Inspirational Woman: Anna Sarjantson | Co–Founder of Availexe

Anna-Availexe-thumbnailTell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I am one of the Co – Founders of Availexe, a business focussed on leveraging return to work for professional mums. Availexe enables professional individuals to access quality, relevant project based roles that can be completed from home, or the office if they wish, but on a truly flexible basis. We are enabling this huge untapped pool of talent to get back into business and maintain their career without compromising on their family life. Clients are getting access to incredible talent that they would otherwise not be able to access or afford. The actual delivery of the clients’ objectives, within the agreed timeframes and quality, are the areas we focus on, not how many hours someone is sat in an office.

Having worked for 9 years within the recruitment industry, I knew the day I went on maternity leave I didn’t want to return to that lifestyle. When I looked to return to work in a capacity that challenged, fulfilled and made it financially worthwhile for me, I started to realise the barriers and issues in returning to work on a flexible basis. I was incredibly frustrated and demoralised that it appeared to be a case of having to make a choice and subsequently a significant sacrifice to either my career, by taking a lower level role, or my family by not getting to see my children. I wasn’t prepared to do either.

It was from a mutual frustration that the idea for Availexe came about. Myself and my two Co- Founders Vanessa Johnson- Burgess and Chris Leighton set up Availexe to address the incredible amount of talent and expertise being wasted through a lack of genuinely flexible working opportunities. We had all experienced first-hand, from different perspectives, the difficulties in maintaining, developing or returning to your career after embarking on parenthood. We all shared common frustrations of not feeling we were getting the balance right.

“Finally don’t feel guilty about admitting you don’t want to be at home full time with your children OR equally that maybe you don’t want to work at the moment. There is no right or wrong only what works for you and your family. Ignore the pressure to ‘have it all’!”

How do you balance building a successful career with being a mother?

I don’t believe it’s about trying to ‘have it all’. I think it’s about your individual priorities. Everyone we work with has different priorities and it is not our place to say what they should be. I wanted a business and career that I was passionate about and believe in that I can also fit in around my family. If something is taking me away from my children it has to be worth it. As often as possible I want to be able to pick my daughters up from school, so this means sacrificing leisure time elsewhere to work on the business to allow me to do this. After bedtime its back to working on Availexe for me. I am fortunate to have a supportive husband to help make it work for us as a family and family that help with additional childcare when needed. I want to lead by example to my daughters and show them that the world and all the opportunities out there are as much available to them as anyone, regardless of whether they become mothers themselves one day or not.

What’s the one thing that you would change or introduce that would help parents in the workplace?

We are working hard to change the negative perceptions around ‘flexible’ and ‘remote’ working. We work with clients to get them to measure success on output rather than number of hours worked. We are passionate about the Availexe model working for everyone, not just mums or parents. We are working with individuals who don’t have children or maybe care for elderly parents; they want the flexibility and still have so much value and expertise to offer.

It is about being able to demonstrate the value of working parents to businesses and showing them the many ways they can directly impact their business for the better.

Companies need to be able to attract and retain the best talent in this highly competitive world. Much of the best talent is currently available but just not in the traditional way.

What support do you have in place to ensure you are managing all your responsibilities?

Alongside my husband and family, the relationship between the Co – Founders of Availexe is built on trust, honesty and transparency. We are all parents of young children who have made significant sacrifices and adjustments to our lives to build Availexe. We know that for Availexe to lay the foundation for forward thinking, flexible and truly agile work practices, we need to work together and support each other 100%.

There are three of us in this together, it’s not just a sole proprietor, and we have known each other for many years.

Do you ever drop the ball?

I’m sure there will be occasions and then it will be a case of deciding which ball to drop to have the least impact! It is vital I plan and organise my week in advance and that along with my two Co –founders we have clear responsibilities and accountability. It is about us all working together to realise our shared goals and dreams for Availexe to become a global business and really make a difference to peoples’ working lives. At individually difficult times we hope to pass the ball rather than drop it.

Can women achieve career success and work part time?

Absolutely! It depends on your individual definition of success. For me it has to be financially worthwhile and I have to be excited and passionate about what I’m doing. That way I don’t need to worry about motivating myself as it comes naturally. I want to be able to say I am doing a role that I love in a business that I am very proud of and excited about, whilst still spending time with my children. That is my version of success.

What advice would you give to our members about career planning before going off on maternity leave?

I don’t think many women know how they are going to feel until the day that baby arrives. I thought I would be back to work in my same role and it wasn’t until I stepped out of that environment, coupled with becoming a mum, that I then realised that was the very last thing I wanted to do. Try and be as open minded as possible and look at what your options are before coming to a decision. Do your research, including into childcare options available to you as this can get booked up far in advance so you need to factor it in and plan. Look at areas in your life you are prepared to make a sacrifice in to find the balance that works for you. Finally don’t feel guilty about admitting you don’t want to be at home full time with your children OR equally that maybe you don’t want to work at the moment. There is no right or wrong only what works for you and your family. Ignore the pressure to ‘have it all’!

“I want to lead by example to my daughters and show them that the world and all the opportunities out there are as much available to them as anyone, regardless of whether they become mothers themselves one day or not.”

What guidance can you give about dealing with negative attitudes to working parents?

There is a lot of guilt surrounding working parents. A constant feeling of not giving enough to your family or your career.

What do most people think of when they think of a ‘Mum’?

Highly organised, diplomatic, brilliant at multi-tasking, excellent negotiation skills, passionate. These are a few of the skills of a typical mum.

Who wouldn’t want to work with people like that?

However this is not just an issue focussed on women as mothers, but also an issue for dads and indeed anyone who just wants to work in a different way.

It’s important that individuals who do work on a flexible or remote basis grab the opportunity to prove how well it works. We have a great deal of flexibility within our business and the individuals we work with, who are able to work the hours/days that suits them. In return, we expect excellent results and a professional work ethic – There is no flexibility on the standards of work we deliver to our clients.

[It’s important that businesses give flexibility and opportunities to all individuals regardless of whether they are a parent or not. Creating a set of different rules and rights for parents only leads to internal resentment when others feel they are missing out on flexibility or opportunity to work differently because they don’t have children.]

What do you do when you have “me” time?

I’m not someone who wants a lot of ‘me’ time. My daughters are 5 and 2 so any free time I have I want it to be with them. I go running 3 times a week to clear my head, but generally I want to be with family and friends enjoying life. I grew up near the Lake District and now live in Yorkshire so I love getting outside into the countryside with my daughters and watching them explore everything. It’s the simple things!

How are you working with Part Time Professionals?

Availexe consultants are individuals who have developed successful careers before taking time off to have a family which has fundamentally changed their route back into full time work. Most of these individuals are women. They have great first-hand experience, high academic achievements, tremendous drive as well as time available to work, but need an innovative approach to flexibility.

Our unique talent pool will deliver business results through our clients whilst reducing unemployment rates and raising the confidence of women returning to work. Our business will reduce the concern that all mothers have of choosing between family and a career. Availexe will lay the foundation for forward thinking, flexible and truly agile work practices globally.

Tell WATC about this great untapped talent pool that you are using.

The workforce has seen a significant drop in highly skilled females who have left their roles to bring up their children as they feel unable to balance both career and family.  Businesses are losing a lot of women in the prime of their career by focusing on office time and visibility rather than productivity and output. It simply does not make sense and Availexe is focussed on getting this talent back into business. We are working with professional individuals within Marketing, HR, Project Management and Finance.

We recognise that just because someone is unavailable to work full time does not mean that they do not want to work or cannot add value to businesses. There are some 2 million women unable to work in the UK today due to ‘looking after family/home’ (ONS, 2014), 27% of these women want to work, but not all fulltime. We are addressing the huge loss of (predominately female) talent and consequently the enormous loss to businesses and the economy. We are creating a new agile way of working that has significant benefits to both businesses and individuals. Professional individuals, who are passionate about their careers, now have opportunity to continue their development in line with their lifestyle choices.

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