Like so many other women, Heather Manning put her job on hold to take care of her baby. She had been working in tech for several years, but she and her husband moved to North Carolina around the time she found out she was pregnant. She applied for several positions when they got settled, but didn't get any call backs. So she decided to stay home with her son, which she was, of course, thrilled to do.
After about 18 months, she was ready to return to work. But a two-and-a-half year gap in her resume — from her move, finishing up her master's degree, and having her son — was a sure-fire way to make employers cross her off the list. And the ones that did consider her wanted someone in the office.
"My dream was that I wanted to continue working for tech companies as I had been doing for several years, and it was appealing to me to be able to work from home," she said.
Manning lives in a suburb of Raleigh; she's fairly close to Research Triangle Park but commuting that far was unappealing. Those would be wasted hours away from her son. Then she found out about PowerToFly, which was started this year by her Dartmouth classmate Katharine Zaleski.
PowerToFly is a platform that's bridging the gap between companies who need more diversity in tech talent, and women in the US and around the world who are limited in their careers because of their geographical location or because they have families and need to work from home. But more than that, the startup is trying to convince companies that remote work is the future, and they just have to open up their policies to find the programming talent they need.
Manning got a job with Trove, a DC startup, doing community management. She does her monthly staff meetings and one-on-ones through Google Hangout, and has traveled to DC to meet the team face-to-face a couple of times. And the best part is that her son doesn't have to be in daycare for eight to 10 hours a day, and she feels like she gets the best of both worlds.
"It's an amazing opportunity to be part of companies that are not close by to us, and gives us more power in our own world, opens up more opportunities for us," Manning said. "I hope it's the way of the future."
PowerToFly was started by Zaleski and Milena Berry, two tech industry veterans who had experience with both flexible and inflexible remote work policies, particularly when they started having children.
Berry, who is from Bulgaria, had a positive experience leading an international, remote team. But she saw a "massive global problem," as women around the world were becoming more educated and part of the global workforce. There's now more skilled women than ever before, but remote work policies are still strict, particularly in the US.
Zaleski worked for Huffington Post, where remote work was encouraged, and the Washington Post, where she found it difficult to hire a tech team because of the in-office policy.
"I thought 'this is ridiculous,' I only have two choices in this world: start pulling out of a career or working 10 hours [every day]" to finish tasks at work, Zaleski said, which meant she was missing out on time with her children.
In the US, companies are often criticized for banning working from home, or making it difficult for employees, but the US has the worst maternity and paternity leave policies of any developed nation. According to the International Labour Organization, out of 185 countries, only two, the US and Papua New Guinea, don't have public policies for paid maternity leave.
PowerToFly is made for women who have experience in technology, but are finding it hard to get jobs because of location or inflexible work-from-home policies. So the first thing the founders did was hire talent managers to find women in these positions. Luckily, Berry said, it was apparent that there are many women, ready to work, and ready for this new way of working.
At the same time, they started talking to companies. Despite pushback from some, most have been ready and willing to embrace remote work policies. PowerToFly now connects women with jobs at media companies like Hearst, Buzzfeed, and Washington Post, as well as various tech companies as developers and engineers.
PowerToFly is seeing very high engagement among women around the world. They are also working with some international tech companies who want to get on board. They're getting great feedback, Zaleski said, for several reasons: the women applying already have experience in the industry, they're vetted through three rounds of interviews, and PowerToFly makes it easy for the companies. They help them try out relationships, and they handle all the billing. The employers receive one bill every month, which makes it simpler for them organizationally and economically.
"The solution [is] to make it really, really easy to place female talent," Zaleski said. "We don't want any barriers. We're sick of the excuses."
Bridging the gap
Theo Burry is a VP of engineering for Hearst, and uses PowerToFly to find great candidates for his global distributed team. He has also found candidates for design, quality assurance, and product development roles as well.
"The potential for the platform is to staff a complete team for a new digital product, with all members of the team distributed across timezones and locations. This allows for rapid experimentation on new products and it's a great alternative to the traditional office-based 9-to-5 type employment structure typically pursued by tech companies," he said.
Often he will assign tasks to the global team at the end of his business day in New York City, and already sees progress the next morning.
"I believe there's a lot to be learned from this model to capture more productive hours from each day," he said.
Berry and Zaleski are also both very passionate about the impact PowerToFly can have on the global economy. Women all over the world are using the site to find jobs with US companies. Some areas of growth are Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Berry said they are trying to get a foothold in developing nations as more people come online.
"Many studies have shown that the best way to help a society — and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa — is not by giving to humanitarian aids, it's by giving means and sustainable income in hands of middle class women, they know how to distribute the wealth," Berry said.
So many people focus on the global aspects of this platform, but it's just as critical to get women in the US to use PowerToFly. After all, the US is well known for its glaring workplace gender disparities, especially in the tech industry.
"With American talent especially, [many] women are not in city centers, not in Silicon Valley or [Silicon] Alley. It has to do with [several things] — they didn't move here right after college when tech scene was starting, it's expensive to move to New York unless you're lucky or recruited, or they have husbands who got better job offers [somewhere else]," Zaleski said.
Building a massive global network is another goal of PowerToFly. Berry and Zaleski work in New York, but their staff are located all over the world. Most are women, and almost half of them are mothers.
What excites both of them is that tech has enabled women in places like Africa to compete for a job with women in the US — but it's not taking anything away from American women. There are more than enough tech jobs to go around, and that growth will continue. The talent is out there, but many women need to work differently to reach that potential.
"[We want to] create a destination for women to not only go to find jobs but to find advice, connect with women, especially those working on similar projects," Berry said. "They're in their own environment [working at home], but at the same time you need a support network as well for these women."
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Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.