Louise James
Louise James, global associate director at Silverbean.
Jane Imrie

IWD 2021: Silverbean global associate director Louise James on "living at work" and the need for freedom

For International Women’s Day 2021, Bdaily reached out to a range of female business leaders from across our key regions to share how their experience of the pandemic has shaped their passion for gender equality.

Louise James is the global associate director at Newcastle-based digital agency Silverbean - a firm with a predominantly female senior leadership team.

Louise spoke to Bdaily about the importance of boundaries between work and home, beating Zoom fatigue and the pandemic providing opportunities to work where and how you like.

As a woman, how have you personally adapted during the pandemic, and what challenges have you faced?

“This past year has been a test for me. I don’t enjoy working alone or being away from family (who does on the latter?).

“I’ve had to consciously put more of an effort to structure to my day, a move that allows me to feel OK about putting boundaries in between work and personal life. Which, when you are effectively “living at work” has proven to be so important to me.

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is how to create the right environment to keep my team a) motivated and b) creative, remotely. And it remains a challenge as “Zoom fatigue” is certainly kicking in!

“There’s over 30 of us in the affiliate team at Silverbean, and keeping the whole team engaged on video calls, in comparison to in person meetings, certainly is different.

“Small team break outs for brainstorming to ensure everyone is able to have a voice has been a key tactic, along with regular check-ins with my senior team.”

How have you and your business supported women during the past year?

“For all our staff, we offer flexible and remote working options (and did so even before the pandemic), to allow our people to balance their workload both personally and professionally.

“Flexible working hours became even more important as we headed into our first lockdown, with enforced working from home. This allowed our people to do their best work at the best time for them, meaning they could be super productive.

“In addition, we have a long standing, strong Employee Assistance Programme available to all our staff, meaning should anyone need it, a professional is just at the end of a telephone or zoom link to offer advice and an opportunity to talk.

“This has been so important over the past year - offering wider opportunities for our people to talk about how they are feeling and gain support outside that which is available within their teams.”

What opportunities do you feel that the pandemic has created for women, if any?

“With a changing landscape of how we work due to the pandemic, I keep coming back to the need for autonomy and having control over how, when and where we work.

“We all have an opportunity to be able to potentially do more as a result of what will ultimately be more freedom.

“I’ve heard from some of my colleagues and clients in London/Paris that they are moving out of the city and into the country with their families in this past year.

“This creates the opportunity for what they feel is a better quality of life with their family, balanced with a continued push in their career.

“The move gives them more time to focus on their goals, with no commute being a key factor. A move that, pre-pandemic, would have been a longer-term plan rather than short, but we’ve learned we can pretty much work from anywhere!”

In your opinion, has the pandemic highlighted any gender imbalances in business?

“Personally speaking, I haven’t seen anything to support this, but Silverbean prides itself in being a fair workplace. In fact, here at Silverbean, and in our sister companies Ortus and North, we have a mixed but primarily female senior leadership team.

“Certainly, I haven’t seen it highlighted in the businesses and clients we currently work with. However, one thing we have had to be mindful of during key lockdown periods is ensuring those with families have had the right level of support and control over their working days.

“Homeschooling and childcare duties will fall onto a parent, regardless of gender, and balancing that with work (and doing a good job at both) can seem like an impossible task.

“As a company, we’ve ensured everyone can have some control over what their day looks like, to make tasks more achievable.”

As we step into a post-pandemic business landscape, how do you think women’s roles in business may change?

“There’s certain to be more opportunities for most - if there’s a positive to be taken out of the last year is that geographical location is no longer a strong factor when it comes to the workplace.

“Meaning more roles open up to those who may not have thought to apply themselves for - which ultimately creates more career climbing opportunities.

“As discussed above, I’d argue that with less of a need to commute/travel to meetings up and down the country, and globally, that we will have more time to focus on our own professional development, what we need from our careers and plan out what our next steps/roles will look like.”

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