Gender inequality in the workforce stems from a number of complex sources, but a major one is the incompatibility between many women’s roles as caregivers and inflexible full-time work schedules. A new job search platform, Werk, is seeking to fix that — the website focuses only on flexible jobs. The hope is that, by giving women more flexibility in terms of when and where they work, more talented, capable women will stay in the workforce — which is good for both female employees and their employers.
Werk was created by Anna Auerbach, a former consultant, and Annie Dean, a lawyer, who recognized a gap between the structure of traditional workplaces and the needs of modern working parents, especially among women, who bear a disproportionate share of caregiving duties. “Leaning in is not enough if work environments remain stuck in the industrial era when families were managed by a stay-at-home parent,” Dean told Forbes. “These days men and women enter the workforce with equal ambitions and levels of education, but women are vastly underrepresented at every level in the leadership pipeline.”
Significant numbers of women leave the workforce when they have children. According to a 2016 study, 30 percent of women with BA’s stop working when they have kids, while 19 percent of women with master’s degrees and 26 percent of women without a BA leave the workforce. Research has shown that flexibility is key for a lot of female workers. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll, for example, found that 70 percent of working moms said that having a flexible work schedule is “extremely important” to them. Only 48 percent of working dads said the same.
One major hurdle for working parents is that, even at companies that do technically offer flexible working conditions, there is often a stigma against employees who actually take advantage of that flexibility. “Nobody wants to be the female in the department who says, ‘My kid threw up on me this morning; I can’t come in,’ ” Dean told The New York Times. “Eighty percent of companies say they offer flexibility, but it’s a black market topic. You raise it and you’re not taken seriously.”
Auerbach and Dean are attempting to address these issues through Werk, a job search platform that caters to jobs that offer flexibility. Job seekers can sort through jobs according to the different types of flexibility they offer, from jobs that allow employees to change their hours, to those that allow working remotely, to jobs the let them adjust their schedules quickly and “with no questions asked.” Because this flexibility is negotiated in advance, before the job is posted on Werk, potential employees don’t have to worry about the negative responses that questions about flexibility might earn them in other job-seeking situations.
Auerbach and Dean insist that allowing for flexibility is a benefit to employers as much as it is to employees, and research suggests that increased flexibility in the workplace lowers turnover, reduces work-family conflict, and increases job satisfaction. “We need to stop talking about flexibility as a lifestyle perk that's equal to a subsidized gym membership or free office snacks,” Dean remarked to Forbes. “Flexibility is a business imperative. It is a strategic solution to the chronic underrepresentation of women in leadership.”
A membership to Werk costs $48 per year. As The New York Times points out, the website currently seems to be aimed at a fairly narrow category of women — “highly educated and on a leadership track.” Hopefully, however, the course that Werk follows as it continues to grow will give valuable insight into how increased flexibility could benefit women throughout the labor force.