I was fortunate enough to interview five female entrepreneurs who are actively building the future of work. For a quick introduction to these inspiring women, you can read, Pioneers of the Better Way: 5 Women Blaze a Trail Toward the Future of Work.
Now I am taking a closer look at each of the women and sharing a snapshot of their insights. I asked them about the barriers they faced while building their career, what they considered to be the largest trends in the future of work, what they think about the fact that women are leaving corporate America to start their own businesses, and what they think leaders should know in order to prepare for the future of work.
Spotlight on: Rhiannon Ruff
My second trailblazer is Rhiannon Ruff, the co-founder and vice president of Beutler Ink, where her main focus is seeking ways to bridge the gap between PR and communications professionals and the Wikipedia community, to make Wikipedia a stronger resource.
Rhiannon Reacts to Women Leaving the Corporate World to Start Their Own Businesses
I want to start with Rhiannon’s reaction to my question about women leaving the workforce and starting their own businesses. I absolutely loved what she had to say:
It’s just so curious to me that we’re at a stage now where women have the confidence to get out and set up their own businesses, which seems like such a massive undertaking, and at the same time you think, ‘Why don’t they have the confidence to continue within in a major corporation and move up to that role within that structure?’ I think that is a huge question we should ask ourselves. If someone has that confidence in themselves, that deep desire, and the skills to be able to follow through on creating their own company—going out and making this amazing new product or service—why on Earth aren’t corporations doing more to stem this talent leak that’s happening? It seems incredible to me that you could let women like that go rather than doing everything you can to build them up within organizations.
She asks, are organizations “just going to continue to do what they are doing or are they going to really address this issue of where their talent is going and do something about it?”
That’s that the million dollar question. Literally. Everybody is asking that question. Rhiannon hopes corporations can focus on this question because it’s important to see more female leadership in global organizations.
To use an American expression, it’s a big nut to crack.
Rhiannon’s Career Barriers
When I asked Rhiannon about the barriers she faced in her own career, she told me about her 2010 move from the U.K. to the U.S. Her background had been in human resources (HR); she worked for a major retailer in an HR position in the U.K. prior to her relocation. However, all of her HR knowledge was U.K. based and everything was completely different in the US. This ended up creating a transformative experience. She said:
So I had this moment where I realized I can try and stay in the same sphere. I’ve used all the same kind of software; it’s all kind of global now, so I could just retrain and learn all the new rules. Or I could just take a leap and do whatever I want. That moment of realizing “I can do anything” and deciding just to go for it was exciting. It actually worked out really well for me. It was very scary. Having to put aside any fears about going outside of my comfort zone, not having any idea what I was getting myself into, and just realizing that it’s actually good to take on a challenge and figure these things out.
Really grabbing these moments of hardship and using them as an opportunity for positive transformation is a theme I’ve noticed in women entrepreneurs. When given the opportunity to carve their own path, female entrepreneurs take it. Rhiannon says, “Having an idea about the structure of businesses and roles you are interested in can be really helpful. It can be difficult to look at your current role and think about what type of skills you could take with you into a new position, but we can all do it.”
Rhiannon stressed the importance of having a supportive partner as you progress through your career, entrepreneurial or otherwise. It’s helpful knowing the partner is going to be there when needed, yet also understand when it’s time to step back. Particularly important is the fact that a good partner will give you the hard truth that others may not.
Rhiannon on What’s Trending for the Future of Work
After learning more about Rhiannon’s journey, I asked what she thought were the top trends headed toward the future of work. She first mentioned remote work and explained that the cost of living, lifestyle, quality of life, and mobility is huge for people as they look toward the future of their career. In other words, “Being able to work from the location that makes the most sense, in terms of resources and quality of life.” She said she now sees not just individuals but also companies asking, “Where does it make the most sense for us to be based and how do we do that?” A cost/benefit analysis of where to locate and what can be done from that location is important to both organizations and individuals.
Rhiannon also talked about flexible working, particularly as a strategy to keep women in the workforce. She expands, “Companies are starting to realize it is a lot less important to see someone filling a seat from 8am to 5pm; instead, let them work when it makes sense.” and suggests a shift toward incentivizing tasks rather than hours. She explains, “It’s a win-win because companies get people who are productive when they need them to be productive, and employees are able to fit in artistic or family needs.” These same benefits are why people (and women in this case) turn to freelancing.
While remote and flexible work is talked about frequently, there is always a new angle to be explored. Hopefully the attention on remote working will help organizational leaders change to a more flexible workplace.
What Rhiannon Wants Organizational Leaders to Know
I asked Rhiannon what she thinks organizational leaders should do now to prepare for the future of work. She said leaders need to think along two different lines—thinking in terms of tasks and not hours, and finding new ways to organize work and communication so they are able to maintain a rapport with employees and keep up the check-ins necessary to make sure things are happening. Leaders need to learn new tools that allow them to do that, such as Slack. She points out that leaders need to ask themselves, “Who out there is going to be able to help us navigate the different payroll taxes in different states, the different healthcare compliance laws, and how workers’ compensation varies?” Rhiannon adds that leaders either need to learn about these important aspects of running a more flexible or remote business, or find a partner to help them.
You know who else needs to do this? Freelancers. They need to learn to navigate many of these same things in the freelancing landscape. Freelancers are becoming the workforce of the future. There is a lot of learning to be done by these pioneers.
Want to meet another inspiring female entrepreneur? Here’s my interview with Sara Sutton Fell.