The talk these days is about why there are so few women in tech. Last August, Katharine Zaleski and Milena Berry created a company that they claim will be a solution. PowerToFly is a service that finds work-from-home jobs for female tech talent, particularly mothers who don’t want to leave their children.
Already, PowerToFly counts a few big companies like Buzzfeed and Hearst among its clients. (BuzzFeed CEO, Jonah Peretti, is one of their angel investors.) For Zaleski, former digital head of Washington Post, and Berry, the former CTO of political activist site Avaaz.org, this company is also a personal mission. Both are mothers and say they know that female tech talent is out there. They believe that remote work is the key to closing the tech gender gap.
Fortune chatted with Berry and Zaleski. [Transcript lightly edited for length and clarity.]
Let's start at the beginning. What inspired you to start PowerToFly?
Berry: I have three kids. The oldest is eight. When she was ten months old, I became the CTO of Avaaz.org. I joined 3 months in and when I left we had 33 million members. I managed a remote team of about 20 people there. I would often be nursing while managing a server crisis. I could be productive and have a great career. It was wonderful. I wanted to know if this could scale to more companies.
Zaleski: When Milena came to me, I was struggling with the idea of going back to my office for ten hours a day and leaving my baby. I’m traveling in the Dominican Republic right now. I have Internet and I can do all my work. But I don’t have to sacrifice seeing my child.
What’s your edge? What are you offering that employers can't do on their own?
Zaleski: We’re offering a service where we present vetted female talent. There’s this line that keeps repeating that women in tech don’t exist and that not enough women are graduating with tech degrees. That’s not the immediate problem. Women in tech do exist, but when they get to a certain age, they don’t want to sit in essentially college campuses—which is what these companies have done to attract a certain type of man. Women in their thirties have experience, they want their own lives, and these are the women that companies want.
Berry: Remote work is the part we see the most resistance to. Our goal is to change the conversation around it. Knowing how to do remote takes a bit of training and then it can totally work in any organization. We’re training clients on how to do remote so they can work with some of our own talent.
What's involved with your training?
Berry: We have regular newsletters for anyone who has posted a job on [our] network. We're launching a new set of webinars on how to do remote. We also issue guidelines to all talent and alert the companies in the Code of Conduct we require from both sides. Making remote work effective is all about good communication. We use daily reports: sent to your manager and the people on your team, that way you have upward and horizontal visibility.
Zaleski: For the first two weeks, we assign each woman and client a talent manager. The talent manager's goal is to help create an environment for a successful remote relationship.
How has business been going?
Zaleski: We’ve processed almost $1 million in payment for these women. We’re proud of this. Things are starting to ramp up. I just got back from the Middle East. In Palestine over 50% of women graduate with IT degrees but only a small fraction have jobs because their families don’t want them to leave home. We’re also starting to work with women in Saudi Arabia and in Haiti.
One of our goals is to give [more] women paychecks so they can support other women by paying for childcare or buying more goods from friends who are producing in their villages or locally.
Berry: We have our technology and our databases, but now we have to scale. We want to grow to the millions.
Eric Schmidt (of Google) has said that water cooler talk is important and Marissa Mayer rolled back Yahoo’s work-from-home policy. What would you say to them?
Zaleski: I never had a productive conversation with a water cooler. It’s incredible that these CEOs are saying this. They aren’t in the office that much, and they have their own ways of working remotely. We’re really going down the wrong path if we’ve trying to spread this idea that the perfect work place is an extension of college.
There’s this misnomer that mothers who work from home don’t work. I’ve never been with a more productive group. In our case, we run 24 hours a day. Remote work eliminates needing real estate in an expensive city, which eliminates the need to pay expensive salaries for living in these cities. If you aren’t doing remote as a startup, you are killing yourself.
Some fear that working remotely can put women on a mommy track and keep them from getting promoted. What are your thoughts on this?
Berry: I see a lot of high profile positions being done remotely in various industries - not just in tech. Companies need to change the way they work and the cultures they support to create more intimacy and culture online and require less of a physical presence. I was a CTO of a large nonprofit and my chances didn't get hurt by being a working from home mommy.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified PowerToFly as Power to Fly.