As founder and CEO of Wyse Women - a members-only careers platform for senior-level women seeking flexible working arrangements across media, marketing, and communications - Sarah Wyse is out to challenge, and hopefully change, the traditional Monday-Friday, nine-five workplace model.
Since trading in her native UK for Australia ten years ago, Sydney-based Wyse has lead commercial and sales teams for several big media companies and explored the start-up space. Then came a baby, a change in perspective, and a professional reawakening. Wyse Women was born in 2017, and has quickly found a receptive audience from both sides: candidates looking for more flexible conditions, and businesses looking to diversify their senior workforce. Now, nearly a year and a half into her new venture, Wyse recounts the frustrations that spurned her business, the progress she has seen, and the challenges that remain.
Natalia Rachlin: Did the idea for Wyse Women come from personal experience?
Sarah Wyse: Absolutely. I have sixteen years of experience in the media and advertising industry, predominantly in the digital space. As MD of Videology, I started-up the company up in Australia. It was really full-on, an amazing work opportunity with lots of travel and long hours, but we also got plenty of recognition in the form of awards, a good salary, and it was a lot of fun at the time.
When I went on maternity leave and had a bit of distance, I gained a bit of perspective. I felt that it was really a shame that the only way to get that kind of recognition and seniority and paycheck, was to have a lifestyle that meant stupid hours at work.
NR: Wyse Women doesn’t only function as a jobs site – what are some of the other products you offer?
SW: Beyond being a platform for senior level candidates, all of whom we meet individually to best understand and service their professional needs, we try to help businesses feel more empowered to post jobs and find talent. One of the things we often hear from companies is: “We can’t get women into senior roles because there aren’t that many women around.” There’s this idea of a talent shortage, and we wanted to disprove that by creating tools that allow a business to future plan their business pipeline with really great talent. We believe that flexibility equals diversity, which equals inclusion. If you can offer flexibility, you’re likely to get a far more diverse range of applications. We also have an advisory service, where we help businesses understand where they are in terms of unconscious bias and how to battle it. We offer training and support services to managers and leaders on how to manage a job share, a flexible workplace, and how to manage business outcomes based on these new models.
NR: Do you think the platform needs to be female-exclusive in order to be most beneficial?
SW: Actually, 10% of our members are men! We’re not excluding men, we just set out to try and solve a female problem. About 60-65% of our industry is female, but only about 20% of senior positions are occupied by women. What’s also interesting is that about 30% of our members don’t have children, but have other motivations for wanting to work more flexibly. One strong factor is that we have an aging population in Australia, and with that you find more women who want to continue working later into their years, but in a consultancy or advisory capacity rather than fulltime. We’re trying to solve problems for women with diverse backstories. It’s not just the parent piece.
NR: Has the recent boom of the freelance / gig economy helped you educate employers about the benefits of flexible work?
SW: The gig economy in Australia is not as developed as it is in the US or Europe. It’s quite difficult for a company to hire someone as a contractor here because there’s a law around superannuation, which is essentially the Australian pension system. If you’re a contractor, a company won’t contribute to your superannuation, and from the government’s perspective, they get antsy about that, because they don’t want to be spending money supporting people in their older years with government tax money. They want everyone to be self-sufficient, so they make it quite difficult for you to contract.
NR: But that certainly helps to perpetuate the traditional fulltime model from the top down?
SW: 100 percent, but we know it’s slowly changing. A few years ago, it was all about what business wanted: what kind of people they wanted, and if you wanted a job in this company you would need to do this and that. Now, we are seeing a more candidate-driven market: people are starting to say that I want to work for a company with a social purpose or a sustainable mindset. People care about more than just the bottom line, so candidates are making more demands about the kind of place where they want to work. And I think this also helps to explain why we are getting more interest from companies who have a talent gap or a skills shortage, and they need to think more creatively about how they can get interesting people into the business, and often that means you have to be more flexible.
NR: How do you think the recent “#MeToo” movement will impact the workplace for women in the future?
SW: It’s certainly only going to help and while it’s absolutely linked to the conversations we are having, we are flying the flag for flexibility because it is tangible and it can create a difference today. But it takes a specific skillset to deal with issues of harassment in the workplace, and that is not where our expertise is. But it’s a great time to have a business in the women’s space because there is a lot of positive conversation about women in leadership, equality, and diversity. The “#MeToo” movement has certainly opened up the discussion: everyone is a part of it. Which is why I often find myself in these boardrooms having conversations about women in positions of power alongside CEO’s who tend to be men. I may not have had an opportunity to be in there had it not been for the groundswell about women in work – I’m not sure people would have cared as much a few years back.
NR: What advice would you give to a company that knows they have work to do when it comes to diversity at the top, but they don’t know where to begin?
SW: Two things: first, speak to all of your staff. Don’t sit in an executive team meeting with your board members or your C-Suite and discuss the issue amongst yourselves. Speak to people on the floor even if you don’t like what they say. Second: get experts in. A lot of companies will try and solve these issues themselves, but often what management doesn’t see, is that they are part of the problem. Get a third party in to keep it neutral. They will offer new ideas and fresh thinking. It can’t be a private, secret thing, you need to get it out there. Do surveys, do equal pay audits, and share all the results. People want to be in the loop, they want transparency – it will make things better for everyone.wysewomen.com.au