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Pioneer Profile: Meet Gillian Brookes

13th Dec 2023

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 were lucky enough to speak with Gillian Brookes, Flexpert & Workforce strategist about her career, her experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and her  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?

Academically, my first love was economics, then later I did my post-grad in human resource management. That blend of healthy people, healthy economy is what really drives me and my work. I've been working as a 'Flexpert' since mid-2019. I wanted to become a flexible work specialist because up until then I'd been in busy Head of HR roles in both the UK and New Zealand. When you're in a big operational role like that, it is so hard to really focus and make a big shift in something that will make a big difference for your business.  The day-to-day demands of the role more than fill up the hours! So I decided I'd go out on my own and redesign the way we do flexible work, then share it with everyone. I had no idea that covid was around the corner, which has massively accelerated changes to our ways of working. It's been a full on few years and I love doing this work.

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

Before I was self-employed I was working in big leadership roles while also managing my young family. That was hard! I decided to work compressed hours for five years so I could fit in my work, while still having one day per week focused on being mum. I'm so glad I got to do that, because I wasn't good at being a full time mum, nor was I good at being a full-time guilt ridden working mum. This gave me the balance I needed when I needed it. People who worked for me back then have since gone on to have their own families and several of them have told me it meant a lot to them to have a role model to demonstrate how to use flex to get time and space to do what you need at work and at home. No-one ever gets it perfect every time, but having more of us who get it and live it, will help us all be more human in our work.

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

I think a lot of people are tired of thinking about flex. It's all too hard and they want to move on and focus on something else. I get it, but it's a big risk. We have experienced 30+ years worth of change in just three years, so there is still a lot we need to do as we adjust to that impact. We need to invest in manager skills to create healthy hybrid and remote-first teams. We often need better ways of making decisions about our hours, days and place of work, so that we create a healthy flex culture, not one of entitlement or burnout. We also need to think about people who currently have little to no opportunity to work from home. How can we redesign work so that more people have access to that choice to work from home, at least some of the time? Plus, flex is so much more than working from home and we have barely scratched the surface!

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

My personal challenge is to make sure our organisation keeps attracting the right talent. Not all talent, the right talent that's aligned with our values and working culture, in the midst of a competitive market. 

For this, I focus on making sure our EVP messaging and candidate experience are consistent, positive, and human. I do this by upskilling and empowering our teams to activate our brand through knowledge, assets, and resources (and the flexibility to personalise it through their unique voice and audience!). 

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

Redesigning work. As we give more people more choices about their hours, days and place of work, they will increasingly want to design the work itself. This isn't only being driven by the demand for more flex from our workforce and work that enables those choices, but also a big opportunity from AI technology. How can we improve the quality of work that we do, avoid the risks of burnout, let the robots do the stuff we hate doing, and give everyone more access to a better quality experience of work? That's the next trend for us to grapple with and I think it's really exciting!

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