Why does Corp America hate mom? I mean mom's are the best but they usually get the short end of the stick when it comes to career advancement. Then COVID comes along and we all start to understand the trials and tribulations of balancing a house, work, and life much like working mothers have since... FOREVER.
Mom's already had cred, but this is a new kind of cred complete with a new world type of balance, management, and leadership. Plus a need for equal hiring practices and top talent... Enter The Mom Project who hopes to invigorate and balance the market. The Chad and Cheese have a chat with CEO and founder Allison Robinson to check on the current state of moms in the workforce, the impact of COVID, governments role and much more.
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Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese Podcast.
Joel (1m 4s):
All right. All right. All right. What's up everybody? This is Joel Cheesman, co-host of the Chad and Cheese Podcast. And I am joined as always by Mr. Chad Sowash. Chad, how are you?
Chad (1m 41s):
I'm doing great, man. Hello.
Joel (1m 43s):
And today we're giddy. I think we're giddy and smitten too. Welcome Allison Robinson. Easy for me to say. CEO and founder of The Mom Project. Has there been a more friendly company name than The Mom Project? I already have visions of cookies and a warm blanket before I start the interview process.
Chad (1m 41s):
That's totally sexist. I can make cookies.
Joel (1m 45s):
I have already offended our guest and she hasn't said one word. That is just awful.
Chad (1m 50s):
You offended me, sir. You offended me.
Joel (1m 54s):
Sorry, mom. Allison, welcome to the show if you're still there.
Allison (1m 56s):
Yeah, it's great to be here.
Joel (1m 58s):
Chad (1m 59s):
Excellent. I would jump into this real quick. You're in Cincinnati now, and you spent some time in Boston and Cincinnati. You currently live in Chicago, but you spent seven years at P&G, at Procter & Gamble. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Tell us a little bit about that. And then, if you could, just kind of flow right into how The Mom Project came about and WerkLabs.
Allison (2m 28s):
Yeah, absolutely. I was actually at P&G a bit longer.
Allison (3m 27s):
I interned with them for two years while still in school, and then joined the company full-time when I graduated in June 2009. And it was a really fun ride there. I started out in sales. My first job there was actually in Charlotte, North Carolina, servicing one of our retail customers down there, Harris Teeter. I love that job. I loved getting to know customers, really learning how to sell. From there I moved to Boston, until finally making it back to Cincinnati, where I had the opportunity to work on the Pampers innovation team for North America, which is where I really became so fascinated by the mom segment. And in that job, I was getting to spend a lot of time in homes with moms, understanding how technology was changing consumer behavior.
Chad (3m 35s):
Pampers innovation. I can't even start to understand what the hell that means. What does that actually mean? What's the mission of Pampers innovation?
Joel (3m 39s):
We'll know in about 20 years, Chad.
Allison (5m 8s):
If you have used diapers and purchased the category in a while, they're not fully idiot proof yet. Sometimes they still leak. So we had to continue making that core product better. And also at P&G Innovations spans beyond product to also what we call commercial innovation, so how are we reaching consumers in new ways, as well as product innovation. I oversaw some interesting work during my time there. We were looking at moving from corrugated boxes to bags to be more eco-friendly. So innovation kind of spanned the gamut between product, consumer packaging, etc. It was a really fun job and I really just became so inspired by moms. I saw these moms wake up at four in the morning to put themselves through online schooling, to be able to build a better future for their families. We all love our moms, right? And I went on maternity leave from that job. I had my son, Asher, who just turned five, and read that over 40% of American women leave the workforce after becoming moms. To me I saw that you've got this incredible pool of amazing women who want to keep working, but priorities shift and work needs to look a little bit different.
Chad (5m 16s):
So that was 40%, they permanently leave the workforce or they leave the workforce for like a span of three to five years?
Allison (5m 42s):
Exactly. I believe that specific stat for a period of time, which could be up to five or so years. As a new mom myself I was really looking for a product like The Mom Project that could help me find work that was really compatible with family. And so very much born out of my own need and desire to have something like this that existed.
Joel (5m 54s):
How did it start? Talk us through the early days of the company. I think you're around four or five years old if I read that right. And you guys did some money raising and all that good stuff. Talk us through the early days to now.
Allison (7m 41s):
My son literally just turned five last month. The company, I started working on it when he was two, three months old. And it was nothing fancy at all. I was just sort of doing some market research. I understood why this was a need for moms, but really I knew for the company to be a business it had to work for companies. I did a lot of kind of market research. I started talking to anybody who would speak with me, small business owners particularly, to say, "Hey, if you could tap into this highly skilled workforce that wants to work flexibly, but in return can do great things for you, is that of interest?" And it all came back pretty confirmatory. Kind of my first big project was getting a site up and running. I hired an agency out of New York. They built me a site. And when we launched we actually had the Chicago Tribune featured us on the front page of their business section before I was like prepared. And so it just feels like we've been sort of building the plane as we're flying it for the last five years. My husband actually joined me full time as things were really taking off, but I really struggled to raise financial capital early on. So he, and I really put everything into the business because we saw what a big opportunity it was in front of us. So we kind of self-funded, bootstrapped it for the first couple of years, then decided to bring on some outside capital in 2018. And then I've gone on to raise both in series A and series B round. Every year has looked so different. It's been really fun.
Joel (7m 43s):
A little over 35 million, correct?
Allison (7m 47s):
Joel (7m 51s):
That's a chunk of change. Good for you.
Allison (7m 51s):
The growth that we've seen in our customers is because moms are that exceptional. And so it's been really fun to kind of figure out how to make it work for these large enterprise organizations and small businesses. But every year has felt so different, but like in the best types of ways.
Chad (8m 38s):
On the website it says, connecting our community of 300,000 talented women with jobs that employers that respect work and life integration. Now before COVID this was the big topic. Now it's turned into a standard discussion for everyone. Really, who knew balancing kids and work would be such a big deal, right? Mediocre white guys, it wasn't a problem for them. Are moms accumulating major cred now during this time for this experience?
Allison (9m 39s):
I think there's more of an acknowledgement. Certainly moms have always understood how hard this is, but I do think men are seeing it. They're at home. And so I think that there is recognition for how hard it is to be a working mom, a working parent. And so I'm starting to see a lot more compassion in the workplace and kind of more acknowledgement of all the life that happens outside of work. So I do think moms are getting more credit. Certainly not as much as I think they deserve, and in some ways it's just been so challenging with a pandemic. Women have been disproportionally impacted by job losses from the pandemic. We're in the midst of a childcare crisis, a health care crisis. So it feels like things actually are getting harder, but there is a bit more sympathy or empathy if you will.
Chad (9m 39s):
Will that empathy actually turn into action and outcomes when we're talking about hiring from a lot of these major brands who are spending billions of dollars on diversity and inclusion training? There's a lot of training happening, but are we seeing the outcomes from this?
Allison (10m 50s):
I think we have a long way to go. I do. In the US, only about 8% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. So I think after a period of major boom in terms of women's advancement in the workplace in the '70s, the '80s, things started to really taper off in the '90s. And actually the overall female labor participation rate has been stagnating since. So I think not too many more women are in the workplace. And then the ones that stay are certainly not advancing at the levels that we'd like. If you look at the entry level there's near gender parity. But as we look at those manager ranks, director ranks, VP ranks, executive ranks, women are still not elevating.
Chad (11m 8s):
Are we thinking that that's because of the whole mommy tracking scenario? Because as soon as they're out of the workforce for a year, two years, three years, they're automatically mommy tracked instead. So therefore they can't meet their peers, their male peers, because a they never left the workforce.
Allison (11m 8s):
I certainly think that that's one of the challenges for sure. I think whether it's women who leave the workforce and are trying to get back, that's really challenging. Also we lack things like federal paid family leave.
Allison (12m 9s):
childcare is super, super expensive in the US, more costly than college. So it often feels like the odds are against you when it comes to having a career and a family. And then there's a lot of other, just kind of gender related, maybe not parenting related issues that women face. There's a real lack of role models, right? I spoke about the 8%, but when you don't see people in leadership positions that look like you it gives one self doubt that they can get there. That's something that I struggle with. And so I think why women have not made more progress, there's a lot of contributing factors, but those are just a couple of them.
Chad (12m 8s):
So what are you guys doing to help in that initiative? Because you're 100% right. When 7.6% of the fortune 500 are females, and the other shocking stat, there are only three black CEOs, and they're all male. There are no black female CEOs. So what can the mom project do to be able to press forward to try to drive parity?
Allison (14m 6s):
Our goal is to really allow more women to stay or reengage with the workforce. So whether that looks like helping a woman get back to work and land a really great role after she's taken some time away, we know that can be a really intimidating experience, and being her trusted partner and being able to do that. Or for new moms who we'd love to keep them in the workforce, maybe they can't keep grinding out a 60, 70-hour schedule, but maybe they want to move part time, or just a job with a shorter commute. So for us it's really connecting her with the right opportunity for where she's at in her life that will fulfill her professionally and personally. And then for the companies it's bringing in this incredible talent pool, as well as helping companies retain the talent that they already have. Earlier this year we acquired a company out of New York called Werk, and we merged it with the research and insights division that we had already been running. It's led by an incredible woman, Dr. Pam Cohen. And so that's called WerkLabs. So there's a fair amount of advisory work that we do with companies to get their cultures ready to support diverse populations, including parents, including minorities. So that's been really cool. We not only want to connect women with the right work opportunities, but we want to send them into companies and cultures where we know that they can really thrive.
Joel (14m 6s):
You mentioned role models. And I got to ask about Serena, which I think was one of the news items that Chad and I sort of grabbed on to. That's a huge win. How did that come about? What is Serena doing for you guys? Are they going to be more celebrity endorsements at the company? Is that something you guys want to do?
Allison (15m 28s):
Yeah. Serena is so amazing. To me, as I think about role models for working moms, she's it. She is just so honest about who she is as an athlete, as a mother, and she's just so forward with it. And I just find that to be so, so refreshing. I had the opportunity to bring Serena on. Actually her husband, Alexis, one of the founding partners of Initialized Capital, who led our series A round. He was able to help make some introductions. And this is an area that she's really passionate about, supporting working moms. We're really excited to have her be a strategic advisor to the company. She's amazing. As we think about the future, how do we align with other leaders, whether that be athletes or other public figures who we think really represent the values of The Mom Project.
Joel (15m 59s):
So we're seeing this trend sort of become popularized. We've had the CEO of Fairygodboss on the show for example. I know InHerSight is another one that's sort of focused on women. Do you guys differentiate yourself in a certain way from those other sites? I mean, I know they're more of review sites, which I don't think your site has reviews, but you can correct me on that if I'm wrong. I'm just curious on how you guys are different, how you set yourself apart from some of the other female initiatives that are out there, or is it just mothers that's part of the uniqueness?
Allison (15m 59s):
I think if you were to look at us and how we fit into the ecosystem, we're really the experts on hiring women and mothers. It's interesting, people sometimes think of this as a niche segment, which I laugh at because 86% of women will become moms by age 44. So it is the vast, vast majority of the experienced female talent pool. So we're really focused on building and connecting moms with, with economic opportunity and really unlocking this, in my opinion, dormant strength in our economy.
Allison (16m 39s):
I think what also makes us a bit different is really kind of the focus that we have on original research and insights. That was an area that I felt really early on had to be kind of critical to our value proposition with customers. It wouldn't be enough for them to just kind of view Mom Project as a hiring partner, but really kind of a more strategic partner on moving the needle on gender diversity.
Allison (17m 14s):
Those are a couple of ways that we're different. I think as we look longer term, we're really excited about this community of moms that we're building. We actually launched a feature a few weeks ago in beta. Colleen is our chief community officer, and she says that, which I think is so smart, that the next generation of user generated content will be user generated support, right? So we've got all 300,000 women amongst our digital community that want to support one another. So we're really excited to explore that further as we think about kind of long-term plans for the mom project.
Chad (18m 48s):
So talking about 300,000 mothers providing support into a system, this pretty right for Alexis over at Reddit to pour more money into it. But that being said, you talk about being a hiring partner. Diversity is a big talking point for major organizations right now, but we we've heard this s**t all before and numbers don't lie. We've talked about there are only 38 female CEOs. We're still seeing at the leadership level that there there's not parity, right? So there's a lot of smoke and mirrors. There's a lot of money being thrown at training and things that don't drive outcomes. What are you guys doing to be able to help companies drive outcomes. And if I was a company and I wanted to be able to become a part of The Mom Project today how would you start that, and how could you help them with some of those outcomes in hiring moms?
Allison (21m 22s):
I think everybody's looking for the silver bullet, and the truth is it's the hard work, right? Like day in and day out building a really strong culture where employees are engaged, they're happy. And that takes time. That takes years. And so when we speak with a company that's... and some are very honest with us. They say, "Look, I'm not ready to partner with you because, frankly, the women that we would hire would not be set up for success." So they actually want to engage with us through WerkLabs, through our research and insights division. And so the area of focus there is really around gaining employee perspectives. So Pam who runs it, she is a social psychologist. Her background was really in research and in qualitative research. So we do a thorough assessment. We've talked to typically 50 up to a hundred people within the organization to really get a clear understanding on what are the areas that the company is doing well when it comes to topics like D&I, culture, what's not going well. And she's able to help companies understand the most important investments that they can move on to make meaningful progress. And we can segment that by company size, employee population, maybe women in marketing are really thriving and advancing to that leadership track what's happening over here in engineering. So the segmentation on that gets really interesting and it gets very prescriptive. That's all drawn from the qualitative research. And then we test it empirically through a survey that we typically field across the organization. So that really serves as the playbook on how we can partner with companies to make progress and understanding what those opportunities are. Beyond that we love partnering with our customers. Many of our customers are doing a great job when it comes to supporting women and moms. We love joining them for their ERGs, sharing our research right now. Particularly every CEO is kind of thinking about what more can I be doing to support parents who for many who have kids at home trying to do online learning, manage a full time workload, they're looking to us for the answers. I think intent is high. It really comes down to the how.
Chad (22m 35s):
Yeah, that's the big key, right? The World Economic Forum states that it's going to take about 257 years to actually reach pay equity. There's no way in hell we can wait that long for hiring equity. The big question for me, and I'm all about how we build talent to be able to pipeline into corporate America today, because we have way too many skills gaps as it is. What can the WerkLab or The Mom Project actually do, or are you doing to be able to identify the gaps that are out there and fill them with females? There's a new Google certificate program that's out there today to help with many different levels, I guess you could say, of certifications where you don't need a four year degree, or maybe if you have one that's great. This is just a quicker way to actually get involved. Are you working with any companies like the Googles or maybe Udemys or things like that to help your constituents get to where they need to be, and that's into a job?
Allison (23m 51s):
That's spot on. And it's something that I think a lot about, and how do we get women really in emerging, the highest paying fields like technology, where we know that they're vastly underrepresented today. Only about 25% of computer programmers are women. So upskilling is certainly a priority of ours. We have partnerships with some rescaling organizations, including Lambda. I'm a huge fan of what they're doing. We're actually right now kicking off a major initiative through our 501(c)(3) where we're going to grant 10,000 free scholarships for upskilling certificates over the next three years, so Google certificates, Salesforce. These certificates have meaningful, meaningful impact on people's earning potential. So we're really focused on getting those in the hands of women of color. We believe that that's so necessary. We see how much women are struggling overall coming out of the pandemic, but particularly women of color who are more likely to be single moms. So I couldn't agree more, upskilling is so, so critical.
Joel (24m 21s):
Allison, I don't know if you've heard, but there's an election this year. And I'm curious, what role government plays in this initiative? You mentioned community on the site. Do you guys sort of support voter registration initiatives, or is there goals to maybe lobby Congress in the future from The Mom Project? Talk about the political government aspect of what you guys do or might be doing in the future.
Allison (24m 21s):
Yeah. I think policy plays a really important role in the work that we do. Some areas in particular that you can find me kind of campaigning for our federal paid family leave available to all American workers, and the other key one is childcare subsidies.
Allison (24m 53s):
So many women leave the workforce too soon because they're looking at the difference between their take home earnings and the cost to put their child through daycare. And they're saying this math doesn't make sense. So I really would love to see a nationally funded preschool program. I think that is probably the single biggest thing we can do to really move the needle on women workforce participation.
Chad (25m 14s):
Building a better workplace where girls don't have to decide between work and family, and I actually extracted that from one of your videos. I have two daughters, both are in college. Joel has one as well. And we don't want to see our girls get into a mommy track version of life, unless they want to themselves.
Chad (25m 59s):
Because it seems not a choice at this at this point. You're either going to have kids and be mommy tracked, but you can't continue "to stay on the same line as your peers." As fathers, how can we help guide our daughters to hopefully stay out of that, but still have kids?
Allison (26m 1s):
I love that question so much. I think the biggest thing you can do for your daughters is be advocating today for workplace changes that will allow that.
Allison (27m 10s):
I spoke with someone yesterday and he told me he really connected with what we were doing because he had a mother who her career was really taking off as he was a child. And she stepped back, and it was really hard for her to get back in. His mother's sister decided to never have children because they were so fearful of what that would mean for their career. So that tension is so real. Things like remote work, paid family leave, things that make that tension reduced I think is the biggest thing that we can do as leaders to prepare the next generation for a better workplace where they really can have that more fulfilled, well-rounded goals, whether that means family or working, working or not working, really empowering that choice.
Joel (27m 9s):
When I think about initiatives like this, I always sort of steer to the money or the business case.
Joel (27m 47s):
It's hard for me to still believe when you're looking at majority of valedictorians are girls, most of our college graduates now are females. And the business case seems obvious to me. What are you seeing as the major hurdle in getting this initiative off the ground? And I guess if I were a company sort of on the fence of whether I should engage with mothers, what would you tell that company to get them off the fence?
Allison (29m 14s):
Hiring and advancing, retaining women and mothers is absolutely good for business. There's a lot of data that supports that gender diverse teams outperform their more homogenous peers. I love kind of taking a look at countries that have been led by women through the pandemic, look at how they fared compared to ones led by men. I call it the female advantage. All of the data is there. We actually conducted some research of our own to look at specifically why moms make great coworkers and colleagues. We found that when, when moms are in roles of management they drive towards a more equitable, a more productive, and a more engaged workplace. All of it's there. So I think you just have to ask yourself why not. why am I not able to retain these incredible women? Really take a look at your culture and figure out what's driving women out and make an effort to hire moms. Moms are also very ethnically diverse. It's interesting. Over two-thirds of new moms in the US are multicultural. So not only is it great from a gender diversity perspective, it's also a great way to drive ethnic diversity as well.
Chad (29m 28s):
That's amazing Allison. We truly appreciate you taking the time. And for all of those companies or even partners that are out there who want to get involved with The Mom Project, where should they go, and how should they connect with you?
Allison (29m 44s):
Please come to our site, themomproject.com. Also feel free to reach out to me directly. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'd love to hear from you.
Reds or Cubs, Allison?
Joel (29m 51s):
And with that, we out.
Outro (29m 54s):
Thank you for listening to podcasts with Chad and Cheese. Brilliant. They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology. But most of all, they talk about nothing. Anyhow, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We out.