Sarah Wyse thought she was “the only person stupid enough to want to do any work on maternity leave”. As it turns out, she’s not.
After going stir-crazy four-and-a-half months into her maternity leave, Wyse sought to find project-based work where she could apply her knowledge and skills but choose her hours.
“I wanted to work on a project for 10 or 15 hours a week but not go back to my full-time job on a one- or two-day basis. And I didn’t want to tell the whole world that I was in the market looking for a project,” she says.
“It dawned on me that there was a complete lack of short-term and flexible work opportunities for professional women.”
Along with Gemma Labadini and Jen Davis, they created a 28-question online survey and sent it to 22 women who had gone back to work after maternity leave or were currently on maternity leave to gauge whether other women were after a similar outlet.
“We checked the survey results three days later on Google and found that 372 women had filled the survey out. They (the original 22 women they had sent the survey to) had all shared it, and it had really struck a chord,” says Wyse.
“70% (of the women) surveyed wanted to be mentally stimulated.
“I was always busy (on maternity leave); I was just busy doing things that I didn’t want to do,” she said.
Off the back of the research they founded Wyse Women, an online platform that helps to empower women by connecting them with flexible project work in the media, marketing, advertising industry.
“Right now that is the sector that we are servicing, mostly because that’s the area we are connected to and we understand it really well,” Wyse told Business Insider.
Since launching in February this year, Wyse Women grown the database to 100 women. And, surprisingly to them, half of them are not mothers, or expecting mothers.
“It was originally an idea set up to help professional, skilled experienced women who are quite career-driven who were on maternity leave. Now it’s a brand that it very much women’s based, as opposed to mums-based.”
Wyse said it was an organic transition born from women looking for more flexible work arrangements, because they have experienced a life event, been sick or were simply burned out.
The key to its success to date has been the highly curated talent pool and strict recruitment process, whereby women are only listed if they are personally recommended or referred, and pre-vetted by the founders in a face-to-face meeting.
“If I don’t know them personally, I will know someone close to them who does know them,” says Wyse, adding that other requirements include a minimum 10 years of experience and two reference checks.
“We meet in person every single person on the database.”
So far, 35 women have been knocked back for reasons because their experience was not to the benchmark the platform requires, or they work in an “obscure area”, said Wyse.
She says the shift in the gig economy from low-skill based jobs like Uber to higher-skilled professional services has also worked in their favour.
David Fish, managing partners at Media Lab, who has recently used the platform to find skilled employees, says it’s a “refreshing” and “much needed” approach to recruitment.
“It bridges a much needed gap in the market… [where] we have been able to connect with people who we otherwise probably wouldn’t found through traditional search and recruitment methods,” he says.
“We are big advocates for flexible working and therefore we are aligned on how this approach can work for both parties.”
For Paul Butler, group insights and analytics director at Val Morgan, it was the attention to detail that made the difference.
“Wyse Women understood our project from the outset and quickly matched our requirements against their network,” he said.
“[It] enabled us to benefit from the experience of specialised talent within the industry.”
More skills for less
Hiring these specialised roles on a contract basis is also a win for businesses which may not be able to afford new hires on a full-time salary.
“Hiring for outcomes is a trend that we’re seeing across all business that we’re talking to. Rather than saying I’ll pay you from Monday to Friday, nine to five, they say I will pay you for the completion of this, or I am going to pay you to launch this,” Wyse says.
As the business continues to grow, Wyse says they will need to start implementing more functions to allow companies to search more efficiently for candidates that meet their needs, as well as introducing a suite of other offerings that will complement the job-matching service.
“We never set out to be a recruitment company,” she says. “I’ve got no interest in recruitment at all. The connection to opportunities it what I was most interested in.
“With that in mind there’s a a whole range of products that we want to offer on the basis of this empowering women’s brand. Anything from training and coaching… [to] a home office furniture range.”
Wyse Women is also in talks with Goodments to help further improve the engagement between businesses and women on the platform.
Goodments is an ethical investment startup which uses a questionnaire to assess the preferences and priorities of an investor, then applies behavioural analytics and psychometric algorithms to match them to a share portfolio of companies that reflect similar values to the user.
In a similar way, Wyse Women want their job matches to be based on aligned ethical values, after identifying that the women are more interested in working for a business that has similar values as they do, as opposed to being driven my monetary gain.
Along with scaling the platform, the founders are looking at the possibility of opening it up to other industries, and eventually becoming a subscription model.
“Right now our business model is taking a percentage of the project fees and the employer’s pay. The women that sign up, it’s at no cost to them,” says Wyse.
The business, which has broken even, has been bootstrapped and is unlikely to take on external funding.
“I see time and time again people making bad business decisions based on the board,” Wyse says.
“This whole business has been set up on the basis that to help women and I feel like that will be compromised if suddenly we were taking large investments from elsewhere and all we care about the profit.”