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IT firm HTG puts caring at the centre of its culture, something which led to it being highly commended at this year’s WM People Top Employer Awards in the Best for SMEs category.
The tech sector is not known to be family or female friendly, but some employers are working hard to change this. One is Howell Technology Group [HTG]. It is a 30-person team operating in the cloud services space. Its employees are all over the UK but its largest base is in the North East, in one of the 20% most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.
Louise Roughley was the first HR appointment at the company as it seeks to scale and over the last year she has been busy building an HR framework that aligns with the company’s pre-existing flexible and supportive culture which has resulted in high scores for retention and engagement.
The aim is to move the company from the kind of discretionary decisions that are possible for smaller SMEs to a set of HR policies that seek to empower managers and encode fairness as it grows. Louise is excited by the prospect of making a positive impact and says she is building on strong foundations.
HTG has a flexible working culture with people working a multitude of different patterns, from four-day weeks to term time adjusted and 100% remote working. Louise says Covid and the way people had to flex around life during the pandemic has made the company even more flexible. People are trusted to manage their time to meet their needs, be that going for a dog walk or doing the school run. She has been working on a flexible working framework where people can set out their ideal scenario and discuss this with their line manager to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
Louise says the company’s CEO is very respectful of the need for family time, having spent his early career travelling away for work and sacrificing time at home. For that reason there is an emphasis on enabling work from anywhere.
HTG’s supportive, flexible culture has contributed to a higher than average number of women at senior levels when it comes to the IT sector: 20% of its directors are female, with women making up 22% of senior and middle management positions. It aims to hit a 30/70 split by the end 2023 and a 40/60 by the end of 2024. Moreover, in 2022, 30% of hires were female, meaning 24% of the team are women, compared to a national average of 19% for the sector.
The company partners with Smart Works, a charity which aims to give women the confidence they need to reach their full potential through helping with interview coaching and interview outfits. Indeed it has a donation station at its office in South Tyneside. “It’s a very inclusive culture for a male-dominated space, which is due to its foundational values of respect, trust, kindness and collaboration,” says Louise.
Senior leaders are role models for the culture and normalise flexible working, she says, adding that they are open about flexing their hours to balance their caring responsibilities, putting family commitments on their shared calendars.
Flexibility starts from recruitment. Louise tries to get an idea of what work patterns and benefits might work for different candidates. Her door is always open if, once in the company, people need to talk about changing their work pattern or about the need for more support.
Around that flexible framework Louise has built a set of supportive policies. The company has a milestone leave policy which allows people to take additional paid time off for important events, such as a child’s first day at school, six months leave on full pay for primary carers after the birth of a child and one month on full pay for secondary carers plus five paid appointments in connection with becoming parents in any capacity. Employees can also buy 10 additional days of holiday if they need it. In addition there is a paid child bereavement leave policy for all ages of children [the Government’s policy only covers children up to the age of 18]. Louise says an experience at a previous employer where an employee grieving the loss of their 21-year-old son who took his own life has stayed with her. She says: “If we, merely, complied with current statutory entitlements to Parental Bereavement leave and pay, this employee would have been ineligible. I have ensured our policy has no upper age limit. It feels incomprehensible that Parental Bereavement is any less “valid” if that son or daughter is an adult.”
The bereavement policy also covers early pregnancy loss from conception and is a day one entitlement for both parents. Louise, who suffered a miscarriage herself, is very aware that grief is not a linear process and that different people might need support at different times, for instance, at anniversaries.
In addition, HTG offers a one thousand pound grant for fertility treatment and a loan of up to three thousand pounds to cover fertility appointments. Louise says the response has been very positive with unwavering buy-in from the senior leadership team.
HTG also offers paid emergency leave including for pets needing emergency vet treatment, paid neonatal leave and a menopause policy, including free access to the Peppy app, even though it currently has no candidates that need it. “We want to set the tone from day one that we have a caring ethos,” says Louise, adding that while the company aims to cover as many circumstances as possible through its policies it cannot cover them all. Nevertheless, she says, all decisions will be based on a core value of care. “If we want people to stay with us and feel they can give of their best we need to take a human approach, rather than a transactional one,” she says. She adds: “We are helping people to have conversations about a range of issues, so that they don’t have to hide anything and can bring their authentic selves to work. There are no hierarchies of worthiness when it comes to support. Reasonable adjustments should be for everyone who needs them.”
Other benefits include private medical insurance for all staff and mental health first aiders. Employees get two paid days for voluntary work and free access to the volunteering and climate impact app onHand which allows them to gain points, for instance, for how much CO2 they are saving. The type of volunteering work offered is broad. Louise works on a befriending scheme run through the NHS and says the benefits are mutual. “Through doing good you feel good. There are mental and physical wellbeing benefits for everyone,” she says.
HTG also promotes skills learning for all its employees. Everyone gets a free Kindle and they can take soft skills courses, from building trust in a team to creating a sense of belonging and psychological safety, through free access to Udemy. Employees are paid to focus on learning and development in their working hours. In addition, HTG promotes good nutrition, with Louise being very clear on the links between physical and mental wellbeing. She cites how the IT sector is guilty of periods of intense activity when people often exist on diets that are high on sugar and caffeine. HTG provides healthy eating choices, such as soup, as well as vitamins and Omega 3 and there is a free on-site gym. Everything is accessible to every employee. Louise remarks that being on a business park far from the shops means offering healthy eating options makes it easier for people to eat healthily.
Louise is focused now on spreading the word about what the company has to offer. It is currently in the midst of a website overhaul which aims to elevate its profile and show just how much it has to offer.
She says the new policies and frameworks are just the start, describing the policies so far in place as quick wins. She is now focused on the more complex policies, but says all of them will be ingrained with the company’s founding ethos of care.
*Read more about the WM People Top Employer Awards here. HTG features in our Best Practice Report, alongside all our winners, which will be out later this month.