Lizzie Penny – Living My Best Life!

I spent the start of my career trying lots of different areas of work; accountancy, sales and marketing and was lucky to work for some brilliant businesses including Masterfoods and Diageo, but those roles helped me recognise that the thing I really wanted to do was to work for myself. 

After having my son Finn my eyes were opened to pervasive inequalities in work and my co-founder, Alex, and I had a meeting of minds during a conversation in the pub where we agreed to dedicate ourselves to promoting and embedding ‘workstyle’ – the freedom to choose when and where you work – for as many people as possible to be included in work. In 2015 we started Hoxby, a social enterprise and now B Corp, to test the concept of workstyle. We now have more than 500 people in the community and deliver work for clients including Sony, Merck, Unilever, AIA, and Divine Chocolate. 

During the pandemic there was suddenly huge interest from people wanting to know more about how we work as everyone was forced to move to new ways of working, and that has become a bestselling book which Alex and I have written called Workstyle: A revolution for wellbeing, productivity and society

With workstyle there is no such thing as a typical day as I fit my work around my life rather than the other way round! But a good example would be a day where I get up around 7am, and get the kids ready and take them to school. After dropping them off I go to the gym and then for a swim – this keeps me healthy and brings me joy, benefitting my wellbeing all round. After I walk home I tidy the kitchen and then start work at around 10.30am. My most productive hours for work are in the middle of the day. I make a salad for lunch and have a few Google Meet video calls with Hoxbies or clients, or record a podcast, and then I spend the rest of my time working (but also having fun!) in Hoxby’s Slack community (we don’t have an office). At 3pm I’ll stop work and pick the kids up from school, then take them to a club (gymnastics or football are the current favourites) or to the playground or come home and do some crafting on a rainy day. My husband and I make dinner, put the kids to bed and then I usually do some more work in the evening. 

That said, no week is the same – some weeks I’m speaking at events, others at Hoxby meet-ups, or during school holidays often I won’t be working at all so it depends on what’s going on in my life at that particular time! I tend to reflect on my workstyle with each new school term to ensure it’s effective as it can be. 

I’ve worked with some brilliantly gifted professionals and there were too many that faced a downward trajectory in their career and wellbeing when they became parents or were excluded from the workforce in other ways. The 9-to-5, 5-day working week is more than 200 years old and with advances in technology and changing attitudes to work there is no longer a reason for us to work that way! The world of work is missing vital input from diverse minds, many of whom simply can’t work in the traditional model. Those with disabilities, mental health challenges, who are neurodivergent, older workers, those with chronic illness… Sadly, the list of discriminated groups and individuals goes on. So as you can tell, this is more of a calling than a choice, but it’s something from which I get great fulfilment seeing the impact we’re making on the world. 

Our mission – to create a happier, more fulfilled society through a world of work without bias – is so important but as with everything that involves great change, it’s not without challenges. Working in a workstyle way takes time, dedication, energy, investment and experimentation. All of these have got us to where we are now, but we continue to improve and learn every day. This was a big catalyst for writing the book for us – we want to connect with as many people as we can and lay out that there is another way and that us workstylers are living, breathing and thriving proof of it! 

For me spreading the word of workstyle and having the greatest possible impact on the world is really important, and to support that Alex and I have a video blog called Workstyle Freestyle. Our 2 minute videos are a perfect chance to remind everyone that whilst we are dedicated to the change we want to see in the world, we aren’t afraid to have fun along the way! 

The shared sense of pride and empowerment that many women experience when they achieve career aspirations and goals is important to me – having challenged attitudes and overcome obstacles along the way. At Hoxby 74% of the community are women, and everyone else is an ally, so I’m surrounded by lots of inspiring role models, many of whom have powerful and moving stories to tell. 

You can’t tell people what can be done, you have to show them. Our longitudinal research study, the work we’ve delivered and the brilliant team we’ve built over the last 8 years shows workstyle works. One of my favourite quotes is “those who believe it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it”. 

There have been times when people have responded differently to Alex (my male business partner and co-author) from how they have to me. We joke about it between the two of us, and we often notice everyday sexism, but there have also been times people have only wanted a woman on a panel or to speak on their podcast. I’m lucky to have worked for myself and to have an awesome community around me who specifically focus on work without bias and so have experienced relatively few challenges specifically because of my gender, but the ones I have I find frustrating.

Swimming is a lifeline for me and definitely helps me both physically and mentally. As my three children are all quite young they take up a lot of my time, but I’m not sure they count as a hobby!! I love to travel, binge the latest Netflix box set, or go out for drinks with friends. I don’t particularly have a mantra but I did once see the mantra ‘You can do anything, but you can’t do everything’ which I find helpful to remind myself of from time to time! 

My three tips I would give to young females starting their careers would be:

  1. Judge yourself and others on output, not on the hours you put in 
  2. Create time and space to listen to your real instincts and be your authentic self – there is so much value in it 
  3. Do what you need to in order to be happy, in your career as much as in your personal life 

– we don’t have enough time here to settle for anything less! 

Dame Stephanie Shirley is a real inspiration to me. I’m also hugely proud that she wrote the foreword for our book. She really was the workstyle trailblazer 50 years ago when she set up Freelance Programmers, only for her crusade to be overshadowed by the far-less-progressive flexible working. She set up with £6 and a telephone and had to change her name to ‘Steve’ to be taken seriously. If she could do what she did in the 70s then we can definitely change the world of work to be more inclusive now! 

I want to leave a legacy, and a better world for my children and the generations to come, particularly in diversity, equity and inclusion. The amazing Hobbies and supporters of the Workstyle Revolution motivate me to work towards this every day. I also want to live my best life with my family and my friends – there’s nothing like a breast cancer diagnosis to make you really focus on the things you choose to invest your time in! 

I don’t think enough is being done in business to address gender imbalance. Not enough is being done by businesses to address all types of discrimination and exclusion at work. There are a lot of organisations that see diversity, equity and inclusion as an ‘HR issue’ rather than something that is integral to company strategy and a source of competitive advantage – we know bringing diverse minds together results in better performance and benefits society. 

If everyone works in a workstyle way then it fundamentally reshapes work to eliminate bias and include groups who are excluded by traditional working structures as well as to reduce discrimination. So for me it isn’t about women, or anyone else, needing to adopt strategies that are special or different, but about us all working together to change the dominant working system to one which is workstyle-led and levels the playing field for everyone. 

My advice for women aiming for leadership positions would be to focus on outputs rather than time spent, be confident to be your authentic self, and remember the power of cognitive diversity and bringing together diverse teams – unfortunately these are not the norm but they will therefore set you apart from your peers. Having worked with an autonomous and globally dispersed team for the last 8 years, we have now codified our own model of remote leadership in order to consult to others in this area – something we’ve found there has been a huge amount of interest in since the pandemic. We have 14 elements of that model so it’s hard to pick one above all the others. But if I had to I would say that if everything starts and ends with your vision and purpose then you’ll create a united and cohesive culture which is not only powerful for leadership at all levels but also improves wellbeing and productivity. 

What I would say to my 16-year-old self: It’s going to be a rollercoaster – enjoy the ride! 

In 3 words, this is feminism to me: Fairness, inclusion, fulfillment 

I have made many mistakes and with our experimental model I’m sure I will continue to, but I’ve learned from each and every one, so I don’t think I would do anything differently! I am who I am because of the journey I’ve been on so I wouldn’t change a thing! 

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