Pioneer Profile: Meet Gary Izunwa

19th Feb 2024

It’s time that we recognise the people behind the evolving world of work. Our working lives have shifted to being more inclusive, more people-centric, more flexible, and just plain better for both employees and companies. 

These changes didn’t just happen: they were put into place and upheld by individuals and teams working to create a better working future for everyone. 

So we’re finally putting the spotlight on the people who make great companies great: the people-people.  

People-people are crucial to the success of every company. They find you the talent that drives you forwards, and they’ve taken on an increasingly strategic role in the past few years – often taking on responsibility for mental health, diversity and inclusion, culture, EVPs, Employer Branding and team happiness. 

Read more about the Pioneers List and go behind the scenes to understand how and why we’ve selected our Pioneers.

We’re delighted to introduce you to Gary Izunwa, Co-Founder @ Tangent, and one of our 2024 Pioneers. Read on to hear all about his career, his experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and his hopes for the future of work.

Let’s dig in! 

Tell us a little bit about your career history, and how you got to where you are now. What were the key milestones?

Growing up in a low-income, single-parent family, developing my career was always important to me; it was my ticket to a better life. I started my career at LinkedIn as one of nine Associates on their graduate programme. After rotating through that I rolled off into the sales team where I was selling LinkedIn’s HR solutions to companies and quickly became one of the top performers. I loved LinkedIn - it really is an amazing company, but after 3 and a half years I knew I wanted to have more of an impactful career.

From this, I decided to quit my six figure job, take an eighty percent salary reduction and move to the British Council to lead social mobility programmes. It was a great role that had a tangible impact on people's lives but over time I discovered that I wanted to have a bigger and more scalable impact on the topic of social mobility and to do that I’d have to start my own technology company; this is what led me to found Tangent. At Tangent, we’re on a mission to create a world where the social contexts we are born into do not determine our career outcomes. To start this, we’re building an employee referral platform that makes referrals accessible to everyone and not just the privileged few with the best networks. 

What’s the biggest impact flexible working has had on your own life?

I refer to myself as an introverted extrovert which most people who have met me would probably find hard to believe. I love people and I’m extremely effervescent and energetic. But like anyone, I need to be in my own space from time-to-time. Having two days a week to work from home has been great for me to strike the balance between working closely in-person with my team and getting the buzz that I do from that whilst having the time to reflect and recharge. It’s been a real gamechanger!

When did you first become interested in flexible working?

The pandemic definitely got me interested in flexible working. My role at the British Council was originally based in Beijing, China so I moved there and at the perfect time too… in January 2020. We all know what happened shortly after.

Only a few weeks later I was back on a plane to the UK and for the majority of the two years that I worked at the organisation, I was working remotely from London. This was the first time I had ever worked remotely. Prior to this I thought that working in the office five days a week was the only way to go - over the last few years I’ve definitely come round to the power and value of flexible working and how beneficial it can be for individuals and companies alike.

What is the most impactful cultural change that you’ve implemented?

Hybrid-working for sure. This is a big shift from my LinkedIn-life where I was in the office five days a week (that seems crazy now!) without fail. It’s helped us attract a wider pool of talent to Tangent in a world where people now expect more flexible working options.

What’s the biggest challenge of being in your role right now?

As a staunch social mobility advocate, raising awareness on the importance of socioeconomic background and why all companies should have it as part of their people strategy has been a challenge. As it’s not a visible characteristic like gender or race, it tends to not get as much attention and focus which is a shame as it’s been proven to have a significant effect on our outcomes. I’m so committed to making change on this topic though and am excited to push for this change with Tangent.

What do you think the next big trend is in working culture?

Whilst I say it’s been a challenge, I am extremely bullish on the future for social mobility and socioeconomic background in the corporate world. There’s more and more data being released on socioeconomic pay-gaps, progression gaps and recruitment disparities.

Within the next 10 years I see socioeconomic background being at the heart of every organisation's people strategy particularly as the severity of issues becomes more known as well as the opportunities for companies who solve them.

Take a look at the other Pioneers who made the list, and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on new Pioneers, guides to help you navigate your strategic role, and exclusive invites to webinars and events