Women are opting out of the workforce in their droves after being forced to choose between career or care, but Annie Dean and Anna Auerbach may have come up with a solution. After witnessing first hand how a distinct lack of flexibility negatively impacted the careers of the talented women around them, the pair co-founded Werk, a new flexible, career-building job search platform.
“When I started my career, my incoming class was 50/50 men and women — but when I looked up, it was only 5% women at the very top. And that number hasn’t changed in the twelve years since I started my first job,” explains co-CEO Anna. “After graduating college, I read so many articles about women leaving the workforce and then I saw it first hand – my friends and colleagues grappling with the fact that they had no choice but to leave, because they couldn’t do anything less than 110%, and that simply doesn’t work when your base is a 16-hour day. But I also knew that these women were the most talented, ambitious, and credentialed people I’d ever met — so if they couldn’t make it work, who could?”
And, as Anna points out, she and her friends certainly aren’t alone. “Over 30% of the most talented women leave the workforce entirely after having children, but 70% would have kept working if they had flexibility. And yet, there is no job platform today that focuses on flexible, career-building work.”
Which is where Werk comes in; a “marketplace of flexible and ambitious work opportunities targeted to credentialed women” with Anne-Marie Slaughter on the advisory board. Although Werk functions much like a job board, their point of difference is discussing the topic of flexibility with every single employer they feature. This means that they have the awkward conversations about flexible working hours on our behalf so we know exactly how much flexibility the role can offer before we even apply.
“Flexibility has been treated like a lifestyle perk instead of a strategic talent acquisition, development, and retention solution that it is,” maintain the pair. “Flexibility isn’t just for women or mums — it’s something Millennials are clamouring for and something that most people need to thrive. Although our marketing is geared to women, we certainly don’t exclude men.”
Anna had been toying with the idea for Werk shortly before meeting Annie. “Having spent years as a strategy consultant, honestly, the first thing I did was question whether there really was an opportunity,” explains the Harvard Business School alumni, who did this by reading every article about women and work she could get her hands on, mapping the landscape, and researching comparable business models. “What I found was that there were multitudes of job sites focused on women and work, yet none were solving the structural problem.”
It was around this time that a mutual friend asked if Anna would mind talking to her friend Annie as she was at a career crossroads. “So in the midst of a busy job, a toddler, and this start-up idea, I took this call,” recalls Anna. “After 30 minutes of discussing career options, I suddenly blurted out my idea about a job board focused on flexible, leadership-track work. I hadn’t shared this with anyone except my husband. Annie immediately fell love with the idea and we took off 100 miles an hour writing a business plan, building financial models, and recruiting advisors.”
Anna and Annie spent much of the following year testing the model and raising funding. However, it wasn’t until they cold emailed Anne-Marie Slaughter – an international lawyer and former senior aide to Hillary Clinton – that they really knew they were onto something. “Not only did she answer the email, but she offered to meet with us,” explains Anna.
Although their objective is to keep talented women in the workforce through flexible, advancement-track work, Anna and Annie note that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to out perform their peers while companies with female leaders generally offer better working conditions. “We firmly believe that if we have better representation at the top, a lot of other issues we battle today in the U.S — like affordable childcare, maternity leave, health care, reproductive rights—will be better addressed and maybe even no longer the controversial issues they are today.”