For Jessica Williams, aged 30, the catalyst for starting her business was disbelief at what she describes as an “often unbelievably antiquated” secretarial recruitment industry.
With agencies making money by placing highly skilled, yet frequently undervalued PAs who are often superficially assessed based on the way they look, dress and speak, the Sidekicks London Founder is challenging the status quo.
After twelve years of solid experience gained supporting CEOs and successful business people -within industries as diverse as US-based investment banking to London retail property – like most top level PAs, Jessica had absorbed and learned how to apply knowledge and business acumen to rival her bosses. Often on call around the clock, she came to understand every facet of the businesses she worked with, even setting up a Singapore office on behalf of one of her bosses and splitting her working week between Singapore and Thailand.
With discrimination rife in the industry, after over a decade of working with billionaires and successful business people, the Surrey-based entrepreneur recognised that her sector needed a recruiter who understood the changing nature of modern support and would prioritise the needs of candidates as much as clients, simultaneously challenging the outdated ideals and protocol so endemic within the market.
Jessica explains: “I spent much of my late teens and early twenties gaining experience temping in a variety of administrative roles. I know the feeling of walking into the first day of a new job and wanting to be the very best I can be. I’ve been given jobs just because I was a blonde and speak in what the industry term a ‘neutral’ accent. I’ve also felt the indescribable shame – upon finding out that the receptionists uniform is only made in sizes 6-10 – of having to leave a temp assignment with no pay as my size 12 body didn’t fit the mould. I’ve been told off for wearing flat shoes, not painting my nails, wearing too little makeup. I quickly learned exactly what an agency means when they asked me firmly to ensure I arrived looking ‘polished’.
Today Sidekicks, the recruitment agency Jessica founded in December 2015 in London’s St James Square, already employs nine staff, made up of some of the industries most accomplished recruiters. Adopting a refreshingly millennial approach to employment, Sidekicks are a beacon for the benefits of flexi-working, with much of her work force working mothers who are employed on a part time or flexible basis, whilst delivering a level of commercial success which is testament to adopting a trust-based employee approach.
“A very important part of our job is to try to open things up. If a potential client specifically asked us to find a female, or a blonde, or someone under thirty, we don’t get cross – we simply ask them “Why?” The question of why is so powerful, and gives employers the opportunity to challenge their own line of thinking. It prompts people to think about their stereotypes and why they have them. Being confrontational doesn’t work and I’m not naïve or idealistic – different types of people work better in different environments, of course – but those choices must be based on values and personality, not aesthetics, ever.”
Already well known within the industry for making decisions which might be viewed as risky by traditional employers; she recently employed a heavily pregnant staff member. It can be no coincidence that, as Sidekicks approach their first anniversary, the business is thriving and driving healthy industry change in the process.
“Flexible working isn’t a concession, it’s a life choice. As an employer and an advocate for our candidates, it is possible for a person of any gender to have everything as long as they are operating outside of this outdated, rigid environment. I honestly believe in ten years time we’ll all think it’s bonkers that we all had to get on a train and be in the same place at the same time every morning. When you put people in an environment where everything is geared towards convenience, support and common sense they will flourish – and so will your business as a result.”
For further information about Sidekicks please visit: sidekicks.london