A few months ago I was casually perusing Facebook and came across a link to a new startup company for women called Werk. The first thing I read on their website nearly knocked my socks off:
Work is not working for women. Exhaustion is not a status symbol. We can’t do it all or have it all in an environment that isn’t designed for our success. We founded this company because women want ambitious careers without compromising their outside obligations. We founded this company because businesses want access to the best, most motivated talent without spending a fortune. We can turn work into Werk. Join the movement.
I immediate hopped over to gmail and emailed the co-founders, Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean. I was their new No. 1 fan and I wanted them to know it. I’ve felt passionate about being a working mom ever since my daughter was born, but have always known something about the daily hustle we endure just isn’t right. It isn’t working.
Today’s Working Mom Wednesday is possibly my favorite to date, because I so admire Anna and Annie for recognizing the need for change in the workplace and doing something about it to empower working women. I am thrilled our paths crossed and encourage you to learn more about what these amazing working moms are doing!
Self-promo time. What is Werk?
Anna: We believe there’s more to work than the number of hours you spend hunched over a computer at the office, and we’re on a mission to redefine what success, career and achievement mean for women. Werk is a marketplace of flexible job opportunities. We feature flexible, senior level positions created in partnership with the best companies in the country and offer them exclusively to our community of 2000+ exceptionally talented women. We help companies better engage and retain a massively underutilized talent sector, and ultimately, we help more women rise to leadership.
You both had careers that ultimately led you to creating this business. What’s your background?
Annie: I spent six years in big law where I did billions of dollars in deal volume representing institutional lenders in transactions secured by real estate. Law was never the perfect fit for me because I wasn’t able to be creative or imaginative or solve big-picture problems that inspire me. But my legal background gave me the skill set to dive deeply into a problem. I find it so satisfying to understand all the sides of an argument and piece it together into the best possible solution.
Anna: My career has been driven by solving problems and making a difference. I worked at McKinsey & Co after undergrad – I loved the problem solving, but wanted a greater focus on social impact. After attending Harvard Business School, I solidified my love of business thinking in the context of social impact. I worked at The Bridgespan Group leading projects for major nonprofits and philanthropists, and then was the COO of a boutique philanthropy firm before launching this company with Annie.
What’s the biggest challenge working moms face?
Annie: Mindset. We need companies to rethink value, and how to create value. The workplace we know today was designed in the 1950’s when one parent was at home with the children. That isn’t the case any more. Not only do many women want full-time careers, but the economy necessitates dual-income households. There are so many other ways to create and demonstrate value than the number of hours that we sit at a desk. As working moms, we know that. But we need our companies and our leaders to learn that.
Tell me about an obstacle you had to overcome to launch Werk?
Annie: Founding and launching a startup is a huge leap of faith. We both left big jobs to start Werk, in favor of an uncertain future. That’s unsettling at any stage, but particularly when you’re mothering small children. It’s scary sometimes, but I think about advice from my husband who’s a competitive long-distance runner. He taught me to keep my eyes on the road. “Don’t look up, because the distance to the finish line is discouraging. Just look a few feet in front of you and keep moving forward.” You have to believe you’re on the right road, in the right race, and you have to have the discipline and the drive to keep running.
What is a typical day like for you?
Anna: There is no typical day! The only thing we can be sure of is that it will be messy, and involve coffee, diapers, and e-mail.
Annie: You know, we started this company 100% virtually. Anna was out West and I was in New York. We believe so deeply in the concept of redefining the rules work, we used it to build the foundation of our company. In fact, this summer is the first time we’re in the same place together. Six months ago, we barely knew each other and rarely connected in person. Today, we’re living with all our kids under one roof in a rented beach house that’s one part bad-ass business accelerator, one part insane summer daycare. Nothing is typical. No day is without a surprise or sidetrack, but we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
How have your professional goals changed since starting families of your own?
Anna: We have always been ambitious and driven. Having families didn’t change the size of our goals, but becoming mothers taught us how to be our most mature, most effective selves. Motherhood puts your professional goals in closer reach and will inspire you like nothing else, if you let it.
What’s your best advice for working moms?
Annie: Be gentle on yourself. Be ruthless about what matters. And have faith. This generation of women has so much to give. It is brimming with energy and talent. We will leave this world better than we started.
Finish this sentence. We definitely couldn’t survive each day without…
They say it takes a village. Who helps you with your kiddos?
Annie: Loving nannies, babysitters, grandmothers, godparents, teachers and friends. It’s a lot to be thankful for…and to coordinate!
I’m on a quest to having it all. Do you think you have it all?
Annie: For us, having it all means possessing the freedom to follow our dreams without abandoning our deep desire to be core members of our communities. We won’t have it all until we can live our lives as our whole selves, with enough space to work hard and love with commitment. We’re not there yet, but Werk gets us closer.
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