Emma Perfect is amongst those bucking the trend of the stereotypical “male, pale and stale” business leader in her role as CEO at LUX Assure. It’s not without its challenges, but Emma successfully combines being the face of a growing chemical monitoring business with the demands of mentoring and motherhood. Featured in this month’s Edge magazine, Emma discusses how she makes doing a senior level job on a part-time basis work for her, her family and her staff.
Do you think we are moving away from the stereotypical male, pale, stale business leader and becoming more inclusive?
Yes, I see many women leaders and drives to improve the balance of company management. There is still quite a way to go however, and I think it will take some years before a balance is achieved. I also believe the younger generation is influenced by what they see around them. If there are less women in leadership positions, they will have fewer role models and less visibility when it comes to their own aspirations, career choices and view on company management. It will change, but it will take time.
How does the leadership model in your organisation work and how do you manage to do such a high-profile job in a part-time capacity?
I manage the company, as CEO, alongside an experienced senior management team and I’m a firm believer that all members of the company should ‘own’ their role. I provide the vision and direction then much is passed to my team, even the more junior members, and those who prosper here tend to be proactive and willing to take on a challenge. I see my role very much as considering the best strategy then discussing this with investors, the team and the wider world. Someone in a Vistage meeting once said the title of CEO should be changed to ‘chief story teller’ and there might be some truth in that. As CEO you are the face of the company. When it comes to implementing the strategy, my team takes firm control of this and I provide support and check all is going as it should be.
I recall learning in school the concept of ‘division of labour’, where different cells have different specialisms but work alongside each other for the whole to work effectively. This is very much how LUX works and being small also helps as there is great visibility amongst teams.
I work 3.5 days a week, but it’s realistically more like 4 days. In fact, all my senior management team work part time! We ensure one of us is in the office every day of the week, so there is always someone on hand to discuss a challenge or sign a PO etc. We also have a degree of crossover for tasks which could occur any day to ensure continuity. For example, all senior management are authorised to sign NDAs, or contracts, according to a set of guidelines.
I didn’t join this company on a part time basis. I worked full time, had a baby, and then requested part-time working on my return to work. I see other friends who have not been accepted for part time working (and change companies as a result), some who have had to give up work entirely, or set up their own businesses, because when you are looking for a part-time role, especially at management level, it is incredibly hard to find.
This just has to change and I think there is a feeling amongst employers that part-time workers are less committed, but in my experience the opposite is true!
There are challenges with working part-time, and this is true of men and women. I have two young children so I lack flexibility for working late hours, I have to collect from nursery by 6pm or they will be on the pavement. However, I have built in some flexibility for adding childcare days, changing the days I work and having others collect for special occasions. This flexibility is invaluable in the complex logistics that is working and having young children. I don’t think it has much to do with me being a CEO, and must be true of most parents. I check emails when they’re asleep and will take phone calls as required early in the morning, or the evening. My partner probably misses out the most! I see the rest of the part-time workers doing the same and it isn’t something I encourage (and certainly don’t lead by example) but the flexibility is invaluable at times.
While it is available to the whole team, it is actually only the senior management team who work part-time but perhaps it is because we’re older, or are almost the only ones to have children. We do also have a flexible working system though that is used by the team to a greater or lesser extent which I think is an inevitable change in the work place and should be embraced.
Interestingly, we did a staff survey on working at LUX and I recall one of the comments made was that having senior management working part-time was a challenge for staff. We try to manage it as best we can, but clearly it is not without its challenges which can irritate some staff. In any case, it isn’t an option that will be removed, and we’ve accepted every request to have it, subject to some conditions.
My major challenge with part-time working is that I used to do a lot of travelling to see customers, investors and to go to conferences. I can do significantly less now, and whilst I’ve grown a business development team that do more, it is a source of frustration to me.
What are the main challenges you have had to face in your current role (especially in such a male-dominated industry) and how have you overcome them?
I’ve never felt I’ve faced issues in being in a male dominated industry. I’ve always been accepted and don’t feel I’ve missed out on opportunities, at least not when working in the UK. Perhaps it is because I’ve had female mentors (as well as male) throughout my career. Also, there are women role models in the UK industry, the team here is gender balanced and we just get on with it.
The oil industry has had its own challenges too in recent years, which we aren’t immune too. Yet, these are now bringing new opportunities and we are modifying our future plans to be able to maximise them.
What would you advise other organisations looking to implement a shared/collaborative leadership model?
You need to recognise your weaknesses and surround yourself with high quality, proactive people, who can fill the gaps. No one can do everything well. Your management team need to be able to take ownership of their roles, and you need to have confidence in them to allow them to do this. If you can’t then they aren’t the right people and you need to find others who are. They all need to work under the same vision too and towards the same goal, that is the job of a leader to make clear. Part-time work can undoubtedly fit with this, perhaps not everywhere, but I believe can play a bigger part in the workplace than it does now for both men and women.