Sidekicks are the recruitment agency on a mission to change the way people view support staff such as; PA's, Secretaries, Receptionists and Front of House staff. We speak to Jessica, the founder about her career and why there is a serious need for an agency with the values and ethos that Sidekicks stand for:
Hi, Jessica! Please, can you introduce yourself and your business Sidekicks?
Of course! My name is Jessica Williams, and I am thirty years old. I was a PA for over a decade, and I now run Sidekicks: a London-based company supplying exceptional support talent. We provide Assistants, Receptionists, Administrators and front of house talent – the crucial backbone of support to founders, entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, all over the world.
We are just over a year old are now a team of ten; we’ve rapidly established ourselves as a disruptive presence within the very traditional secretarial recruitment market.
What were you doing before launching your company?
I worked in administrative support for over ten years before launching Sidekicks. I started my career as an intern, worked my way up to Receptionist and then made my career as a PA. Administrative roles have a reputation for being dull – nothing could be further from the truth! They are incredibly interesting and enormously varied.
When did you first have the idea and what was the catalyst?
As a PA, I gradually became really frustrated by the prevailing old-fashioned attitude towards the administrative professions. I wanted a recruiter who genuinely understood and championed the role of support talent as critical to business, rather than seeing it as some sort of fallback career. I couldn’t find one, so I founded Sidekicks.
What does Sidekicks offer to the industry that other recruitment companies have failed to do?
The Sidekicks team have all worked in support roles, so we genuinely understand our market. This sounds basic, but it’s rare in our industry. Many support agencies view their talent pool as unskilled labour – we understand the complexities of the roles we recruit for and value our candidates enormously.
We also recognise the need for change within service industries such as ours. The recruitment agency model must adapt, or it will become irrelevant. Agencies can no longer get away with simply treading water – businesses in 2017 value lean, responsive recruiters, saving time and adding genuine value.
What kind of discrimination is seen within the PA/secretarial industry?
Sexual discrimination is rife, and it takes many forms. Companies often overlook men when hiring for support roles because they don’t fit the traditional model of the female secretary. Women are often pigeonholed into support roles because “that’s the way it’s always been”.
It’s also one of the last industries in which the way you look, how you dress, and the way you speak will all too often heavily affect where you work, how easy you find it to get a job and how much you earn. We’re in 2017 – it’s bonkers.
The final type of discrimination we see is towards the industry itself. Secretary has become a dirty word. Support workers are often viewed as unskilled labour completing menial tasks, rather than valued professionals comprising the core backbone of any company. It’s our mission to change that – that attitude simply doesn’t reflect the reality of modern support.
Although Sidekicks is trying to resolve these issues, what advice can you give to people who are subject to this kind of discrimination?
Challenge it graciously and intelligently. If you are turned down for a job interview without an explanation, press the subject. If you are told that the employer doesn’t want a male PA, needs someone from a different background or you are simply not the right ‘fit’ – ask “why?” There might well be a valid reason which your recruiter is simply not communicating to you, but the way you look is not a valid reason. Don’t just accept it – ask the decision maker to explain their reasoning to you. It makes bad behaviour a lot harder to sweep under the carpet.
Thankfully, sexual harassment is a lot less rife in our industry than it was, but it’s critical (especially if you’re temping) to ensure that you are represented by a good agency who will always have your best interests at heart and fight on your behalf if they think you’re not getting a good deal.
What reaction do you get from clients (hiring PA’s/Secretaries) about Sidekicks values and approach?
It’s been phenomenal. A lot of clients have previously worked in support so understand how important it is to get it right. Hiring great talent in an ethical way without spending a fortune is what is important to our clients, and we make sure we consistently deliver – it’s actually really simple when you think about it. Companies nowadays are much more aware of issues such as ethical hiring practices and stamping out discrimination at every stage of the recruitment chain, so it’s vital that recruiters genuinely get behind this approach.
How much change have you seen since launching?
We’re so deeply immersed in this market, and the market is so huge, that when a change starts to happen, it’s truly palpable: you can feel it. And we can feel it right now – what is happening is a genuine movement. Our candidates want and expect better treatment from agencies, and our clients want and expect agencies to do their work with pride and decency. We’re very excited; it’s an amazing time to be in recruitment.
How do you plan to continue with revolutionising the approach to employment within these roles in the industry?
The trajectory of the employment agency within our industry is all too common. Katie Booth, our Director of Operations, says it’s like the career path of MP’s: they begin, full of idealism and zeal to do the right thing, to drive change within the industry. Then the MPs, like other agencies, become jaded. They start to succumb to the lure of the ‘way it’s always been’ and the promise of easy money.
We’re privately owned, so we don’t have to compromise. Our values are an intrinsic part of who we are and what we do, and in order to continue to revolutionise the approach to support employment, we must stay true to them and refuse to comprise. Thankfully, we’re a stubborn bunch.