Taking on new challenges and experiences can be enriching. Co-Founder and CEO of Hoppin, Bilyana Freye, is a big believer in experiential and multi-disciplinary learning. In fact, Freye is a product of all of her experiences. “From a very young age I’ve always loved new beginnings,” she begins. “It’s so terrifying but ultimately so rewarding and exhilarating.”
Job shadowing is one of many opportunities that anyone can take part in, especially if you feel like you need a change of pace in your work-life, or want to try something new. Freye and Luuk Derksen, Co-Founder, and CTO are on a mission to empower people to find a career they love. Hoppin is a New York-based shadowing marketplace. Hoppers (those that shadow) can try different jobs with no commitment for a short period of time.
Bilyana Freye, The Hudson Yards. Photo Courtesy of Freye.
There is a range and breadth of experiences that Hoppers have had. An engineer shadowed a jewelry designer for a day to explore life as a creative. A former accountant spent two days at an experiential marketing agency in search of her passion. A female angel investor was interested in the cannabis space and shadowed a Founder of a cannabidiol (CBD) beauty brand. There are many opportunities one can take on. Freye is very experienced in the realm of job shadowing. Originally from Bulgaria, she moved to the U.K. on scholarship when she was a teenager. She stayed in the U.K. for 14 years and graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, her job search led her to take on a role in risk management at The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). “The only divisions hiring were in risk-management [and] I was really grateful to have that job,” she beings. “I [just] realized it was a really bad fit.” She took this unfortunate situation, flipped it and made it into a networking opportunity. She asked a private banker if she could shadow him in a department that seemed like a better fit. “I’ll never forget it. He took me along to two meetings and I loved the adrenaline.” She instinctively knew that she wanted to work for that branch of the company. “Everything was a lot more fluid and energetic and I just instinctively knew I should be there,” she says.
After one day of shadowing, they created a new role and hired her. “I was there for five years,” she exclaims. “This massively changed my career trajectory within the same bank.” The shadowing got her working at Coutts, a well-known British private bank owned by RBS. “I was working with U.K.’s top high net worth entrepreneurs and still, I wanted to test my hand at different industries and fully explore my potential,” she says. Her impact in the company didn’t stop there. She implemented these shadowing opportunities between bankers. “These internal job shadowing schemes really increased empathy, remove stereotypes and increase deal flow,” she comments. Through her perspective, spending the day with someone provides the opportunity to really step into his or her shoes and see what they go through on a day-to-day basis.
Her career didn’t stop at the bank. Freye continued to challenge herself, through the realm of shadowing. This driven entrepreneur was selected to take part in “The Apprentice” show in the U.K. while she was employed by RBS. Even though she remembers the experience feeling extreme, it was the only way for her to try her hand in different industries and jobs back to back. This remarkable woman wanted to fully explore her potential. “I’m really living my truth and that was discovered through experiences,” she admits. “There’s no better way to know if something is right for you if you don’t experience it. It’s been 10 years in the making of knowing how powerful job shadowing is.” We may have unlimited information at our fingertips, even at the touch of a button, but Freye concludes that nothing prepares you for how the right fitting job will feel until you experience it.
A NEW CHAPTER
A few years ago, Freye and her husband wanted to start their new lives, as a family, with an adventure. Never living in America before, they decided to move to New York. “It was a symbolic move for me; a couple of months after my 30th birthday and a wedding,” she says. “After seven years in finance I took a hard look at my life and thought ‘Is this really what I want to do?’” Freye felt like she should find a job that made her energetic and enthusiastic. It led her to the tech industry and working for a company called Decoded, which teaches people how to collaborate with technology.
“I felt like I should experience a change; Tech is underpinning our generation and it’s affecting [many] industries,” she emphasizes. “I moved from a large corporate [job] to a small tech startup.” She remembers feeling how exciting and daunting it would be. “When I did the big move from finance to tech, I couldn’t help but think ‘what if I could have shadowed again?’ and ‘why doesn’t it exist?’”. A piece of her felt there was still so much more to discover. She met Derksen at Decoded. The second time founders ended up bonding over the importance of finding the right job, the right fit. “Job shadowing is the best thing since sliced bread,” she laughed. “It can help college students figure out what they should go in to; it could help experienced professionals just like me; it can help baby boomers stay relevant by trying out this intimidating world of startups.”
“There’s no better way to know if something is right for you if you don’t experience it," Freye exclaims. "It’s been 10 years in the making of knowing how powerful job shadowing is.”
What makes Hoppin unique is how affordable the shadowing experiences are and how it benefits both the Hoppers and the hosts. “We wanted a new take of the word ‘hopping,’” she explains. Job-hopping can be seen as negative but Freye emphasizes it’s necessary to find what you’re looking for, to embrace something new. “Time is the most valuable thing we all have,” she continues. “Taking five days to try five different jobs is one of the most efficient things that you can do when you’re looking for [your] next passion or purpose.”
“If you’re passionate about what you do and are looking to share your craft and experiences, host” Freye advises. Hosts that take part in this shadowing experience maximize their exposure, earn something extra and get a fresh perspective. “The hosts get to meet pre-screened, talented individuals who are proactively exploring their next move,” she explains. “There are different benefits to different types of hosts.” A bond can be created between host and Hopper. “Being able to share that passion with someone that’s curious about what they do is very beneficial,” she goes on. The feedback she received from hosts is positive, as they enjoy helping others. In addition to the revenue, Freye explains how hosts can bring Hoppers along on their business journey, meet new talent and get a fresh perspective from people that value the experience and the business. “So many people that I speak to are actually job switchers [and] a lot of them are ex-finance, ex-lawyers, ex-engineers,” she admits. “They wish [they] could have shadowed someone.” She is passionate about helping others discover their talent.
“All of our shadowers today have been women, and a huge portion of them have been minority women,” she states. “It’s such a positive, amazing experience.” Hoppers pay an average of $150 a day to go shadow. Out of several shadowing success stories, one stuck out in particular. An angel investor wanted to learn more about the cannabis space by immersing herself in the business. The day she shadowed the Founder of a cannabidiol (CBD) beauty brand, nothing went as planned. “The Angel investor loved the experience,” Freye shares. “For the investor, it was really interesting to see all the battles we fight and all the problems we have to solve as entrepreneurs day in and day out.” The challenges threw off the day planned, but the experience was more authentic.
Team Hoppin (Co-Founder's Bilyana Freye and Luuk Derksen). Photo Courtesy of Freye.
Freye describes the community of Hoppers as being outgoing. “The people that do it [are] a very self-selecting group,” she says. “They’re very, sociable, intellectually curious, positive, outgoing women.” A majority of industries are still predominantly male. Hoppin helps deconstruct this problem in many ways. “There are still too many industries that are male-dominated; we still see dreadful statistics about that and a lot of companies are trying to change but it’s a slow process,” she says. Freye offers a powerful, bold suggestion to the men asking what they can do. “My answer to them is, sign up to be shadowed. “It is such a real, tangible solution. Anyone can sign up, and do it. Bring in an amazing woman to work, and show her what her future could look like,” she concludes. A lot of the shadowing opportunities turn into mentorships with the host afterward.
Freye has many plans in store for Hoppin. In fact, she is one of three entrepreneurs that won the Uber x Girlboss competition last month. The competition's goal is to empower startups with financial support, mentorship and resources. Hoppin came in second place with a prize of $65,000. Freye is extremely grateful for their backing of Hoppin's vision. In addition to the recent win, she also looks forward to launching several more locations in the future, and hopefully expanding to colleges and universities.
This Co-Founder is real, authentic, and truthful. She understands the difficulties behind starting something new -- and she wants our Swaay audience to know. “Starting your business or quitting your job is a really highly stressful thing,” she begins. “It’s a big life commitment [and] my advice would be to start small.” Even for those that aren’t considering switching their jobs and just want to learn something new, Hoppin is a resource for that as well. “It can be a slow process, as long as you’re taking action and putting yourself out there,” Freye continues. “In the long run, I see [Hoppin] as the Airbnb for work.”
“From a very young age I’ve always loved new beginnings,” Freye says. “It’s so terrifying but ultimately so rewarding and exhilarating.”
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."