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Werk is on a mission—to provide flex jobs to mothers where care + career are equally valued

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Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.


Like Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean co-founders and co-CEOs of Werk—a platform providing flex job opportunities to women everywhere. Werk supports that life you envision—you know, the one where you’re able to find that elusive balance between work and life—conference calls and family dinners together at the table. Think jobs where working remotely or limited in-office face time is the norm.

Werk wants you to advance your career without feeling like you need to give anything up. We caught up with Anna and Annie to find out what their hopes and dreams for Werk is and how they came together in the first place.

What made you decide to start Werk? How did the collaboration between you two happen?

Anna Auerbach: I’ve had a dozen entrepreneurial ideas over the years. A few I tried, and most were just passing thoughts. But I’d been fixated on the idea of the challenges of women and work, particularly after my son was born. I had been kicking around the initial idea for Werk for about a year, but I needed the right partner to get it off the ground.

Annie Dean: After my second son was born, he had some medical issues I didn’t anticipate. His birth refocused my priorities. I have always been someone with big dreams, and I knew it was time to leave my comfortable law firm job and act on them. I called all my closest girl friends and said, “Look, I want to talk to the smartest women you know. I want to hear what they’re doing.” And very quickly I was introduced to Anna. At the end of an hour long conversation she mentioned the business she’d been dreaming about for a while. We built a business plan, financial projections and our vision in a week, and we’ve been sprinting ever since.

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What was the need in the market for a service like this?

Anna Auerbach: The best businesses solve a problem the founders know intimately. Annie and I both spent our careers in high-level professional services. We both observed that women were leaving the leadership track in droves, usually because they couldn’t reconcile their career with motherhood, and those that stayed were unbelievably overstressed and overtired.

Annie Dean: When I was a young law firm associate at my firm I was like, “What women’s movement?!” I worked so hard, I fought for the best opportunities, I was compensated fairly, I spoke up for myself, and the men (and women) listened to me. But when I was 27, I got pregnant for the first time and the pregnancy was clearly viewed as a lack of commitment. I was hospitalized during the pregnancy because I was overworked. And when I came back, it was clear that no one respected me anymore. My work streams were gone. I was miserable and my confidence was destroyed.

No matter how hard I worked I couldn’t get anywhere, not at home and not at work. It took me a year to recover from that environment. Then I started critically thinking about what happened. I realized the situation was not my fault, and that potentially it was an institutional failure that could be fixed.

As a culture, we need to figure out how to help women on their way to the top stay on track in the context of caregiving.

Women are going to keep having children. This is an exciting fact for the future of the human race! But unless we fix things, women are going to keep getting squeezed out of the leadership track.

Do you feel the workforce is currently changing for the better for mothers?

Annie Dean: We’re making progress—good progress in some areas—but it’s incremental and based on patching up a broken system that often systematically disadvantages women and parents. The hidden underlying premise inherent in an all-or-nothing work culture, is: “Working moms don’t belong here, at least not right now.” We reject that premise. We’re insulted by it. And we think fellow mothers should be too.

As high-level employees, we’ve been encouraged to focus on achievement, and outsource care. But that’s not what we want.

The next phase of the women’s movement is about embracing ambition and care simultaneously, and equally.

Women need flexibility to perform at their highest potential, and to advance. Companies need women in the highest positions of leadership. If companies do not provide and encourage flexibility, they will force women to opt-out or force them off the leadership path.

We aren’t going to solve this problem by telling women to cobble together freelance work for five years while they have small children. We aren’t going to solve this problem with “family friendly policies” if there isn’t any support for women who need flexible work arrangements, which demoralizes the high-performing women who need them, and the high-potential women that work under them. We are going to solve this problem by building real, advancement-track positions that are compatible with the lives of the talented women that are qualified to fill them—and that’s what Werk is all about.

Is there one key ingredient for making working motherhood work? Is it flexibility? Something else?

Annie Dean: Empathy. Working moms need empathy from the people in their lives, and they need to be patient with themselves. Ultimately, flexibility is about empathy.

How can companies improve conditions for working parents—so that they retain the best of the best talent (some of which are parents) by creating an environment that parents can thrive in?

Annie Dean: We need women to consult on these issues—particularly younger women who are less entrenched in company culture and can be truly vocal about what their needs are.

In the absence of that advice, we need male leaders to actively imagine what it’s like to be a woman and what our needs are. We need flexibility in terms of our in-office hours. We need the ability to respond to our family landscape, like come in late if our kid has a doctor’s appointment or was up all night with a fever. We need breast feeding facilities, and market-rate family leave policies.

These are the very basic elements of what it means to create an inclusive environment for women. There are many, many other aspects of integration that are more subtle. But let’s focus on what we can win at.

What kinds of roles do you offer?

Anna Auerbach: We offer full-time flex and part-time senior-level positions. The full-time flex roles that we offer are regular, full-time, full-compensation, promotion-track roles. They just have an element of flexibility built in. That could mean that the you head out at 5pm every day to eat dinner with your family and put your kids in the bath, so that you can plug back in after bedtime. Or it could mean one or two days working from home, or unlimited vacation days, among other things.

We help women negotiate the deal that works best for them by normalizing the conversation.

The part-time roles we offer are senior level positions at small, scaling start-ups, like a part-time CFO or part-time COO. Startups want the exceptional talent, but they can’t compete with the full-time salaries at big law firms or banks. So we find them the best talent on a part-time salary. And we provide the women with a part-time role that is worthy of her time.

When sourcing our opportunities we require that each role is both flexible and ambitious. No more motherhood penalty, no more mommy track.

How can women use their maternity leave to reimagine or to advance their career?

Annie Dean: I love this question! My two maternity leaves were my most creative and productive periods of my life. I built a company during my first maternity leave, which ultimately failed. And during my second maternity leave, I built Werk with Anna.

Maternity leave can be crazy and very unstructured, and instead of imposing order on the experience, I really let myself just take each day as its own adventure. After I recovered and got settled, I read so many books! I stayed inspired! I sang to my babies a lot. I had so much “free time” to think creatively and think big. As all new moms know—“free time” is a relative term.

The days were disjointed and bizarre. I wore the same outfit everyday and never really washed my hair. I slept in 2 hour increments. But I was able to do a lot of things for my soul.

What inspires you to do this work?

Anna Auerbach: I spent the last eight years of my career in nonprofit and philanthropy. I’ve always been committed to making a difference and, at the same time, being very entrepreneurial. Werk combines those drives in the most perfect way. Every day, I wake up motivated to move this business forward. Not only am I ensuring that women never feel forced to opt out when they didn’t intend to—but it’s also amazing to build a business from the ground up.

What are your hopes and dreams for Werk?

Anna Auerbach: We’re out to reinvent work for women…millions of them. The vision is lofty, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Werk is the only company out there bringing leadership ambitions and motherhood into focus at a scalable level. We see ourselves as the future of the women’s movement—valuing care and career equally. And we’re working like crazy to advance the cause. Demonstrating to the investment community that betting on what women want wins. Influencing business leaders and cultures at large to get the best out of their women employees. And, most importantly, empowering every professional woman who crosses our path.

How did you come up with the name Werk, and what is the symbolism behind the name?

Annie Dean: WORK is all about showing up, going through the motions.

WERK is about nailing it, looking in the mirror and knowing, “I GOT this.”

But no one woman is going to fix this problem on her own. We need to do it together. That’s our inspiration: this generation of women is game-changing. We can’t turn work into werk without the we.

What does “Motherly” mean to you?

Annie Dean: Being motherly is about resilience. It’s about being tough enough to keep giving long after our reserves of patience are gone. As mothers we choose love on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Nothing has made me tougher, more focused or more dedicated than motherhood, and no experience has been more hard-won.

Anna Auerbach: Being motherly means it’s not about you anymore. It’s about this amazing tiny person. And how you ruthlessly reprioritize every day to make sure you do right by them.

?Can we get a slow clap for these ladies? ?


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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

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This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks is pregnant and frustrated. The actress took to Instagram this week to lament the lack of plus-sized options for pregnant people.

"It's so hard to find some clothes to wear today....Although I get to pregnant I still can't find no clothes. It's so hard to find some clothes when you're pregnant," she sings in a lighthearted yet serious video.

"It's so hard to find cute plus size maternity fashion while pregnant, but ima push through," she captioned the clip.

Brooks has been talking a lot this week about the issues people who wear plus size clothing face not just when trying to find clothes but in simply moving through a world that does not support them.

"I feel like the world has built these invisible bullets to bully us in telling us who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to look like. And I've always had this desire to prove people wrong—to say that this body that I'm in is enough," she told SHAPE (she's on the new cover).

"Now that I'm about to be a mother, it means even more—to make sure that this human being I'm going to bring into the world knows that they are enough," she said.

Danielle Brooks is the body-positive hero we need right now. Now can someone make her some cute maternity clothes, please?

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In prior decades, body image issues usually didn't hit the scene until kids reached adolescence. But thanks to social media, and our culture's relentless pursuit of thinness, we now have to find creative ways to teach young children how to develop healthy body images.

Before I dive into some practical tips to help kids improve body image, I want to first diminish any shame that you might be feeling if you have body issues of your own. It's so important to remember that you downloaded every internal message from somewhere else. Of course, it's critical to work on your own issues, but it's also important to know it is not your fault that you developed them in the first place!

So, whether you are struggling with your own body image, or you love your body, here are some tools to help your child feel better about the precious body he or she lives in:

1. Break the spell

How do you know if your child has a bad body image? Perhaps they've begun making negative comments about their size or shape. Maybe they are comparing their body to others. Maybe they are avoiding foods or activities they once enjoyed because they feel uncomfortable about their body.

Often the most common response a parent has is to reassure their child that they are “fine," or “beautiful" or “perfect." And while there is certainly nothing wrong with some reassurance, it simply may not be enough to overpower the cultural messages kids are surrounded by. Reassure them that they are perfect just the way they are.

2. Unkind mind, kind mind and quiet mind

This little menu of options encourages kids to identify and differentiate between three different thinking states within themselves. I refer to them as “mind moods." Try teaching your child about these three states of mind and brainstorming examples of each. For example, unkind mind = “I hate my thighs." Kind mind = “I love singing." Quiet mind = Peacefully resting or playing.

This will raise their awareness of their thoughts and help them to choose their mind moods more consciously. As they learn to turn up the volume of their kind minds and spend more time in their quiet minds, they begin to feel more present and peaceful.

Once you have helped your child identify their unkind mind as a distinct voice, they can then try on some different responses and see which ones help bring them some relief. Try asking them to write or say all the messages their unkind mind is saying and practicing using strong, soft, silly or silent responses. Kids can learn that their unkind mind is not all of who they are, and that it doesn't have to run the show.

3. Get to the root

This concept helps kids discover what triggers their body dissatisfaction. You can help your child by asking questions or taking guesses about what might have started their bad body image. For example, I helped one 7-year old get to the root of her body obsession by noticing it started when there was a death in her family. Right around that time, her best friend started talking about dieting, so she latched onto food obsession as a distracting coping tool.

Once we uncovered this, she was able to learn about healthy grieving and truly healthy eating (as opposed to what the diet culture deems as healthy—which can actually be unhealthy).

4. Mind movies vs. really real

Try asking your child to show you some things around them that are real (i.e. things they can see, touch or hear). Then ask them if they can show you one single thought in their minds. You can playfully challenge them to take a thought out of their head and show it to you or fold it up and put it in their pocket. This tool teaches kids how to be more present.

Of course, they might use their imagination to do this, but with some finesse, you can teach your child to distinguish between the mind movies that cause them stress and the really real things around them. This is an immensely helpful tool that will not only help them with body image (since body image is one long mind movie) but will also improve the quality of their lives in general.

5. Dog talk and cat chat

Many kids cannot relate to the concept of being kind to themselves but ask a child how they feel about their favorite pet, and a doorway to their compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance opens. For non-pet lovers, you can ask your child to imagine how they would speak to a baby or their best friend.

Dog talk and cat chat can help teach youngsters how to take the loving words and tones they use toward a beloved pet, and direct these sentiments toward themselves and their bodies.

6. Do an internal upgrade

In addition to helping your child combat the messages they receive out in the world, you can also work on the messages they get in your home. Again, if you struggle with body image, it is not your fault, but you can work on healing—and not only will you feel more peace, but your child will benefit as well.

To the best of your ability, refrain from talking about foods as “good" or “bad." Refrain from making negative comments about your (or anyone else's) weight or looks. Refrain from praising someone (or yourself) for weight loss.

Practice welcoming your child's tears and anger without trying to change their feelings before they are ready. Practice eating all food groups in moderation. Foster a positive, grateful attitude about your body.

May you and your child feel comfortable in your bodies, eat all foods in moderation, move and rest in ways that feel good, and find abundant sweetness and fulfillment in life.

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Learn + Play

After a long day of doing seemingly everything, when our partners get home it kind of becomes a habit to ask, "How was your day?" In between prepping dinner, handing off the kids, finishing your own work, we don't exactly get much value from this question. Sure, it may open up the opportunity to complain about that awful thing that happened or excitedly share that presentation you killed at work—but it usually stops there.

I could do a better job of really talking in my relationship. After 12 years and two kids, sometimes all we can come up with post bedtime routine is, "You good? I'm good. Fire up the Netflix."

Here are 21 questions to dig deeper into your marriage after a long day—see where they take you!

  1. Did you listen to anything interesting today?
  2. If you could do any part of today over again, what would it be?
  3. How much coffee did you drink today?
  4. Will you remember any specific part of today a year from now? Five years?
  5. Did you take any photos today? What did you photograph?
  6. What app did you open most today?
  7. How can I make your day easier in five minutes?
  8. If we were leaving for vacation tonight, where do you wish we would be heading?
  9. If you won $500 and had to spend it on yourself today, what would you buy?
  10. If your day was turned into a movie, who would you cast?
  11. What did you say today that you could have never expected to come out of your mouth?
  12. What did you do to take care of yourself today?
  13. When did you feel appreciated today?
  14. If you could guarantee one thing for tomorrow what would it be?
  15. If we traded places tomorrow what advice would you give me for the day?
  16. What made you laugh today?
  17. Imagine committing the next year to learning one thing in your spare time. What would it be?
  18. Did you give anyone side-eye today? Why?
  19. What do you wish you did more of today?
  20. What do you wish you did less of today?
  21. Are you even listening to me right now?

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Love + Village

Alexis Ohanian has made a lot of important decisions in his life. The decision to co-found Reddit is a pretty big one. So was marrying Serena Williams. But right up there with changing internet culture and making a commitment to his partner, the venture capitalist lists taking time off after his daughter's birth as a significant, life-changing choice.

"Before Olympia was born, I had never thought much about paternity leave and, to be honest, Reddit's company policy was not my idea. Our vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, brought it up to me in a meeting and it sounded O.K., so why not?" Ohanian writes in an op-ed for New York Times Parenting.

He continues: "Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section. Serena spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn't walk."

The experience changed the way Ohanian viewed paternity leave. It was no longer something that just sounded like a good thing, it was a necessary thing for his family. It was crucial that he take it and now he is advocating for more fathers to be able to. In his piece for the NYT Ohanian points out something that Motherly has previously reported on: It is hard for fathers to take paternity leave even when their government or employer offers it.

A report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.

Dads need paid leave, but even when they have it social pressures and unrealistic cultural expectations keep them from taking it and they choose not to take all the time they can. Ohanian wants lawmakers and business leaders to make sure that dads can take leave and he wants to help fathers choose to actually take it.

"I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I've made," Ohanian previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.

Ohanian recognizes that he is privileged in a way most parents aren't.

"It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth," he wrote for Glamour.

In his NYT piece, Ohanian goes further: "I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career. But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it's continued to pay dividends for me two years later. It should be no surprise that I also encourage all of our employees to take their full leave at Initialized Capital, where I am managing partner; we recently had three dads on paid paternity leave at the same time."

The GOAT's husband is making the same points that we at Motherly make all the time. Research supports paid leave for all parents. It benefits the baby and the parents and that benefits society.

By first taking his leave and then speaking out about the ways in which it benefited his family, Ohanian is using his privileged position to de-stigmatize fathers taking leave, and advocate for more robust parental leave policies for all parents, and his influence doesn't end there. He's trying to show the world that parents shouldn't have to cut off the parent part of themselves in order to be successful in their careers.

He says that when his parental leave finished he transitioned from being a full-time dad to a "business dad."

"I'm fortunate to be my own boss, which comes with the freedoms of doing things like bringing my daughter into the office, or working remotely from virtually anywhere Serena competes. My partners at Initialized are used to seeing Olympia jump on camera—along with her doll Qai Qai—or hearing her babbling on a call. I tell them with pride, 'Olympia's at work today!' And I'll post some photos on Instagram or Twitter so my followers can see it too," Ohanian explains.

"The more we normalize this, on social media and in real life, the better, because I know this kind of dynamic makes a lot of men uncomfortable (and selfishly I want Olympia to hear me talking about start-ups!)," he says.

This is the future of family-friendly work culture. Take it from a guy who created an entire internet culture.

[A version of this post was originally published February 19, 2019. It has been updated.]

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