Zuni and gender equality

As published on The Big Smoke.

In the run up to International Women’s Day, there has been a lot of discussion about women in the marketing and communications industry, ranging from SCA’s Condom Bottle trying to reduce the impact of maternity leave through to agencies establishing targets and change management plans to ensure they have sufficient female leaders to meet quotas.

I thought it would be interesting to reflect on our experience at Zuni around this issue and how we got to where we are. As has become apparent during “discussions” with my wife, I don’t identify as a feminist. However, I do believe in equality, which apparently is what being a feminist is about, but I’m not really interested in labels. What I am interested in and proud of, is that when you look at the stats and numbers for Zuni, we appear to have equality wrapped up.

Our ownership / management team is 50% female and 62.5% of our staff are female. 37.5% of team are part time, with one person working 90% of time from home (these are all female). On top of this, 25% of the team work “shifted hours” to accommodate school pick-ups and domestic arrangements (including a male).

Over our 5 years in business, 37.5% of our team have had babies and then returned, initially in part-time or flexible arrangements. Most of the time, most of the team do not exceed their agreed weekly hours, and 5 years later, we’re still in business and going well.

On top of this, we are a small business, which apparently means that gender stuff and accommodating maternity leave is even harder to do.

So how did we do this? Is the secret our gender equality policy, our quota for staff roles, our flexible working principles or our “campaign for a family friendly workplace” that we’ve been implementing over the last 4 years?

It’s none of these things – we don’t have any policies or practices that mention gender in them at all – in fact, gender just doesn’t come up as an issue. Because we just focus on the people, irrespective of their age, gender or other demographically pigeon-holing characteristic.

When we find someone great, we make it work – we work with them to find a way that means we both mutually benefit from the relationship – we’re willing to be flexible on a range of aspects of working life provided they’re willing and capable of delivering great work for our clients. Most businesses are negotiable around salary but not much else – working times, holiday leave, flexibility of days etc., are all set down in a manual. For us, all of these things are up for grabs, provided what we get in return makes it worthwhile.

So we focus on measuring outcomes rather than inputs, and in the digital strategy consulting business, it’s pretty easy to measure outcomes – happy clients, great strategic work that delivers results for our clients, projects that are on budget and utilization rates that mean we stay in business. When, where or how that work happens is mostly irrelevant, as is the sex of the person doing the work. 

Interestingly, it is very seldom that the fact that a large part of our team is part time has had a negative impact for clients – all of the part timers are flexible as required, and we manage to schedule meetings on the right days with the right people, and ensure there is someone who can cover if needed. Our clients are extremely accommodating and seem pretty happy with the arrangement. I tend to be the biggest problem, but the team have learnt it’s easier to just book out their “off” days and times in their diaries rather than expecting me to remember who works what hours on which days. 

The results – we’ve got a highly productive and motivated team with a staff turn-over rate significantly lower than the industry and a culture that doesn’t distinguish at all between full-time, part-time, male, or female.

We’ve found that, rather than focusing on gender, if you focus on the people, the gender stuff just works itself out. We don’t try and achieve “work/life balance” – we focus on creating a work/life blend that is sustainable and delivers the right outcomes all round.



Mike Zeederberg
Mike Zeederberg
Mike Zeederberg is the Managing Director and joint owner of Zuni and oversees the development and delivery of most client strategic work.

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