WoW Women in Tech | Gemma Lloyd and Valeria Ignatieva, co-founders of WORK180

Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic

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Gemma Lloyd is the co-founder of WORK180, Company Secretary of the Diversity Practitioners Association (DPA), and has served on two not-for-profit Boards including IT Queensland Females in and Technology and Telecommunications (FITT). Gemma won Entrepreneur of the Year for Increasing Gender Diversity through WORK180. Gemma is passionate about raising awareness of the benefits of gender diversity within organisations and building confidence for women. She is often a speaker at both corporate, community and events aimed at young females.

Valeria Ignatieva is the co-founder of WORK180 - a niche jobs network helping women pursue rewarding careers, across any industry. WORK180 does not advertise anonymous recruiters’ jobs and pre-screens employers who wish to post jobs to ensure they are committed to supporting women’s careers. Together with Gemma Lloyd, Valeria launched the company after being frustrated with the lack of options for women to easily find employers who are truly focused on creating ideal workplaces.

Both co-founders are based in Australia. 

What is the idea behind WORK180 and how did you come up with it?

(G) During the 10 years I spent in the tech industry, I found there to be two very different workplace structures. One was the archaic 'boy club', where being a women meant less money and fewer opportunities. The other valued all employees, regardless of their gender or background. The problem was that despite all my research, there was no way of knowing which one I was talking to when applying for a new job.

(V) We flipped the traditional job platform model on its head - in a world first, the power shifted to women job seekers through our pre-screen process of employers. We pre-screen every employer on our jobs board to see where they stand on pay equity, flexible working, paid parental leave, equal opportunities and a range of other criteria. The information we uncover is made public on our website, so that everyone knows what to expect from each employer before applying for a job. We continually review and evolve our pre-screening criteria to ensure workplaces are fair and equal for everyone.

When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?

(G) We started in February 2015 as a team of two which grew to four in 2016. Today, we have 22 team members working across Australia and the UK.

How long did it take you to be where you are now?

(V) WORK180 Australia was founded in 2015. In 2018 we launched in the UK and next up is the US.

What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?

(V) Female-led businesses often struggle to attract investment. We initially came up against the bias of investors asking, "What do these two know about business?" Part of the problem was the lack of female investors. If you have a female entrepreneur pitching, potentially that idea is something that's going to address a problem that affects women. Male investors did not see the value in their business idea. Whereas when I tell women about this, they say, 'This is amazing'.

(G) There was even a point where I had arranged to meet a potential investor for coffee.  Instead, he propositioned me. He more or less said, 'Hey, do you want to get a hotel room?' He was absolutely using his position of power to suggest that if I do something for you, you do something for me. Other potential investors were less inappropriate - but no more supportive and we often felt patronised. We kept coming up against challenge after challenge after challenge,  and ended up funding the business ourselves.

What was the biggest obstacle?

(G) Bootstrapping the business was difficult; we both worked two jobs and the hours were brutal. We’d also both taken a massive pay cut and were living on less than a quarter of our previous salaries. At one stage, we were offered a $1million investment by a private equity firm and turned it down. The reason we turned down this investment was that a condition of receiving the funds, was we accepted all organisations to advertise with us, whether they passed our screening process or not. This was a fundamental breach of our values and counter to the mission we have of driving real change.

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(V) Today, we know our difficult decision back then was the right one.  In April we raised $1m for our global expansion with Skip Capital. The Principal of the firm, Kim Jackson, was a major factor in this decision.

(G) Kim really believes in our mission. One of the things that has been amazing is how engaged she has been. We can call her at any time and run things by her without it being overbearing at the same time.

What are your biggest achievements to date?

(G) Our biggest highlights are when businesses that did not meet our criteria at first, change their workplaces for the better to advertise with WORK180. QinetiQ’s story of a complete transformation in six months is one of our most proud moments.

(V) Recently, everyone on the team got a bit choked up and teary eyed. An endorsed employer emailed to say thank you because they’d just hired an amazing UX/UI designer and were thrilled to have such a talented person join the company. Then we found out that the candidate, who is deaf, was made redundant in 2017 and has been looking for work ever since. It’s so good to work with employers who care about people and know how to run a business.

What are your projects you are currently working on?

(V) Global expansion and refining our criteria to include more benchmarks and comparisons. One of our latest campaigns in Australia includes creating awareness around including supporting employees who experience the tragedy of stillbirth with paid parental leave.

(V) While our focus is on empowering women in the workplace, what we’re really trying to achieve is equality for all employees. In the UK, we are raising awareness around using gender neutral language- for example, male parents who are adopting a child should not have to apply for “maternity leave”- instead, it should be ‘parental leave’ which can then be specified as for ‘primary carer’ or ‘secondary carer’. Some of the most progressive employers, such as Zendesk offer 16 weeks paid parental leave for both carers!

Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?

(G) Absolutely. We both come from a tech background. Our passion to support women stems from before WORK180, when we were both volunteered for ‘Females in Technology and Telecommunications’, which is Australia’s largest not for profit industry organisation.

(V) We recognise the challenges in getting more women into tech. As a result, we host Super Daughter Day (SDD) for girls aged 5-12 years old throughout Australia to celebrate International Women’s Day. The event was founded in 2016 and has since introduced over 3000 young girls to a to the exciting world of tech. The girls meet some amazing female role models in tech whilst exploring robotics, coding and virtual reality activities with their parents. Over 90% of parents who attend report their daughters having an increased interest in pursuing careers in tech! We are looking forward to bringing the event to the UK.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?

(G) I urge other would-be entrepreneurs to take care of their health, find trustworthy advisers and to ask for help when needed during the early stages of building a business. Create a network of supporters and advisors with the skills to guide you.

What will be the key trends in the tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?

(G) Tech companies are going to get bigger and bigger. Their teams need to grow at a fast pace, some doubling or tripling in just a year. It’s a developers market and its essential that these companies attract the most skilled employees. Expectations that employers offer support to combine work and life will continue to grow.

(V) Companies need to offer something else other than a high salary. FundApps are an inspiring example of a tech company who change their policies to reflect their employees needs.  Patrick Caldwell, People Operations & Talent Manager, wrote this article about retiring their maternity and paternity policies and releasing a new progressive parental leave. Since posting, Patrick has been inundated with messages from companies asking for guidance on how to do the same thing as well as job seekers looking for a role within FundApps.

Who are your 3 inspirational women in tech?

(V) Alexa Marenghi. Alexa has built and implemented a Global Diversity Strategy for the Talent Acquisition team at endorsed employer Microsoft. She also founded Codess - an Engineering Forum for Women sponsored by Microsoft.

(G) Sheree Atcheson. Sheree is a board-appointed global ambassador for Women Who Code, which she has worked with since she was 22. Sheree is a huge advocate of diversity and representation in tech. Through Women Who Code; she is dedicated to helping women excel in their tech careers and eliminating gender bias. Magdalena Krön. As well as heading up Rise London, Europe's largest Fintech hub, Magdalena is improving gender diversity in technology via her Geek Girl Meetup community. Over the last 5 years Magdalena has helped inspire thousands of women in tech. She has been leading a team with the aim to create more female role models and showcasing their stories, talent and passion.

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Website: www.work180.co

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This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.