase the visibility of their business?
Karen: For me, it’s all about telling inspiring stories that bring what you’re doing to life. When you’re immersed in something, it’s too easy to think that everyone else will be as fascinated by the facts and figures as you are.
They want to hear about the struggles they’ve experienced and how they overcame them, as well as relating it back to themselves.
I also think it’s really important to stand up and be counted, and not be afraid to use your own personal story to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Ogunte: How do you test the viability of an idea when you are pushing yourself to dream big?
Karen: I’d say dream big, but start small. Be prepared to listen to your critics, as they might be able to help you make your plans better. And make sure you have a clear proposition and a clear customer building strategy.
My business partner Emma Stewart and I started our first venture, Women Like Us, in the days before digital. We built a database of thousands of parents by putting leaflets in bookbags with a simple message: Are you struggling to find a part time or flexible job?
We were sure we knew what the problem was, but we tested it in a low-cost way: the response we got back gave us the confidence and customer base we needed to launch the business.
Ogunte: What does self-care mean to you? What are the structures you’ve put in place, or habits you’ve formed, to encourage balance?
Karen: It can be hard to prioritise yourself when you’re running your own business, but it’s vital to do so, for yourself and for those around you. So I try and make time to do the things that make me feel more balanced, such as taking my kids to school a couple of times a week or fitting in regular exercise.
I’m also extremely fortunate to have the most brilliant ‘work wife’ in Emma Stewart. We have been working together for more than 15 years now and have a fantastically supportive relationship based on mutual trust and respect; we take really good care of each other.
Of course, at Timewise we are all about a positive work-life balance, and Emma and I both lead by example. There’s no jacket-on-the-chair culture here; it’s about output rather than input and we all feel the benefits of that.
Ogunte: If you could travel back in time to when you were first thinking about starting a business, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?
Karen: I’d remind myself that, however noble your aspirations are, it’s critical to know where the money is coming from to fund them. Even if you’re running a purpose-led business, you need to think about profits.
Ogunte: By 2030, what do you hope to have learned? What do you imagine will be your major areas of growth?
KM: I hope to see a jobs market that has opened up to such an extent that anyone who wants to work flexibly, for any reason, will be able to do so, without limiting their career progression.