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How One Startup Is Breaking The Work-From-Home Taboo For Moms

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  June 11, 2015 | Focus on Women, Home and Family, Business and Careers

By Lisa Wirthman

As many as one billion women could enter the workforce in the next decade. One female-led startup wants to convince them to stay. Launched in 2014, PowerToFly helps women—who are often penalized for being mothers—find jobs that value their productivity over hours logged in the office.

PowerToFly matches women around the world with positions they can do remotely. The startup wants to change the nature of work for women by freeing them from the constrictions of a 9-to-5 schedule and allowing them to set the hours that work best for their lives.

“The most beautiful thing about remote work is that we focus on the work, so it’s a major equalizer for women,” said PowerToFly co-founder and president Katharine Zaleski.

Before Zaleski had her first child in 2013, she was a tough critic of working mothers, believing that they were less committed to their work. After Zaleski’s daughter was born, however, her perspective changed dramatically.

“I felt like I had been blown off the planet,” she said. “Physically I felt like my life had changed, and it would be very, very hard for me to go back to work in six weeks and nurse around the clock.”

Zaleski felt trapped between two choices: going back to work and never seeing her daughter, or staying home and losing ground on the 11-year investment she had made in her career. “I know it’s not that black and white, but that was my feeling,” she said.

When Zaleski’s friend Milena Berry approached her with the idea to start PowerToFly, Zaleski realized that remote work provided a third option that would enable mothers to remain in the workforce and still prioritize family. Berry is now co-founder and chief executive officer at the startup.

Flexible hours and schedules allow mothers to succeed in the workforce without being penalized for skipping after-work happy hours or leaving at 5 p.m. to pick up kids from daycare, said Zaleski.

But businesses benefit as well. Flexible schedules and remote work gives companies an opportunity to tap into a broader and more diverse talent pool. That includes mothers who would otherwise stay at home as well as women around the globe who live in remote areas far from big cities.

Today, all of the tools exist for remote work, said Berry.

“Just 10 years ago, our concept wouldn’t have worked as well because the technology wasn’t there,” she said. “Now we’re so lucky to live in the days of connectedness.”

What’s more, a study from Bentley University shows that a full 77 percent of Millennials (with or without kids) believe flexible working hours will make them more productive at work. In fact, a 2013 study published by Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor, showed that employees working from home put in nearly one extra workday a week. They also had half the amount of turnover as workers in the office and reported higher satisfaction with their jobs. Plus, the company saved money on office resources.

“It’s not just about culture change,” said Berry. “It’s also about the business bottom line for the company.”

Although PowerToFly started by matching women with technical employers around the globe, the company now places women in a variety of industries, from legal to sales to virtual health care. The company aims to facilitate matches in any industry in which an interested candidate is seeking work.

“It’s really just a demand-based marketplace,” Zaleski said. “We don’t want to hold any women back, so we don’t turn any women down.”

So far, the company has processed more than $2 million in paychecks for women working from home all over the world. As a long-term goal, the company hopes to not only place women in jobs, but to also create a social platform where they can network with other women in their industry, Zaleski said.

As the company grows, PowerToFly encourages women with children to embrace motherhood and help demonstrate that mothers can be equally productive professionally.

“We encourage women to post photos of their kids and not hide who they are in their personal lives,” said Berry, a mother of three. “The whole concept is that we want to inspire a whole new generation out there to say, ‘This is who we are and how we get work done.’”

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.

Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy, and women’s issues. Her work has been published in The Atlantic.com, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.

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