Paving the way for a new style of work, Lizzie Penny (BSc International Business with Spanish, 2005; pictured right) explains why inclusivity at work matters for everyone and what drives the concept of ‘workstyle’.
Why did you choose to study at Warwick?
I wanted a modern, applied course that would set me up for a career, and I was looking for a campus university where I could make friends beyond the business school. And I got to spend a year in Madrid!
Can you tell us a bit more about Hoxby and how that came about?
After my degree, I joined a graduate scheme and gained some well-rounded experience of marketing. Then I realised I wanted to work for myself, so I set up an outsourced marketing business, which then evolved into Hoxby, a social enterprise and Certified B Corporation. That means we’re certified to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
Having my first child really opened my eyes to the pervasive inequalities at work and it was a real adjustment. My business partner, Alex Hirst (pictured above and left), had experienced burnout and came to the same conclusion that work just wasn’t inclusive for everyone. So, we invented the word ‘workstyle’ and set up Hoxby to test the concept in practice. We also set up our own research study to prove the link between autonomy, wellbeing, and productivity.
I’ve since had some extremely difficult experiences, including a Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome pregnancy and breast cancer. I’m profoundly grateful that I was able to work in a different way rather than being excluded from work.
"Work just wasn’t inclusive for everyone."
Could you tell us about your book, Workstyle?
The book talks about the concept of workstyle as a new structure of work: a trust-based system, digital-first, where everyone is free to choose when and where they work. We think this can change society for the better because it’s fundamentally more inclusive. In the book, we talk about groups of people who are structurally excluded from work and demonstrate the gap between the number of people who want to work and the number who do.
Our objective is to close those gaps. People in these excluded groups are really important members of the workforce and we know that diverse organisations produce better outcomes and have higher productivity, so it’s in everyone’s interest to make the workforce as inclusive as possible.
"We know that diverse organisations produce better outcomes and have higher productivity, so it’s in everyone’s interest to make the workforce as inclusive as possible."
The book encourages thinking of work as contracted outputs rather than contracted hours, as asynchronous rather than synchronous, and as something based on trust rather than presence. In the book we also talk about how we have maintained our familial culture and created our own framework for virtual leadership whilst scaling Hoxby to work with some of the biggest businesses in the world: Unilever, AIA, Merck and Amazon.
How do you think your time at Warwick has helped you in your career?
Every year since I graduated, I’ve used things I learnt at Warwick. I don’t think I did a degree for a specific career; I did a degree for my life. It taught me to see the world differently, and so did the people I met at Warwick. I couldn’t have been an entrepreneur without it. I set up my first business aged 27 and I don’t believe I’d have been equipped to do that if I’d studied business at any other university.
What’s your favourite memory of your time at Warwick?
It’s impossible to pick just one. My graduation day was amazing, and getting together with my husband, who I met at Warwick, was obviously a highlight. I’d also say studying a course that I was genuinely fascinated by and making some of the best friends of my life.
"Graduation day was amazing, and getting together with my husband, who I met at Warwick, was obviously a highlight. "
Who do you look to for inspiration?
My children because I’m inspired to create a better world for them. Also, Dame Stephanie Shirley, who wrote the foreword for our book, as she was basically the workstyle trailblazer 50 years ago. We’re doing this at a time when people are already receptive to the idea, and it still feels hard. I can’t imagine what it must have been like 50 years ago when no one wanted to hear it, and what she achieved was absolutely exceptional.
What’s your vision for the future?
Our vision has always been to create a happier, more fulfilled society through a world of work without bias. The book is one step on that journey. We now want to continue that journey by supporting other organisations to do the same in order to improve wellbeing and productivity and also to and include everyone who would otherwise have been excluded from the workplace.
You can hear more from Lizzie and her work at WBS webinar: Does hybrid working really foster inclusion?