FEMALE FOUNDERS

The Last Great Untapped Talent Pool

These workers spend years developing their skills and careers, then suddenly drop out.
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We often hear CEOs talk about employees being a business’s greatest asset. The unique combination of talent, skills, behaviors and personalities that make up the human capital of a business are the only true competitive advantage that cannot be replicated. In this regard, investors are no different than CEOs. Watch one episode of Shark Tank and you will see that venture capitalists make investment decisions based on the founding team, not just on a great product.

If people are so important, why is a huge talent pool sitting on the sidelines? A talent pool of executives and entrepreneurs who have earned their stripes but are under-utilized simply because they need flexibility? Yes, I am talking about moms.

Opt Out, Lean In, or Neither

Sherry Lombardi, co-founder and CEO of digital media company Hulafrog, believes that women who leave the workforce after having children create a significant gap in the talent pool for leaders and entrepreneurs - even if those women eventually opt back in. Hulafrog recently published an infographic and findings from a survey of over 2,100 U.S.-based women with children aged 18 and under living at home. (Full disclosure: Hulafrog is an Astia client, and I am on the Astia Board of Trustees.)

According to Lombardi, 76% of the survey respondents have a college or advanced degree and 58% of them have between six and 15 years of professional experience. That’s a lot of talent walking out the door.

After spending years investing in her education and career, everything changed when Lombardi and her husband started a family. She didn’t want to leave the workforce, but saw no other viable option. “That’s the black-and-white of opting-out and leaning in. You are forced to make a trade-off decision where someone or something loses out,” says Lombardi.

Like any good entrepreneur will tell you, where there’s pain there is opportunity. This is no exception.

The opportunity for businesses

Creating parent-friendly schedules and work packages enables business leaders to attract and retain exceptional talent who otherwise would take their human capital elsewhere, or nowhere. Fifty-nine percent of the women surveyed by HulaFrog would take a pay cut in order to have a more flexible schedule or virtual work. No one wants to take a sick day when their child has the flu or a doctor’s appointment. Instead of focusing on in-office tactics, Lombardi suggests that human resources departments consider flex-schedules and performance-based pay.

If you are running a start-up, you have to find a way build a family-friendly culture while accelerating toward aggressive start-up goals. Most entrepreneurs and founding teams are not in a position to hire expensive full-time employees. That’s a great opportunity for lean-and-mean start-ups to contract key work such as coding, public relations, design, and sales to skilled moms who are willing to exchange a full-time paycheck for contract work. Says Lombardi: “We use this model at Hulafrog. We get key talent, and mompreneurs are able to be both mom and a valued member of the workforce. Everybody wins.”

Last updated: Sep 25, 2013

PATRICIA FLETCHER | Columnist

Scholar-practitioner, experienced high-tech marketer and advocate for meaningful innovation, Patricia Fletcher is passionate about leveling the imbalanced technology playing field to include all the best innovators. She blogs at www.psdnetwork.com and tweets at @pkfletcher.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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