As two powerful women at the helm of one of the most exciting recruitment consultancies in Australia, Sharon Lewis and Emily Wilson hold a variety of insights on the reasons behind FutureYou’s success, as well as tectonic shifts impacting recruitment today. We’ve encapsulated the best of their responses on equality, collaboration and diversity in this Q&A.
Sharon, your background is not in recruitment. What attracted you to FutureYou?
SL: The idea of moving into a new industry, for a startup, in a new role scares a lot of people. But for me, it was exactly what I was looking for. A new challenge that would take me well out of my comfort zone. Taking that leap away from your comfort levels initiates an incredible journey of self-discovery. That’s when I’m the best version of myself.
You start to learn so much more about yourself than you thought was possible. You become more creative, confident, resilient, experienced, and in my opinion you feel more fulfilled.
I’ve learnt that the recruitment industry is quite niche, and the importance of establishing and building partnerships in the market. Such as with the external vendors for the website, job boards, marketing automation, and CRM. It’s incredibly important. I’ve also learnt you don’t always need a huge budget to create something that’s amazing – you just need great ideas, an eye for detail and an inquisitive brain when looking at different solutions.
Emily, you’re a recruitment veteran. What makes FutureYou so different from the average exec search firm?
EW: As an industry I think we tend to follow rather than innovate. What sets FutureYou apart in the Australian recruitment industry starts with our people.
Our people are all specialists with a minimum 3 to 4 years’ experience in their chosen field, some as many as 20 years’ experience, and our leadership team is arguably the best in the industry.
Our purpose and values – our purpose, the power to connect without limitation and our values have resonated with both clients and candidates as well as our industry peers.
Staying true to our values are at the heart of every decision we have made as a company since launch. Challenge the Status Quo, Focused on You, For the Greater Good, Life’s Too Short and Our Own Voice.
The skills shortage is a global issue. How will this play out, and how will the Australian economy handle this shortage?
SL: The skills shortage isn’t unique to Australia. The combination of advances in technology, digital connectivity, changes to traditional employment models, transition to a services and knowledge led economy and an ageing population are all contributing factors to what is being referred to as a ‘perfect storm’ for jobs and employment models over the coming years.
Government and industries are looking at a range of policy measures to counter the shortfall. But what’s interesting to look at is what’s already happening in the market, what trends are taking place across the business community.
EW: A few of the trends we’re seeing are the continued rise in contract recruitment. Employers more willing to consider flexible working, talent moving across sectors and from corporate to SME/ startup.
Contract work has become normalised, it’s no longer the poor cousin to full time employment. What’s more, companies of all sizes and stages are increasingly recognising the power of contract employment to address changing business needs in the short and longer term, leading to more opportunities for professionals making the transition.
This is also a trend we’re seeing among older employees in Australia. They want to remain in the workforce, but are in a position to pick and choose between opportunities that enable them to add value.
This is an unmistakable trend we’re seeing driven by innovation in employment and a focus on work-life integration. There are countless examples that have been shared with me over the past few months. Talented mid to senior level executives given the flexibility to adjust away from fulltime hours to accommodate changes in life circumstances.
Cross sector talent movement
Today, recruiters are not only expected to support a specialist brief, but also to go beyond industries and locations to source that talent. For recruitment agencies specialising in a number of disciplines, the role of internal talent teams to work across sectors and disciplines is becoming increasingly important.
Australian businesses looking at every aspect of their operations to gain competitive advantage are actively pursuing talent beyond their sector and industry.
But it’s not only businesses that are wanting recruiters to challenge the status quo. Candidates too are seeking opportunities to get a foot in the door of other sectors. We are seeing cross-sector pollination of talent particularly in the financial services sector where candidates with a background in FMCG are highly sought after for their customer centric expertise.
Talent shift from corporate to SME and Startup
The growth of SMEs, along with the government’s fostering of entrepreneurs, has seen a new marketplace for executive talent unfold. Particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
An increasing number of senior candidates are actively seeking SME roles that enable them to move into an MD or CEO position, where they can quite literally roll up their sleeves and draw on their collective years’ of experience to grow a business from the ground up.
There seem to be fewer women in recruitment leadership than there were fifteen years ago. Why is that? And how is FutureYou investing in diversity and equality?
EW: To see change, there needs to be a focus on demonstrating pathways. Creating a culture that supports equality and diversity. Providing an environment where women have the opportunity to truly thrive.
When we talk about environment, it’s about creating one that’s reflective of the needs of women, supported by both formal and informal policies which promote diversity, equality, inclusion, and flexibility. At FutureYou we do this through our Parental Leave Policy, our L&D frameworks, and our distinct approach to work-life integration.
For women taking on leadership roles this often coincides with the time they are also starting families. If organisations want to retain exceptional female talent, they need open and supportive cultures underpinned by forward-thinking policies that suit individual priorities.
At FutureYou we’ve committed to achieving a target of 50 per cent women in leadership positions. We’re very close to it.
We have 15 women in our leadership team and more than half work part-time. All showing how it is possible to take on a senior role while integrating work and life. which for many includes bringing up a young family. That level of flexibility extends across the entire organisation; women, men, family or no family.
As a female leader I’m acutely aware of my responsibility as a role model to women in our industry who have their sights on leadership roles. Particularly those who want to combine family and career. I wrote a LinkedIn post on the subject just recently.
For me, it’s balancing my role as a Managing Partner with quality time with my husband, two young boys in primary school, friends, and my own well-being.
The Aus workforce is changing and FutureYou is putting together a program catering specifically to an older, professional workforce. Can you explain this?
SL: People are living longer. They’re retiring later. We need to look at how we support this new wisdom workforce. We’re finding older generations still want to contribute, albeit in a different way to their previous 20 years in the workforce. Equally, businesses can draw considerable value from those years of expertise.
Organisations are increasingly hiring people based on values, alignment on purpose, and how they can add to the company vision, regardless of age. They recognise the value of diversity in the workforce in terms of age and gender.
The spread from young to old in the workforce will only continue to widen as retirement ages push back. So most economies are transitioning towards an older demographic.
Rather than retire many are tapering their retirement, particularly at the executive end of the market. They are choosing to gradually scale back, adopt portfolio careers, or change their duties rather than cease working altogether. They are choosing more flexible work environments or project work that’s interesting and rewarding, and where they can still add value.
Some organisations are ready and willing to embrace an increasing diversity. But we’ve got a long way to go to challenge and change the mindset of Australian businesses. To get them to fully embrace diversity and to see value in the expertise of older professionals.
Australia is quite different to the UK and U.S. in that its recruitment industry isn’t built on free sharing of best practices and content. Why is this and what can be done about it?
SL: At FutureYou we’re working hard to flip this on its head, and leading by example.
The industry hasn’t traditionally shared their experiences and insights. So one of our values at FutureYou is For the Greater Good. We are always looking for opportunities to share our knowledge and to make a difference with impact. Not only in the recruitment industry but also in the broader business community.
EW: The team has learnt a lot in our many years in the industry and bringing FutureYou to life. We want to share that; we want to lift the talent position in Australia.
If there are a few leaders in the industry willing to put their hand up and lead the charge, others will follow.