The co-founders and co-CEOs of Werk share what they’ve learned.
“I read articles about having it all, and I didn’t connect to them,” says Anna Auerbach, co-founder and co-CEO of Werk. “To me, success is more about finding what you’re passionate about and combining that with your family and your life outside of work.” After working at fast-paced consulting firm McKinsey and getting a business degree from Harvard, Anna decided to take her strategic problem-solving skills to Bridgespan Group, a non-profit consulting firm. There, she was able to continue working at a high level while putting her now-two-and-a-half-year-old first. “Instead of leaning in, I leaned sideways and found a passion that allowed me to prioritize my family early on,” she says, “but so many of my friends did not.”
Her partner, Annie Dean, for example, worked in Big Law after graduating from Fordham Law School. In spite of the long hours and high pressure, Annie stayed at the same real estate law firm for three years, where she was involved in billions of dollars in transactions. Then, at 27, she got pregnant. “The law firm didn’t know how to handle me because they were used to women waiting to have kids until after they’d paved a clear path to partnership,” she says. “They saw my pregnancy as a lack of commitment. The environment changed for me, and I wasn’t able to be successful there—I ultimately had an emotional fallout before moving on to a much nicer law firm and having a second child.”
She was startled by the challenges she faced at her first law job. “No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t gain any traction,” she says. “I couldn’t be a better mother and I couldn’t be a better employee. All of my energy was being wasted.” It made her wonder what needed to change at the top level to create roles for skilled women with other obligations, like motherhood.
Annie and Anna came up with a solution—a platform called Werk that connects women to flexible, career-building jobs. “We want women to be able to create an alternative path to leadership,” says Annie. “It’s the future of work.” Annie and Anna operate as co-CEO’s of the company, which allows them to use their knowledge and skills, while still making their families a priority; their shared executive role is the exact type of opportunity they hope to provide for Werk users.
They shared their advice on advocating for your own flexible work structure and making it work—for you and for your organisation.
Be yourself at work
It’s okay to admit that you’re a mother at work. It’s okay to be your full self at work. Maybe your son has a lot of doctor’s appointments so you’re unavailable one day a week—it’s okay to say that. We’re not going to get anywhere, unless we can be honest about who we are, and we see motherhood as an extremely positive thing. It’s not only acceptable to be a mum at work; it’s something to be celebrated. Mothers build relevant skills that they can bring to work. We’re expert negotiators, and it’s not because Annie is an attorney, it’s because we have toddlers.
Do your due diligence
A lot of companies still don’t allow job shares, but it’s doable at innovative, small companies because it’s easier to change policies there. Before you approach your company’s senior leaders about role-sharing, do your research. Determine potential partners (with whom you could share your responsibilities) within your organisation. Talk about how the company can benefit and tell your manager specifically how you plan to make it work. Think about your meeting schedule and your project load, and make your proposition to your bosses in terms that make business sense for them. Assure them that you’ll exceed the company’s goals for the particular role, and bring a robust plan for how you intend to do so.
We both have small children, and we couldn’t physically do this on our own—there’s so much ground to cover every day. We have to be open about the hours that we’re able to work and be as communicative as possible. That way, there’s no thread lost, because we understand each other’s schedules and support each other’s priorities.
Use the tools available to you
We actively use Slack to stay in touch and Google Drive to share files. We share our to-do lists so we can see what we’re both working on and even annotate each other’s lists. We have a robust shared calendar where we can see each other’s family obligations and schedule accordingly.
Divide and conquer based on your individual strengths
Understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so that you can split your work in a way that’s going to be the most effective and efficient. We have complimentary skill sets and similar work styles, so we’re always able to take over each other’s work if something comes up. We recognise what each of us is good at and where we each need help. With all of that considered, we’re able to create a strong, shared skill set without either of us wasting our time on things we’re not best suited to do.
Determine what you’re each responsible for
We each bring something unique to the table. We decided early on which one of us would be responsible for making decisions in each area of the company. We’re doing so at a high level, saying, “Here are all of the functions our business will engage in,” and identifying a leader for each of them.
Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo
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