Annie Dean (above left) and Anna Auerbach (above right) were strangers living on opposite coasts when they quit their high-powered careers to change the world together.
Connected by a mutual friend over a call that was rescheduled three times, Annie, a “recovering corporate real estate attorney,” and Anna, an immigrant from Kiev who went to Harvard Business School before becoming a McKinsey consultant and social impact COO, bonded over working-mother worries. Though they could have commiserated and carried on with business as usual, they decided instead to disrupt the outdated system.
That’s how Werk was born. The service pre-screens for leadership-track, career-advancing jobs with built-in flexibility so that women don’t have to ramp down, opt out or never see their families. The 600+ openings listed come from the likes of HBO, Deloitte and MM.LaFleur.
“Employees no longer work standard hours in a single space with one parent at home,” reads Werk’s manifesto. “We cannot parent like we don’t have jobs and work like we don’t have children. Flexibility is the highest-impact, lowest-cost tool companies can use to optimize their workforce.” Maybe that’s why Fast Company recognized Werk as one of the Top 11 Innovations That Made Women’s Lives Better in 2017.
Since our mission at Bare Necessities is to lift women up, we’re firmly in favor of Anna and Annie’s script-flipping vision. Read on for how these friends are advocating for women in the workforce on a mass scale. Thanks to them, more of us will be able to “have it all” in the not-so-distant, female-led future.
Q: When did you realize you’d reached the breaking point in your careers, and how did you get from “there’s got to be a better way” to launching Werk?
Annie: I spent six years as an attorney, and when I had my second child it became clear that my career was not going to be compatible with my life. Like many ambitious women in my position, I thought if I just worked harder or was more organized, I should have been able to make it work. Realizing it was the structure of work that was broken, not me, was my breakthrough moment. When I was on maternity leave, I called my friends and said, “Introduce me to the smartest women you know.” One set me up with Anna and, within a few weeks, we had a business model and started recruiting advisors.
Anna: I had been sitting on the idea for Werk for about a year before I was introduced to Annie. I was balancing a very demanding job and an 18-month-old child and saw no solution for me or my peers caught between our professional ambition and motherhood, and I knew that structured flexibility was the answer.
Q: What flextime or, in Werk lingo,”Flexiverse” styles do you rely on to get your work done?
Annie: I use TimeShift™ to be able to drop my son at school every morning and put my kids to bed most nights. I’m back online in the evening and for blocks on the weekend. TimeShift isn’t about working fewer hours; it’s just about switching the hours you’re working to be more compatible with your life.
Anna: I use DeskPlus™, partial location independence, to optimize my thinking time and productivity, and I use MicroAgility™ to step away during the day in small increments to accommodate the unexpected.
“Gift your talents and superpowers to a company that values flexibility and diversity”
Q: What’s the main thing you want to say to women making their way up that corporate ladder?
Annie: For many women in corporate environments, the executive teams are male-dominated, and this lack of diversity results in work structures that don’t reflect the realities of modern life. Lack of flexibility disproportionately narrows women’s path to leadership, so it’s a cyclical issue, but leaders can exist at any rung in an organization. You can be a champion for diversity by arming yourself with the business case for flexibility, and ultimately choosing to gift your talents and superpowers to a company that values flexibility and diversity.
Q: What drives you? How did you learn to get comfortable with failure and risk-taking?
Annie: My family drives me personally and professionally. They’re the motivation behind my work every day.
Anna: What drives me is leaving the world a little bit better than how I found it. Making changes in the world—big changes—isn’t easy. But once I realized the structure of work wasn’t working for people, I couldn’t sit idly by. I knew I needed to fix it.
“The Millennial mom thought she was living in a post-feminist world…and she realizes this isn’t true when she has children”
Q: What does the Millennial mom want that’s different from previous generations?
Annie: The Millennial mom thought she was living in a post-feminist world where she could do and have it all, and she realizes this isn’t true when she has children. Balance takes constant effort, so it’s not our favorite term. I can’t speak for all Millennial moms, but I know ambitious women who enjoy their work, and their professional identities are closely tied to their happiness and overall life satisfaction. This woman, quite simply, wants a life-compatible job.
Q: What would you say to executives who believe you must plant yourself behind a desk for eight or ten hours a day to prove your commitment?
Anna: Flexibility is commonly misunderstood today to be a lifestyle perk or an implication that you’re not “all in” on your job. Research shows us that employees with flexible schedules are more effective, more productive and less likely to quit.
Annie: The word “flexibility” is inherently subjective, so we speak specifically to “structured flexibility,” which initially sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s about restructuring work to have flexibility baked in with clear, agreed-upon terms and protocols to ensure high compatibility between the employee and the employer, as well as clear communication and expectations.
Q: Wherever we work, how can we help bring about more flexibility?
Anna: It’s important to know what kind of flexibility is important to you. We came up with the Flexiverse™, which has six predefined types of flexibility designed to enhance communication and remove the highly personal, emotionally-charged nuances from the conversation. Reflect on what’s going to help you be the best version of yourself at work. Will being location-independent allow you to accomplish more? Then perhaps DeskPlus™ is for you. If you thrive in the collaborative environment of an office but need to come in later due to personal obligations and can work an hour later, look into TimeShift™. Present your case as a business-first negotiation: How will this increase your productivity and your organization’s bottom line? We’re constantly building new resources for employees and employers. FlexCert is our flexibility training and certification e-course that both employers and employees can take to launch structured flexibility initiatives.
“Flexibility is what allows us to integrate work and life”
Q: In what ways does flexibility change the old model of keeping work and life completely separate?
Anna: The old paradigm of compartmentalizing who we are personally and professionally is not the reality for Millennials, and flexibility is what allows us to integrate work and life in a way that’s more sustainable.
Q: What does empowerment mean to you?
Annie: Empowerment means having the opportunity to see your values come to life through hard work.
Anna: Empowerment means living your life on your terms.
Q: What’s next for Werk, and for women in the workforce?
Anna: We have a long road ahead of trying to change structures that have been around since the Post-Industrial era. Once work structures better reflect the needs of modern society, we can get a more diverse set of leaders who can then change policies and programs, and I think we will see a more equitable world.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ANNA & ANNIE
Annie: There’s no problem that can’t be solved.
Anna: Fortune favors the bold.
Annie: Extra childcare on the weekends so that I can rest.
Dream job as a kid
Annie: President of the United States.
Anna: Marine biologist.
Annie: I’m a singer!
Anna: I’m a repository of life hacks.
Annie: Advocating for children with special needs.
Anna: Bringing positive change.
Best way to relax
Favorite vacation destination
Annie: East Hampton.
Anna: Anyplace that takes me out of my comfort zone.
Favorite TV show
Annie: Lately, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Anna: Battlestar Galactica.
Annie: Turtlenecks and flats.
Anna: Leopard, studs or sparkles.
Annie: Heart eyes all the way.
Anna: Crying laughing face.
Anna: Every peak casts a shadow.
Anna: Not launching my own business sooner.
Annie: Snuggling with my kids and getting to work on projects I really care about.
Anna: Seeing the world through my son’s eyes.
Secret to living a great life
Anna: Be honest about what you like versus what you like the idea of.
In a word
Do you know a potential Power Figure who belongs on our radar? Pitch us at [email protected].
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, travel and her exceptionally adorable daughter and husband.