ENTREPRENEUR Miriam Lahage is no stranger to start-ups.
Having left her native US 14 years ago – where she grew up with Irish grandparents in Boston – she arrived in London, where she went on to launch and work in leading firms located within the digital fashion industry.
Today she is one of three founders of the firm Aequip – alongside Michael Vela and Patryk Kubiak - where she is using her experiences as the CEO of large, successful companies to lead a firm designed to give a “every employee a voice”.
This week she told The Irish Post why that is particularly important today.
What is Aequip?
We are a small start-up, but we have very big ambitions. Simply put, our mission is to help everyone thrive at work. We are looking to create workplaces for the future, using tools to give every employee a voice.
Who does it help?
We have focused on people who don’t come from the dominant culture, so we have looked at what we can help with for people who don’t have a voice [in the workplace]., particularly in retail and hospitality, and how we can help them to have a voice. With the coronavirus pandemic, we have all seen the half of the workforce in the UK who can’t work from home and these are the people we want to give a voice to – it's almost the invisible workers. The people who are keeping us fed and keeping us safe and who keep stocking the shelves. They still have to go out to work every day and they are the people who are least likely to have a voice for their concerns, that’s who we have focused on.
How does it work?
Our product applies behavioural science principles with safety, trust and inclusion in order to allow companies to quickly surface and action process improvements. In other words, if an employee on the ground has an idea of a way that things could be changed in their company, we help them to voice that in a safe way. It starts with a diagnostic - do workers feel safe, what's motivating them, do they feel they can speak up, do they feel supported by their peers? How can the company do more to helpers’ workers on the frontline? From there we have an app that allows us to make sure that at every level of an organisation people are heard. A lot of it is designed around how to make people feel they are in a trusted environment where it is psychologically safe.
Who implements it?
It’s really a safety first tool, so it’s not meant to be coming from the HR team in companies, it’s really meant to make sure everyone is included in voicing their concern about their safety as well as offering up their ideas about how to do their jobs better and how to create a better organisation. Typically, we get hired by a CEO and then the HR team implements it. Usually it’s the senior leader saying I have upped my communication plan and I want to make sure people have a voice.
How is it used?
It’s all done via technology. We have a mobile app and, while we need to be able to identify you are an employee of the organisation, you can raise concerns anonymously. You can give your opinions, you can ask clarifying questions and there is an ‘Ask me Anything’ tool - which is probably one of the most powerful things, which is safe and anonymous, but moderated.
Is Aequip a national or international offering?
The company was formally incorporated in November 2019 and started trading in January, so we are still a small company but we have a very big bold ambition. We believe that helping half the workforce, helping those people get a voice, is an incredibly powerful thing to offer to the world and we think there is a place for us to serve in the SME world right now. But we see this as an opportunity for us to help global organisations who have a very distributed workforce, who don’t have a head office environment, who don’t have HR everywhere, who can’t get the pulse of the organisation in lots of different places – particularly where there are cultural differences in different countries’ or different regions. That’s one of the things that we believe that we can help with. Because this is a technology business it is eminently scalable.
Why is it so important today?
Through the coronavirus pandemic, the workforce that was invisible all of a sudden has become visible, people understand that these are real people. This is a real issue that all of us are all of a sudden paying attention to. Someone needs to help companies really hear the people that create the value and get the work done, if it’s not us it could be someone else but the people out there who have never been asked in a safe way what it is they think we can do a better job of, and how can we help you, need to be asked. Somebody needs to find a way to do that if businesses are going to succeed in these times – the challenge isn’t going away any time soon. I don’t want to say today now more than ever because it’s a cliché, but I do think if anybody is going to make these invisible workers visible now is the time to do it.
Who are your target customers?
Anyone who has employees who are not necessarily working at a desk – so manufacturing, warehouses, restaurants, hospitality, call centres - with at least 50 employees, although 100 employees plus is our sweet spot, and we can go up to 1,000 employees.