An early employee and executive at global consulting firm High Street Partners, Nicole Sahin had an alternative vision for helping companies go global. She left that job and spent a year traveling around the world with her husband--who started his own company at the same time--to meet potential business partners. When she landed in Boston to bring her idea to life, she found that the culture clash had only just begun.
--As told to Alix Stuart
When I first started the company, people would ask me, "Does your husband own your business?" or "Do you and your husband work together?" Even people who are feminists will say that sort of thing. It irritated me so much. I would think, "Do you think that woman can't run a company?" My mom had a flower shop, and my grandmother was the sixth woman in the country to join the Navy during World War II. The idea that a woman would be perceived as being unable to do anything a man could do was not part of my cultural history.
Now our company is 75 percent women, 25 percent men. Our management team is entirely female. I always hire the most competent people I know; it's just that they often happen to be women. A lot of people mention it: "Oh, there are a lot of women on your team." Nobody even blinks an eye when there's an all-male management team on a company website. Yet the evidence shows that more diverse organizations tend to be better-managed and more profitable. So now as a team, we're focused on becoming more diverse at every level of the organization and in every way.
This isn't a cupcake shop. No offense to cupcake shops, but it's not. We're doing business in 130 countries. We're reducing the timeline for a company to hire an employee from another country from six to 12 months to three to five days. We have more than 100 clients and our goal is to meet the need of 30,000 employers, to be the standard of global payroll. We really want to train the members of our team to see the whole business, because those people will hopefully be the managers of our future. Whether it's our team or our clients, I'm cultivating them for the long term. It's incredibly important that all of them are happy. We offer a lot of flexibility in hours, and a lot of understanding about family commitments.
There are a lot of maternity leaves. We've had to navigate four and soon to be five of them in the past two years. But it's actually been great for our growth and scaling our business. The employees can train someone else to do their jobs perfectly before they leave and typically move into something better when they come back. My colleague Melissa was working as an account manager, and a very good one, when she started with the organization. When she went on maternity leave, we went through a growth patch and had to hire two and a half people to fill her shoes. When she came back, we put her in a new, more strategic role. She's now our senior director of finance and operations; she pretty much runs the whole company. So far we haven't had a male employee become a parent, but I intend for him to take family leave when that happens, too.