Benvon Crumpler talks to workingwise.co.uk about her career in the media, career transitions and advocating for better longer working lives.
Benvon Crumpler is a passionate advocate for older workers, for career transition in later life and for the importance of flexible working. She says many employers have not fully got their heads around all the different forms flexibility can take and how it can help so many people, including older workers – particularly those like her who are ‘sandwiched’ between elder care and raising children.
She thinks flexible working is too often seen as either part time or, in recent years, remote or hybrid working when there are all sorts of different permutations from compressed hours to nine-day fortnights to term time only. And she thinks part time work needs a rebrand. “Too often it is associated with laziness or lack of commitment. It has negative connotations when often the people who do it are more committed as they have more responsibilities, work harder and are more productive,” she says.
Benvon works for 2to3days.com, a flexible jobs site and is also a big advocate of the better longer working lives agenda, as promoted by employers such as Phoenix Group. She is an advocate for their Careers Can Change campaign which is led by Phoenix Insights. Phoenix Insights is the longevity think tank set up by Phoenix Group which conducts in-depth research on societal issues with the aim of transforming the way society responds to the possibilities of longer lives. Benvon was invited to become an advocate for the campaign as a result of taking part in a programme run by career transition organisation Brave Starts.
She heard of Brave Starts through 2to3days.com and saw that Phoenix Group was supporting some free places on its programme. She applied out of both a personal and work-related interest. Benvon really enjoyed the programme, which helped her to understand her motivations and aspirations around work in an informal environment which was underpinned by psychological research. After the programme when Phoenix Insights were setting up the Careers Can Change campaign and inviting a number of people with lived experience to advise and support the campaign.
Benvon jumped at the chance to do something she felt strongly about. The role involves advising on content, approach and direction of the campaign, grounding the work in her own real life story and talking to the media.
Benvon’s work background is in the media. She spent 25 years in the tv and entertainment world. Soon after graduating with a degree in business and marketing, she joined Nickelodeon which was just launching in the UK. As an au pair in the US, she was well acquainted with the children’s channel. After years rising up the ranks at Nickelodeon [she was Senior Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy in Europe when she left] she was appointed Trade Marketing Director at Discovery Networks and then spent several years as Vice President of Global Marketing at the BBC’s global channels business. In 2016 she joined Merlin Entertainments. She was in her late 40s and had hit the menopause. “I didn’t know what was happening to me,” she says. “It was a really anxious time.”
Two years after being appointed Global Brand Director she left and decided to turn her back on the world of large corporates. “I was quite disillusioned and wanted to be free,” she says. “But I didn’t anticipate how hard it was going to be to do something different.”
Benvon, who has three children aged 22, 19 and 17, used her network reluctantly. “I’m not a natural or confident networker,” she says. One person gave her a great piece of advice about taking a leap and reaching out while being honest and clear about why she was doing so. She got a good response and spent a couple of months meeting up with people and finding out about opportunities. Through that networking she got a job with an intellectual property agency setting up live experiences for CBeebies.
The job drew on much of her previous experience, but was in a small, founder-led start-up – a very different experience to working for a multinational in large teams. Benvon had to find her feet, but she loved having to deal with everything from sales and operations to working with a producer and creative director. “I realised I did have all the necessary skills. It was a real intellectual challenge,” she says.
Then came Covid, just as she was about to go on the road with the live experiences. Everything stopped. There was no work and no furlough pay as Benvon was a freelancer. She thought she would never work again. “I had not been established long enough to have a back-up plan,” she says. She focused on doing courses and getting mentoring. “I tried to use my time constructively, but I was starting to panic about my income,” she states. She did some freelance marketing work which didn’t work out. She applied for other jobs during Covid too and faced a series of knockbacks, even for a receptionist job.
But one job she did get was as a Just Eat courier. Spurred by a desire to get out of the house and feel useful she applied in late 2020 in the early days when the company was just setting up. Although she was only a courier for a few months, she says it gave her a much needed sense of purpose. It also meant she mixed with a wide range of people, much wider than in her previous roles. But people kept asking her why she was doing the job. She says she felt a mixture of humiliation and pride. “I realise now how much it taught me,” she says. “My career had been so much a part of me. When that stopped I had to think who am I? That role made me reflect and gave me courage. It showed me I could do anything.”
She recalls falling off her bike, almost being run off the road, having people close the door in her face and facing abuse. “It really made me think about how people are perceived based on the job they do, about how you are judged. It put fire in my belly. It made me feel I needed to do something more purposeful and that everyone deserves recognition for the job they do.”
A role came up for 2to3days.com as Chief Operating Officer. She had many conversations with the founder, given it was a big leap from marketing, and joined in February 2021 on a part-time contract. She loves that she has continued to learn on the job. Once again she had to adapt to working in a smaller, founder-led organisation, but she is really enjoying the work.
Around six months ago she took on a marketing role in a specialist study tours company. She now has a portfolio career working in travel and recruitment, fields she had no experience of before.
All of those months of not just navigating the Covid period, but moving sectors entirely, has given her valuable experience – of the recruitment process, of ageism, of starting over – that she can feed back into Phoenix Insights and into her job at 2to3days.com. She says: “I am now a firm believer that you are responsible for your own perspective on life. I am not defined by being 55 or by my job. I am at a vibrant point in life and have a lot more to give.”