Founder | FlexJobs &

Sara is the CEO/Founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance and part-time job listings. In 2015 she launched as a resource for organizations and workers to learn and share remote work best practices. She was named as a Young Global Leader (class of 2014) by the World Economic Forum for her work in technology and the employment fields. 2016 she launched an annual conference event called the TraD Works Forum (*Telecommuting, Remote, and Distributed) event in Washington, D.C.

Sara Fell is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Boulder, Colo. Through YGL, she loves the opportunity to travel, meet incredible experts from many disciplines, and broaden her thought leadership on topics such as the future of work, gender equity, hybridization of the workforce, and entrepreneurship.

Sara at Running Remote 2018 : Gender Equity – How Remote Work Can Move The Needle

Thank you thank you !

So much for having me.

I am so happy to be here. Not just in Bali where I’ve always wanted to come but to be here.

Early adopters with remote work

Talking about remote work this is you know. I started FlexJobss about eleven years ago and to think that.  I’m in a place talking about this topic it’s a bit of a dream and for there any of the rest of you. Who were early adopters with remote work. You might realize how fringe this has been for so long and so to even propose gathering enough leaders to have a conference about it 10 – 11 years ago. Let alone doing one in Bali was a bit ridiculous.

So first I’m just high-fiving you all and in saying congratulations because whether you set out to be one or not. you are one of the people who’s helping to advance the modern workforce and I’ll also ask a quick question. I know a lot of the answer probably but how many of you consider yourself remote workers. So it’s really fun to ask that question to this kind of enlightened audience.


Few words about me

Because typically when I ask that question people maybe about 20 to 30% of the hands go up and this is even at tech conferences where you kind of expect. That they’d be a little more savvy to that. So a lot of the challenge with it is the discrepancy between what is happening already with how we work and the idea that.

It’s already hybridized and we’re already working remotely in many cases. So most white weight collar professional jobs offer some kind of remote work whether. It’s 5 percent or 100 percent. I think that’s one of the areas. We really have to help raise awareness. So let me dig into the gender equity part of this a little bit and this is a very personal part for me.

So I’ll take a step back and tell you a little bit about my story because for a long time. I was kind of lucky I didn’t realize the gender equity was an issue in the workplace. I just kind of went through my career and It wasn’t really in. I was 32 and pregnant with my first child that it hit me. So with that I will also start with something Lara mentioned bout my why this is a concept. I learned if any of you have read or heard of Simon Sinek. He wrote a book about seventy years ago called “Start with why”.

It’s something to give them probably really bad synopsis of it about what when you go back in your history what are the experiences. That you’ve had that have kind of meant a lot to you that have formed your views both in how you interact with the world. But also it’s important to you. So for me when I do that.

I think of my parents. So my mom was an amazing stay at home mom she. I’m sure, she handmade that cake and probably made some of the decorations. She was very hands on very involved but professionally. She had to give up well. She wanted to be an artist and her father at the time wouldn’t pay for her at school wanting her to be something more practical like a secretary which sounded pretty horrible to somebody who wants to be an artist.

So she took the other path that was very common at the time. She got married and had kids my dad was a very active involved and dedicated father. But he his job took him away from us a lot his job took him away for days weeks months  sometimes and when my parents were. I was young and when they divorced he. Also had to move away out of state for his career. He worked in film and the hubs were on either coast and we lived in Pennsylvania.

So the irony for me was that he in his dedication to the family and being financially responsible. He actually had to sacrifice us for it for it in a way so in these reflections I kind of realized how my parents and my child had laid the groundwork for me and my future passion and work flexibility this wasn’t just a topic.

I happen into this is actually something that was very deep for me and tied to how I live. My life and my work style in my dreams. So this isn’t just a trend this something. That really ties to the social fabric of how we work. So to what social change though you first need to learn the social limitations. So fast-forward a bunch of years and I do have into my career. I was 21 and in college and a friend. I had a brilliant idea and dropped out she started. It was also in the employment market which is what FlexJobss is in we were.

We have no business experience whatsoever. We were two 21 year old girl – what about 16 and we, but we loved it. It was really the first opportunity. I had to understand what true passion was for your job and what idea that you can make an impact and really dream big and kind of go for it so we did that the other part of.
It was my first foray into telecommuting. So about three years after we started the company. I wanted to go back to school and finish. ­I went to school in the west coast in California and we had no good reason whatsoever started the company in Connecticut. There’s no taxis in the mid-nineties.

So I pitched my board and asked if I could go back to Berkeley and to finish up while working East Coast hours. Then doing school in the afternoons and evenings and they said yes. So that year was really successful.

I was able to kind of identify in my role what parts of my job were really conducive to telecommuting and from there fly back I had to fly back for some meetings and such but it was a great year and afterwards. I had promised I would come back.

So I did we sold the company to corn very international and kind of I was looking at what my next my next venture would be I moved back into so the next step in my career was moving back to California. I worked for a company that introduced me from the remote work standpoint to new kind of remote work. This one was kind of unnamed kind. It’s the kind that’s actually been happening for a really long time. But most companies don’t ever acknowledge.

So I was based in San Francisco and a lot of the team. I worked with who’s in the headquarters in Utah. We use technology as a platform to collaborate and manage. We’re together and it all worked really well. It was something that again. I was keenly aware that they didn’t call. It telecommuting remote working. But I knew it could work. So from there I moved to Colorado and I took a job has nothing to do with my work. What so ever but what it did have to do with was work-life balance and I worked for culinary school which it was kind of my intentional step away from tech to do something in education and food with both of which I loved I.

It was a real insight to me to realize that you can leave work you can actually the tech industry that’s not super common and having. That delineation between work and my life was fantastic after a few years. Though I did get ready to get back into tech and use those skills. So I started a u.s. a us-based branch of a successful UK company that again.

We very much employ this kind of unnamed remote work. That a lot of the team was over in the UK. We communicated using technology etc. We had the international component but it was pretty much the same. I learned a couple of other things at that role um one of them being.

Managers with bad business ethics

I don’t want to work for a company. I don’t believe in. I don’t want to work for a manager who has really bad business ethics and true to that second one when I was about seven months pregnant they laid me off and I went to go look at the next thing

I was goanna do and I maybe separately maybe a little naively decided to go and interview for jobs. So I don’t know having to be pregnant a good half of this room. I’m not but you can imagine what interviewing at seven eight months was and for me.

This was a big aha moment. This was when I realized that there was still a really profound gender equity issue in the workplace. I in fact had HR directors tell me basically come back in four to five months when you’re done with your maternity leave. So that for me was a pretty big shocker um. So I did what anybody would do. I started a company while also having a baby not really recommended but the completely challenging timing of this for me and the fact that.

I believed in it so much after looking around the landscape of what existed and the different reasons that people want and need work flexibility me. I just felt deeply that there had to be a better way. So I wanted to create FlexJobss in the vision that I wanted to see so we created a totally remote company. We created with pretty much all flexible hours. So I think only our client services team doesn’t have flexible hours all the time and over the past 11 years.

We have won awards for company culture. We have created a company that has 85 percent women 75 percent of the leadership team being women. This wasn’t anything we did intentionally but it was easy which given the global landscape of gender equity that’s pretty surprising and something that.

I started to dig into a little bit more so why aren’t there more women leaders. This really led me on kind of a bit of a quest and the World Economic Forum put out. They do a number of different studies but one of them was the future of jobs report. They highlight some of the most common reasons. These are a lot of them are at the point of hire. Some of them are earlier on and.

So when I look at these. I really realize that there are a lot of different issues. That are underlying this and some of them are things that women are just chronically more powerless than men in the workplace women still make less than a dollar on average for the same work. Women get have there’s a lack of funding when it comes to their to investment in women led companies in fact in the u.s. Women’s career is not easy. It takes a lot of effort to become successful.

women careersI think it’s around 2% last year for VC money. I think that all of these different areas and we consider this and how our current world and professional workplaces function. We need to focus on what will move the Needle now and a big consideration for that is the World Economic Forum. Also puts out projections on when women will we reach financial equality in the workplace you said it 200 almost 170 years away but not cool.

So we need to focus on what we can do now. So there’s some experts extremely promising data that we’ve been looking at with well with remote work. That can significantly improve some of these underlying issues.


How remote work can help women?

So remote code data how remote work can help women. So FlexJobss launched a sister site a few years ago called remote Koh. I launched it mainly because there weren’t conferences like this. There was no shared information if you’re a remote company or you wanted to be a remote company. So When I started it if some of the previous talks have said I was really conscientious in how I did it. But I think a lot of companies don’t have that time or luxury and or investors breathing down their necks.

So I worked really hard at it, but in starting remote. Howe we interviewed over 135 companies that were 50% or more remote and in those what I wouldn’t be astounding things. I found that is similar to here is that people are.

So forthcoming in the kind of information they wanted to share which is very different than most of the business world when you ask people their inner workings. So at one point it crossed my mind how if we had created this very gender friendly equality and an even more women friendly company. I wonder if organically that’s happened with other remote companies.

So I started to dig into the data that we had been compiling and we were really happy to find out that according to our analysis 19 percent of the remote dedicated companies had a woman CEO founder or president. When you took away the 50 percent and just to book entirely removal companies that number went up to 29 percent now.

Some foil although it’s not comparing apples to oranges. But it does speak to the average expectation is from single digits five to six percent and those are at much broader scales of leadership and what we were looking.

So we love seeing this how remote work is supporting women in leadership roles. It makes me wonder how we can you know what are the reasons for this. How can we grow it. How can we scale it? How can we make more impact? So the first impact is improving productivity. This is what I’m in some ways you know much of this.

A remote employee is able to be the leader of the company.

But I’ll give a little bit of information on. It remote works are more naturally geared towards paying attention to best practices management kpi’s productivity measurement of productivity and engagement. Because if they’re not goanna work I’ve long believed that remote workers are a bellwether for a company. If remote work isn’t working you’ll be able to tell a whole lot faster than you can tell in the office.

There’s a lot of false positives that come in with an office environment and culture. And you really you might like somebody a ton they might show up on time. They might be well dressed they might really find me at the water cooler. But it doesn’t tie to any of their performance metrics.

So we don’t have those luxuries in remote work and that’s something. That’s a good thing evolve the definition of what a leader looks like this is a little different remote companies are inherently prone to being more open to evolving the ideas of what business leadership might be.

This includes what employment what leaders look like. So the Rockefeller Foundation did a couple of studies. One of them found that one in four Americans silly but one in four Americans believe. That humans will figure out time travel before they figure out gender equity in the corner offices now  hopefully that’s not true but they.

why aren't there more women leaders

Why aren’t there more women leaders?

Also found that in terms of perceptions of what’s holding women back a mountain ought to reach the leadership positions. They found that 65% of people think. That it’s the men in power or in leadership roles that are holding women down there one of the bigger barriers may be not surprisingly 90% of women agree with that statement but only 49% of men.

So we have some work to do on that for sure the traditional look actually I’ll mention is when you have a visual representation of what a leader looks like. All the time that that’s a powerful message our brains and so in a remote environment. It becomes much more about the tangible skills and communication methods and actual productivity which is really should be the measurement. We’re looking at anyway. So a third and a big really big one is keeping women engaged in the workforce. This is something that women generally have to make a choice when they get to the motherhood stage of their lives.

jobs for women

I did and they’re still responsible for the bulk of caregiving the Pew Research said that 39 percent of mothers had at some point had to leave their career for a substantial amount of time which makes. It much harder to honor a much harder to keep up with a pay structure compared to only 24% of men the New York Times.

Also reported recently that for example these are people who well they interview people who are doing rmv MBAs which people are investing a lot of time and energy and money into their education and within a decade.

They say about half of the women are goanna be out of the workforce due to family citing family reasons. As the main goals or main cause so women need a more flexible time effective way to contribute. They need a sustainable work situation.

It’s really key to this situation to advance from at work in tune and advance having women in the workplace. It has to be sustainable and not just for the women and I don’t so include men in this. But it also has to be sustainable for the companies.

So the benefits for the companies money flies no just kidding. That’s not true I wish that was I wish I were that easy. But really what it is it’s a whole ecosystem of benefits. That have to be intertwined both the short and long term benefits the companies need to be looking at the financial. As well as cultural retention all of the other HR reasons.

We’re talking about and in terms of some of the numbers to back it up McKinsey actually Flora. So it had this in her slides. As well but I’m not she kind of glossed over. It so I’ll just highlight it a little bit is that the McKinsey has cited that companies perform 15% better financially with a gender diverse base of employees the World Economic Forum again.

So sites that work flexibility is one of the biggest drivers of transformation in the workplace. They also look at the future of skills in to be successful in the next coming kind of realm and in the top 10 or ones like creativity collaboration emotional intelligence. These are all ones that women tend to be more strong in. So to toss in one other number metric.

I have straight dollars is the global workplace and that analytics is done research showing that even a part-time remote worker can save a company up to eleven thousand dollars per head. So you do the math on that and. It’s a huge massive potential savings for companies depending on your size. So what can you do this is a pretty easy one for this audience.


The first one keep it up promote work remote work within your organizations including in the and. The teams that don’t currently offer it the second removes pay attention to research on news and gender equality in the workplaces I recommend to.

If you’re not up on this topic to good easy ones are fortunate the broadsheet email. As well as If you want to read a fantastic book that goes really deep globally on this topic. I’m irritable appears ago and has received a lot of accolades for it and the third one is model gender equity and inclusiveness OOP sorry the numbers are a little off there this means in your actions in your language in everything you do a role model the behavior.

Then share your remote work story this is something that it can be really powerful use. It your employer branding share. It with us on remote co we actually have Github and time doctor and dust are all companies that are shared their information on a real co get on there and promote what you’re doing. It’s something that in the press can really help your company stand apart when it comes to recruiting. This is something that as we’ve talked about the Millennials want.

So can only help your company brand. So remote work is a it’s not the only solution. But it is one of the biggest in my opinion it’s  can be a game-changer. So a couple weeks ago. I was speaking with a reporter Nancy Pollak who’s writing a book on Millennials.

She asked me to kind of describe what I see has changed in the last ten years particularly. As it applies to remote work and a couple things popped into my mind of course the diversification of the types of jobs the growth and the job opportunities and the awareness that we have now that.

We did not have then. But this also led me to think about how remote work has really impacted. My life and it’s something that’s been amazing. I mean for me I’m allowed to well actually. I reflected on my parents earlier. You know my mom had to make a hard choice.

She was a stay-at-home mom amazing but she has some regrets. My father had to travel a ton for his job and he also will say he had some regrets and that was a different time. I know they both did their best absolutely. But for me the opportunity that I have through remote work to create a global company from my little home office in Boulder Colorado. While being involved with my kids and wearing yoga pants um this is something that’s really changed my world.

If there’s anything as we as we think about this talk and if you walk away from this with anything. I really hope that you realize. We’re not just promoting Rameau work. We’re promoting equality.  If we all work together each and every one of us from around the world. We can help make a more modern inclusive and forward-thinking workforce so thank you.


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