5 Squirrels CEO Gary Conroy was recently interviewed by Consulting Room for their 20th Anniversary Special which had a diversity and inclusion theme. We are grateful to Vicky Eldridge and the team for the opportunity to discuss this critical issue. The article is reprinted here in full with their kind permission.
CREATING AN INCLUSIVE WORKING ENVIRONMENT
We speak to Gary Conroy, founder of 5 Squirrels, about why diversity, equality and inclusion, as well as flexibility, have made it one of the UK’s best places to work.
5 Squirrels was recently named one of the Sunday Times’ best places to work, 2023, quite the accolade for a small Hove-based business which helps skincare professionals to launch their own brand of skincare products.
One of the reasons the company was featured in the list was its adoption of the four-day working week which means staff receive a full salary for working one day less.
In addition, 5 Squirrels was praised for the investment it makes in staff training programmes and mentoring (each employee has a budget for their personal development) and its company culture, which includes additional “bank holidays” for things like World Mental Health Day, International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Blue Monday, and the annual Pride weekend in Brighton.
As well as this, staff get their birthday off and are rewarded for their successes with quarterly staff outings, including the annual Summer BBQ and a city break to a European destination every Christmas.
The company was also an early adopter of the Living Wage Foundation’s voluntary scheme to ensure that all staff members receive a wage rate based on what they need to live above the statutory national living wage. This includes everyday needs such as the weekly shop or an unexpected visit to the dentist. As a fully accredited Living Wage employer, they have seen a key difference in terms of recruitment, retention, and employee satisfaction.
Staff wellbeing is a top priority for the company, a priority which stemmed from founder Gary Conroy’s own desire to create more work/life balance in his life.
“In our industry, especially if you’re in a commercial role, you can end up working all the hours God sends”, he says. “Weekends at conferences, international travel, driving up the motorways to visit customers and being away from home a lot. That was a great life for me for a long time, but it soon starts to wear thin, and you realise you sacrifice quite a lot for that. So, when I started the company, it wasn’t necessarily about the money; it was more about the freedom, the work/life balance. Employee wellbeing is a key business priority for us.”
As the team started to grow, Conroy felt that the same rules should apply to his staff in terms of what a valuable commodity free time was. This is how the company culture started to develop, culminating in them becoming part of the Global four-day week pilot programme, something they adopted in June 2022 and have continued with.
The four-day week might be winning them accolades in the Sunday Times as a great place to work, but how does it work from a business perspective? Very well, according to Conroy, who believes a happy staff is a loyal and hard-working one.
“We have seen an increase in employee wellbeing and productivity”, he says. “We believe that a happy workforce is a more productive workforce.
“I don’t have this mindset of living a cul-de- sac, humdrum life. We all know how bad that can be when all you do is work and live for the weekend. I think it’s much better for people’s quality of life and mindset to have more balance.”
The whole team takes Fridays off and once a quarter, they use that Friday to do community volunteering, such as the homeless kitchen, clearing rubbish from the beach, voluntary business mentorship for start-ups or volunteering for Pride.
Diversity = creativity
But 5 Squirrels’ success goes beyond being such a fun and enjoyable place to work. Conroy has also made inclusivity and diversity part of the company culture and believes in doing so; he has built a workforce that has a better understanding of its diverse customer base, which can help them create products and services that better meet the needs of their customers.
“We are proud to have built an empowered, diverse and inclusive team”, he says. “We have a non-hierarchical team structure, and all employees are given a high level of responsibility and accountability for their work. When you have a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences working together, you can often generate more innovative and creative solutions. This is because different people bring different ideas and ways of thinking to the table.
“I feel like you can tackle business problems in non-conventional ways. If you’ve got all conventional people, you tend to have a conventional mindset, and therefore, your creativity and problem- solving are non-competitive because you’re going to solve the problems the same way everybody else solves them. You then lose the competitive edge.”
Conroy believes that to attract a diverse staff base, it’s all about demonstrating what your company culture is and showcasing how that is an attractive offering for someone.
“I think the company culture is now set up in such a way that it welcomes people from various backgrounds and experiences. There was a point when we first started the company when the staff was all white, straight men. You can only recruit from the talent pool of the applicants you get, and manufacturing jobs tended to attract white straight men! Even in Brighton, you get very few females applying for warehouse-type roles. But as we grew the team and the culture changed, the array of applicants started to change, so things like Living Wage campaigns and four-day weeks means that it opens the net to be more inclusive of diverse types of people, those that can’t work full-time because they have children; people from lower social and economic backgrounds. I have never felt that diversity should be a tick box exercise, ‘we must recruit this many people from these backgrounds’ and so on. It’s a benefit to the business to widen the application pool, and that’s why it has been a focus for us to make sure we offer employment opportunities to people who may not have considered a role with a company like us before.”
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