Pioneer Profile: Meet Tara Clarkson

4th Oct 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 Tara Clarkson, Chief People and Culture Officer at Simprints about her career, her experiences with flexible working and building great company cultures, and her hopes for the future of work. 

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

I often share my career journey with younger individuals, emphasising that there's no fixed path to success, and it's never too late to pursue your passions. My own journey took some unexpected turns. 

I started out in advertising at Mazda in Los Angeles many aeons ago, and my interest in understanding human behaviour then led me to pursue a Master's in Neuroscience in London. A chance encounter with my husband, with his captivating Scottish accent, altered my plans of moving to NYC and becoming a behavioural scientist. We were married, and then moved to Singapore. 

Initially, I took work at Saatchi & Saatchi, where thanks to my background in behavioural psychology I also took on some HR work. I fell in love with recruitment, and joined a friend's startup. Returning to London, I then joined as their Talent Lead, while also taking on more people work. Whilst there, I championed diversity, flexible working, and first-ever collaborations with organisations like Mums in Tech to really champion a more diverse workforce. 

I then moved to Clearscore, where I introduced core hours, one of the first to do so in the FinTech space, and our recruitment and retention skyrocketed. Then on to Depop, where I pioneered flexible working options and established their first ERGs, like Black@Depop, fostering a culture of inclusivity and innovation. Now, I’m at Simprints and have recently brought in the 4-day working week, which is going wonderfully!

When did you become interested in flexible working, EVPs and the future of work?

Without a doubt, a turning point in my life occurred when my son, who is nearly nine years old now, came into the picture. When we returned to London, I faced a formidable challenge: finding a job that didn't require a rigid five-day, in-office commitment. 

Regrettably, being a ‘mom’ professionally carried an unjustified stigma. Back in those days, flexible working wasn’t as accepted. I had no choice but to enrol my son in nursery care, where he spent long hours from 8am to 6pm daily. One incident stands out in my memory when unforeseen train delays from London made me 30 minutes late to pick him up. I was severely reprimanded by the nursery staff. Heartbreakingly, my son told me he thought I had abandoned him forever. It was a sobering moment of realisation that no job could ever justify such sacrifices. 

After that, I transitioned to a more flexible workplace and embarked on a mission to champion flexible working as an inclusive and viable option for all businesses. My efforts were dedicated to creating a space where mothers, like me, could balance their commitment to their children with their professional aspirations. My goal was to unite with like-minded mothers who shared the desire to excel in both their roles as parents and corporate leaders!

What's the most impactful change you’ve overseen?

I think it has to be piloting the 4-day working week here at Simprints. With any corporation there is always a slight trepidation at the thought of doing something new. But it has significantly increased our retention and our employee satisfaction, especially around work-life balance. There are no drops in productivity or the other metrics that we are measuring, and many of our employees are much happier! 

A close second must be at Depop, bringing in the first ever flexible working scheme where people could choose their mode of working: remote, hybrid or in-office. It took a lot of work convincing the execs, the board and even my own team that it would be a positive change, but we got great feedback from it!

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

First and foremost, flexible working has allowed me to pursue my career without sacrificing precious time with my children. I can adjust my work schedule to be there for school drop-offs, pick-ups, and important events in their lives. This has strengthened our bond as a family, and has allowed me to be present during those crucial moments of their growth and development. 

At the same time, it has enabled me to excel in my career. I can adapt my working hours to maximise productivity, whether that means working late in the evening after the kids are in bed, or starting early in the morning before they wake up. This flexibility has empowered me to take on challenging projects and make significant contributions, all while fulfilling my ‘second job’ as a mother. 

Additionally, flexible working has reduced the stress and guilt often associated with being a working mother. I no longer feel torn between my professional aspirations and my family's needs. Instead, I can seamlessly integrate both aspects of my life, which has improved my overall well-being and mental health.

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

One of the biggest challenges in the HR space around flexible working right now is finding the right balance between flexibility and maintaining a sense of organisational cohesion and culture. While flexible working arrangements can greatly benefit employees by offering greater work-life balance and accommodating diverse needs, if not done right it can lead to a fragmented workforce or diminished team dynamics. Some companies are trying to solve this by returning to the office as much as possible, but I am not sure that’s the best solution!

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.