Ana Maria Tuliak, partner at Ludgate Search and chair of SMART Working at The Diversity Project, talks to Lauren Mason about the new five-step SMART Working Manifesto released alongside research from Timewise, and why flexible working matters more now than ever
Tell us about your role at Ludgate Search and as chair of the SMART Working Stream.
I have spent nine years at Ludgate Search, which offers diversity and inclusion services to the asset management industry. A big part of this has involved advising clients on their D&I targets in terms of gender, race and sexuality, as well socioeconomics and neurodiversity. It is a subject I feel very passionately about.
I joined The Diversity Project two-to-three years ago and became chair of the SMART Working Workstream, which campaigns for flexible working hours for members of the asset management industry.
I felt as though the discussion had to move on from women adopting flexible working hours for childcare reasons. Not because this is not important, and not only because male colleagues and parents should also have the option to cultivate a better work/life balance, but flexible working hours are better for everyone regardless of their gender, ethnicity, age or neurodiversity.
Given the sudden change in work environment we have all had to adapt to and the fact lockdowns are starting to be lifted, all eyes are now on asset management firms to see what their next steps are.
This is why we decided to launch our Smart Working Manifesto [last] week - to give the industry tangible ways they can ensure flexible working is encouraged and managed strategically within their businesses.
What are the benefits of flexible working hours?
There are obvious benefits for working parents, who can achieve a healthier balance between family and work. But it can also give employees the freedom to study for any qualifications they may need - such as their CFA, which will improve their self-worth and their worth to an employer.
It could be that they spend less time commuting, or they commute at more convenient times - or it means they can make time for their passions outside of work - they could be training for the Olympics, even - who knows? But this means employees are in a better, healthier state of mind. There are numerous studies to show that this improves the performance of individuals at work, and, therefore, the performance of the business overall, when flexible working is offered.
It also improves the talent pipeline; younger people across a wider range of backgrounds will more likely apply for a job that offers flexible working hours. It's not just about young women who may wish to start a family later on down the line either - research from Timewise shows that 87% of all jobseekers would prefer to work for a company that offers flexible working hours.
Are there any myths and misconceptions about flexible working hours?
One of the main pushbacks against implementing flexible working practice among asset managers has been the view that the regulator does not allow it - specifically when it comes to the investment roles due to the perceived ‘danger of inside trading'. Having said that, even in the pre-Covid-19 world a handful of asset managers have been encouraging a level of flexibility including their investment teams. I have certainly observed an inconsistency in their approach on this within the industry.
Since the pandemic and the closure of offices, have you noticed a change in flexibility? Will this change the way the industry operates forever?
Something that is key to point out is that working from home and flexible working are not the same. Working from home can certainly help to improve people's work/life balance, but it is more about the hours that are worked.
Schroders has recently announced that employees will be able to work from home one day per week - which is great news. The industry has proven its employees can work remotely. But now we need to prove that we can offer flexible working hours and work just as - if not much more - efficiently. That is where we are still lagging.
Many other areas of financial services - particularly in the fintech and challenger bank space - have been offering flexible working hours for some time now.
Since lockdown, the genie has been let out of the bottle and the asset management industry has two options - to embrace change, or to fall even further behind, blocking the talent pipeline and making the sector seem a more hostile and less appealing place to work.
It remains to be seen whether we can step up to the plate and look after our employees. We are on the cusp of creating a ‘new normal', and I sincerely hope we manage it.