It's long been an issue for women whereby stringent work hours cuts off a path to leadership because of extenuating life circumstances. Co- Founders and CEOs Annie Dean and Anna Auerbach of new job platform Werk talked to SWAAY about the necessity of their business for females looking for flexible job hours.
Women, whether they're mothers or not, are seeking a way to diversify the work-week model that's been in place for centuries, set up by men. Looking for flexi hours in order to facilitate side hustles, house maintenance or any other activity they may have a proclivity for, women often times leave the job market before they are ready to, just because they find the company culture and long hours counterproductive. Dean, herself, had struggled to find her place in a big law firm after becoming pregnant at 27, and Auerbach migrated from McKinsey to a non-profit after she saw that only 5 percent of leadership positions were held by women. The pair recognized the need for something different in the workplace, something that would allow for a dual life, and thus, Werk was born. Wit the goal of united flex-minded employees with companies of the same ilk, Werk allows women access to this flexible jobs universe and an insight into how the work week might look in the future.
1. You describe Werk as a new type of job "marketplace." Can you explain specifically what it is and why it's needed in today's world?
Unlike traditional job boards, Werk is the only marketplace that exclusively features real, career-building opportunities all with pre-negotiated flexibility. Using our Flexiverse, Werkforce members can filter their job search by six types of flexibility so they know upfront if the position is compatible with their lives. Not only does our platform reduce a major pain point during the job search, but it also normalizes the conversation around flexibility and eliminates the bias many job seekers, especially women, often feel during the interview and hiring process.
Why flexibility? After looking at every piece of data on women in the workplace, we determined that flexibility is the easiest, most cost effective way to retain women, advance them to positions of leadership over time, and ultimately close the leadership gap.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of women who leave the corporate workforce actually want to stay—of the 30% of women who drop out, 70% say they would have kept working if they had access to flexibility.
Workplace structures were created a long time ago, before women were part of the equation. In today's global economy, it no longer makes sense for employees to work at in a single location for static hours. Though men are certainly impacted by the lack of access to flexibility (and we welcome them on Werk), it disproportionately disadvantages women—especially mothers and caregivers. Women make up 47 percent of people entering the corporate workforce (and 59 percent of college-educated people entering the overall workforce), yet only 5 percent of CEOs are women. Massive attrition among women is happening before they're advancing to senior and executive-level positions. For years, the narrative has remained largely the same: women should be more ambitious, work harder, advocate more, learn better negotiation skills, find a mentor, and so on. Other arguments suggest that male-dominated offices simply aren't ready to embrace and promote female leaders. While providing mentorship programs and working to combat gender bias are worthy initiatives, they alone cannot close the leadership gap.
Werk is needed in today's world because flexibility is a key part of closing the leadership gap. Without it, millions of talented women will continue failing for a completely arbitrary—and totally fixable—reason.
Annie Dean, Co-Founder and CEO of Werk
2. How much does it cost to be part of Werk? What do you get? Why is it better than say, LinkedIn or working with a traditional recruiter?
Our annual Werkforce membership costs $48. Werkforce members get unlimited access to our platform and can apply to as many jobs as they want, all of which have pre-negotiated flexibility. Unlike LinkedIn and recruiting services, Werk is the only place where flexibility is included right within the job description. We also have a number of exciting features and enhancements in the pipeline that we think our members are going to love.
3. What is the business structure of Werk? Can you speak about investors?
Werk is a two-sided marketplace. We work with companies who pay $499 for a 90-post listing, and with job seekers who pay $48 for an annual membership. Earlier this year, we closed $1 million in funding from five VC firms, and we plan to raise another round before the end of the year.
4. Who is your target consumer? Can you speak about his/her needs in terms of employment today?
Although our marketing is geared predominantly towards women, we welcome both male and female job seekers with about four to six years' experience. While many of our members are parents or caregivers, as they often feel the greatest need for flexibility, our Werkforce is extremely diverse.
5. As a writer I've noticed almost no in-house editors anymore. Everyone seems to be working freelance. Given your expertise and vantage point, where do you see the job market going in the future?
The world has divided itself into “freelance" and “traditional full-time." But the reality is that freelance doesn't work for everyone, and traditional full-time doesn't work for everyone. They are two ends of the spectrum, and both models tend to disadvantage our demographic. So we created a new kind of work, that falls right in the middle of the two. Flexibility is a regular job with modifications that increase compatibility between the needs of the employee and the objective of the employee. While we understand that gigs and project-based jobs work for many women, we have chosen to focus on career-building opportunities in order to advance and retain a diverse workforce.
6. Can you explain what the Flexiverse is? What does it facilitate?
I'll bet everyone reading this article has a different idea about what flexibility means. So we standardized it. The Flexiverse is our proprietary framework of flexibility—we offer six types of flexibility that range from things you'll recognize right away like “remote" to totally new concepts like “microagility" (an environment that allows you to make micro adjustments to your schedule on an ad hoc basis, no questions asked). Every job description has at least one element of the Flexiverse, and users can use the Flexiverse to search for jobs.
7. It's clear how more flexibility benefits the worker, but why should corporations get behind this movement? What is in it for them? A posting is $499, according to your website, so why do companies choose to use Werk rather than say, a free job listing site?
We like to say that we provide the results of a recruiter for the price of a job board. Our Werkforce is made up of some of the nation's most talented and credentialed men and women, all of whom are serious about advancing in their careers. An employer won't find the same level of service and quality on any other job board.
Employees with flexibility are happier, more productive, and less likely to leave. Perhaps unsurprisingly, companies with meaningful numbers of women in leadership improve by every metric, and gender diverse organizations are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers. Women-led companies tend to have better working conditions and fewer layoffs. And studies estimate that closing the corporate gender gap could boost the U.S. economy by a $2.1 trillion.
To prioritize the needs of female employees is to prioritize the needs of an entire organization—and the world.
Anna Auerbach, Co-Founder and CEO of Werk
8. Can you tell us about your current members and employee partners? About how large is your community? What types of industries do you cover?
We're drawn to forward-thinking companies and workplaces that already have or are in the process of embracing a culture of flexibility, like Buffer and Samsung NEXT. We also look for companies with huge growth potential that would benefit from a more diverse, flexible workforce. And when we come across companies that haven't yet embraced flexibility, we like to educate them on our mission and how it could help and enhance their business objectives over time.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.