Is there really a pipeline problem in Silicon Valley? That's the argument many there use to justify the lack of women in technology jobs. But Katharine Zaleski doesn't fully buy it.

"There are a huge number of women who want to work in tech right now. Let's invest in those women," says Zaleski, a former Huffington Post manager who wants to change the tech job opportunities for women, especially those with children or other obligations that make remote work more attractive.

In 2014, she launched women-only hiring platform PowerToFly with Milena Berry, former CTO of online activism site Avaaz.org. In a recent interview, Zaleski explained why companies including BuzzFeed, Hearst, and The Washington Post have found plenty of (female!) tech talent on her platform.

What inspired you to found this company?

My co-founder, Milena Berry, came to me with the idea when my daughter was 6 weeks old. I was feeling lost, depressed about the idea that I either had to go back into an office and never see my kid or slowly pull out of the work force because I couldn't be in an office all the time. I just thought it was ridiculous that those are the choices a woman has to make after having a child. There are so many women out there; the problem is with the offices that were never created for women in the first place--these campuses that motivate employees to practically live onsite. Having a remote work force is just incredibly efficient; it allows you to source from the global talent pool or locally in the United States. We're connecting women from low-tech areas to high-tech jobs.

How does someone qualify for the talent pool?

It's a huge database of 60,000 highly skilled women. Anybody can sign up; they fill in a profile. If they're in tech, we'll put them through our screening process that involves a third-party code review test. We also screen for soft skills like language. Companies can do their own searches on the platform, but we very much have a concierge service when it comes to matching women in tech. We do a lot of handholding to ensure that the businesses are getting prescreened women who can really kick ass and prove that remote works. The majority is monthly recurring work, with a minimum of 30 hours a week.

So these women want to work, they just don't want to be commuting to an office for long hours every day?

Right. Or they don't even live near these offices. Moving to Palo Alto [California] is really expensive. Moving to New York City is really expensive. That's where the jobs are, yet we live in a day and age when you can work from anywhere.

When I was nine months pregnant, I would trudge 45 minutes into the office from Brooklyn [New York]. I would sit down and I would Skype with the dude next to me and just be so miserable the whole time. Do you know how much more productive I would have been if I could have just stayed at home with my computer on my lap and not worried that I was going to go into labor every time I was moving between chairs?

What companies are coming to you?

Hearst is a major client. BuzzFeed. The Washington Post. We have some fast-growing startups that are between Series A and Series B funding--they have more than a million in funding and they're adding a lot of jobs.

Have you had pushback from people who say this is exclusive, or even sexist?

I've heard people say, "I hire based on skills; that's why we have so many men," which is totally sexist. I turn around and say, well, OK, that's why we have a team of 55 women; we hire on the basis of skills. (We totally eat our own cooking: Fifty-five out of 58 of our employees are women.)

Of course you hire on skills. But people also hire on the basis of connections. What we're providing is connections to highly, highly skilled women that so many hiring managers just do not have. I mean, name me one company that knows how to hire women in tech right now. That has a playbook for it. It doesn't exist. We're telling them, if you hire remotely, everything opens up.

It's the company that's paying that fee?

We don't charge women anything. We either add a markup to the woman's monthly rate--2 percent for international if you pay through us and 3.25 for national. Or, companies can pay us a placement fee of 20 percent, or 2 percent of the annual salary per month.

So do you think it's a myth that there just aren't many women with tech skills?

You hear all these big companies say that they don't have enough women in tech. They blame it on a pipeline problem that they say originates when a woman decides--when she's like 15--if she's going to continue with computer science or math. It's ridiculous; they're kicking the can back 10 years. Meanwhile, there are the women overseas that nobody's talking about. And then there are the women who dropped out, and people just think they're sort of gone. They're not gone; they actually probably want to work more than ever before. Don't get me wrong; we need more educational programs. But that's not the be-all-end-all solution. There are a huge number of women who want to work in tech right now. Let's invest in those women.

Published on: Jan 21, 2016
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