How to snatch a victory for flexible working and gender parity

Jamal Hirani is the co-founder and President of Snatch inc – an exciting augmented reality gaming startup. A free to play, virtual treasure hunt, players find and then protect parcels hidden across the city in order to win some serious prizes (exotic holidays and even cash).

Jamal and his co-founder Joe Martin recently secured a £4.4m seed round led by Initial Capital after what began as the two men, their laptops and the local Starbucks has grown to almost 60 people in state-of-the-art offices across two continents within a year.

They see flexible working as the integral to their business. So, we went to meet one of the men behind the ‘mask’ to find out why Snatch inc believes in embracing flexibility in the workplace and also why gender parity is so important at the top.

Hi Jamal, tell us where it all began…

Many years ago when I worked at Marks & Spencer – men dominated the senior buying and divisional director positions. Women had the more ‘stereotypically’ female roles in HR or design. There was however, one woman – Kim Windsor, a divisional director – who bucked the trend.

Kim’s management style was inspirational and she was an amazing leader. There would be meetings in which she was the only female, but when she talked, the men listened and she championed others climbing the career ladder after her, including me. I realised quickly that not having women at the top means the dynamic is unbalanced and that can’t be the best way of doing things.

What’s been the biggest learning curve of your career?

That when changing things, you have to look at your own shop first. I have three children aged 15, 13 and 11 and my wife – a successful forensic scientist – took a career break to look after them. When she returned to work, I stepped up and worked from home one day a week so that I could increase my share of the childcare responsibilities. I am a father first and foremost, and businessman second; it’s so important that children have a strong home foundation where possible. To provide that, parents need to have their own focus outside of the home and quality, adult interaction. It’s about self-worth and I needed to take responsibility for helping my wife access that.

Looking after my children while supporting my wife and working full-time (although flexibly) was incredibly hard; juggling the emotional and physical well-being requires an exceptional level of skill and I was in awe of how she (and other women) had been doing that. It seemed to me that replicating that in a work environment was a no-brainer – it’s untapped potential. So every business I’ve had has been built with that in mind.

Why do you promote flexible working?

The work/life balance is fundamental to how we operate and it comes down to two things; first, productivity – you have to get X done in Y time so quite simply, you get it done. I would much rather have three people working three days a week because the company benefits from better output, more focus and a variety of skills and thought-processes.

Second, talent. Being open to flexible working means the pool of people we can hire from is bigger and that can only be a good thing.

How do you think having more women in senior positions benefits your company?

You’re only as good as your team and although I completely believe in gender parity, I hire the best people for the job – it just so happens that often, that’s been a woman. Two out of four team leads in the London office, and the head of the US team are all women. And the proof is in the pudding – Snatch inc’s growth has been incredible which is entirely down to the diversity of our team.

Women have different strengths and skill sets to men which allows for different perspectives. It’s beneficial for the company because having parity means we have a more comprehensive voice as a brand, better understand our customers’ needs and problem-solve more quickly and efficiently.

What kind of cultural activities do you offer that help with integrating flexible workers?

We have an ideas channel – one person gets nominated in the team to think about new ideas for the product and once done, they nominate onward. This has generated some incredible concepts and if used, the innovator gets accredited.

We work in two week sprints and at the end of the fortnight we have a ‘show and tell’ where everyone from around the world joins. It’s at 4pm and we stick to it religiously to maintain that inclusivity.

We also have a monthly games night and a monthly ‘slack’ day – where people can do whatever they want, be it read a book, play ping pong, or take the time to learn something new. Contrary to the opinion that we are paying people to do nothing, hands down the best ideas have come from those days because you’re giving people the time and space to free-think.

Gestures  go a long away and we celebrate every little thing that we can; sometimes it’s not about money. Although it may sound insignificant, we have an ABC award which stands for ‘above and beyond the call of duty. Once a month we award someone who has worked extra hard with a tiny trophy to display on their desk. Little recognitions make a big difference and everyone aspires to winning it.

What advice would you give to other businesses that have yet to fully adopt flexible working?

Ignoring the possibilities that flexible working offers is ultimately capping the potential of your workforce and in turn the growth of the business – businesses that don’t help facilitate a flexible approach are cutting off their nose to spite their face. Making it work is  about discipline and getting rid of fear. Companies should take risks and get the message across that progress and promotion is not gained by being first one in, last one out. It’s gained by smart working and achieving the company objectives.

People who work less hours or fewer days should not be treated as ‘part-timers’ – it’s the wrong mentality because their overall contribution is the same as ‘full-timers’ and they should be treated as such.

Do you think flexible working is the future?

It really depends on the industry, but in reality the advancement of tech means it’s easier to work remotely because you can make stronger virtual connections – augmented reality will take off and change that and make it better. The big corporates will have to follow eventually, but it will be a while as the people at the top are men in suits; I therefore believe it is up to the tech world to forge the way.

 

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