How High Impact Work with Flexibility Opens the Door for Inclusive Hiring Practices | Brea Starmer


Brea Starmer, Founder of Lions + Tigers, chats with Ceci Amador de San Jose about the importance of flexibility in high impact work. During the podcast, Ceci and Brea discuss how flexibility can improve diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as the organizational advantages of having a diverse workforce.


Brea Starmer



Ceci Amador [00:00:20] Welcome to the Future of Work podcast by Allwork.Space. I’m Ceci Amador de San Jose and today I’m looking forward to talking with Brea Starmer about flexibility, the future of work, and how the pandemic might impact diversity, inclusion in the workplace, and what are some strategies that companies can implement to embrace flexibility and hire amazing talent regardless of their location. Brea welcome.

Brea Starmer [00:00:50] Thank you, Ceci, I’m so happy to be here.

Ceci Amador [00:00:52] So Brea is the founder of Lions + Tigers, a marketing and strategy consultancy building a bridge to the future of Work. She started the firm in response to a need she identified as a mom of two young boys. High impact work with flexibility. So I want to start by asking you, what’s the need that you identified?

Ceci Amador [00:01:12] How did you identify it? And then I want to dove into Lions + Tigers. What’s the story behind that incredibly amazing and creative name.

Brea Starmer [00:01:23] Awesome. Yeah. Ceci. So I was working my way up the corporate ladder and was experiencing all of these different business models all around the Pacific Northwest in the Seattle area of America. And I was working at a startup and I was loving my time there and was so excited to get pregnant with my first son while I was at the startup. And unfortunately, that business didn’t have much of a path to profitability. And so in my seventh month of pregnancy, I was laid off. And so I found myself without a job and probably at my lowest point in my career because I was virtually on hirable and heading into a time when I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to work. And so just out of pure fear, essentially, I went and became a consultant. I just said, well, maybe you’ll hire me then not as a full time employee, but as a contractor or a freelancer, just so that I could have some work. So I started consulting in my third trimester. I had no idea how to do that. I just kind of made that up. And I worked 60 hours a week to save enough money to have maternity leave because in America we don’t have funded maternity leaves. So I paid myself eleven weeks to be able to be at home with my newborn baby. And after I had my first son, I decided that I really like this consulting work. And I decided to go back just twenty five hours a week after he was a few months old. And I worked that way for a while. And I started building up this kind of book of business, of part time consulting work that I was hustling myself for finding through my network. And I realized how much I loved it and how much it unlocked for me as both a professional and a mother. And I started to talk to a bunch of my friends who are also working moms or folks who were wanting to pursue some passion but felt really beholden. And by their job, they felt like they had to be in their seats from 9:00 to 5:00 every day. And it was about showing up in the hours that they worked. And that, to me, just seemed crazy because like we’re all super smart people and we can get so much done in a short period of time. So I set out to build a company that lets people pursue their passions or their lives and not feel like they have to sacrifice this kind of work where they can still do high impact work with a little bit more flexibility in their schedule. So that’s what we’re building today.

Ceci Amador [00:03:52] That’s amazing, and as a currently pregnant woman, I cannot imagine the stress and the fear of being laid off at seven months.

Ceci Amador [00:04:01] And how did you manage to work 60 hours a week? That’s like I never thought about it until I got pregnant. Like how? Like if I had to go into an office right now from eight to five, I probably would not be able to manage it. Like I find myself just like out of nowhere kind of like falling asleep on the couch or just being kind of lethargic, like exhausted all the time, I think. And I agree that flexibility is a really big issue, that I think the pandemic is bringing it to life a lot more. And people will pushed for it because right now they’ve experienced it, they know how amazing it is for them to control their schedules and still have time to do other stuff. And I like what you said about there being this pressure just to be in the office sitting down. And I’ve read so many statistics that say that that people that work in an office are usually productive for about four hours of the day. So that means that four hours of being in the office are just basically someone sitting at a chair, kind of like making it warm and cushiony and whatever. But people, when they work from home or when they have the flexibility to make their own schedules work whenever they feel they’re more productive, which can be for some people really early in the morning or really late at night, they’re much more productive and they’re productive for a lot of more hours than they would be in an office setting. Like, that’s very rigid with a fixed schedule. So I think it’s definitely incredible that you’re doing this. And I think that not only mothers and working moms can benefit from this, but I think there’s caretakers, people who have to take care of their elderly or grandparents or parents, or if a family member gets into an accident or they need some extra help, it allows them to remain very productive without compromising their income and creating any additional source of stress.

Brea Starmer [00:05:56] Yes, Ceci, I mean, you you get it for sure. First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy. Yes, being pregnant and having children is wicked hard all the time. We can talk about that. It can be its own podcast. I am also pregnant with my third kid currently. So there’s lots to talk about there. But I mean, you really nail that Ceci, because that’s the awesome thing about this model that we’re building, is that I don’t necessarily even have to explain it. People just understand what we’re after here, because, I mean, look, at the end of your life, you’re gonna look back and say, like, my life was full of these moments in these relationships and to me to have to go all day to a job. And of course, we need work. Right. Like many of us, like, I love to work it. I’m good at it. You know, it’s where I love to spend time. I also love my family. And so to be able to give people the space to do bulls so that this isn’t a binary choice, this doesn’t seem like the most obvious business of all time. In my mind. And yet it really feels quite revolutionary. You know, my managing director, Terry. He joined me because he was running for city council and he needed to go and knock on doors and shake hands every day from three to seven o’clock. And what a gift. As an employee to have as part of my community, a member who wants to be involved in civic engagement, that’s advocating for LGBTQ rights out in the world that I would love to vote for. Also giving some of his time whenever he can. To me, it just felt like it’s just such a win-win. I feel so lucky to get to have him. And he felt lucky that I don’t care if you gets out at 3:00 to go knock on doors. So whatever the passion is that people have, in my case, it’s raising children or caretaking. But there’s tons of examples of why this is a revolution that our workforce desperately needs.

Ceci Amador [00:07:48] Yeah, I agree. It’s definitely something the workforce needs. And I understand how in the past it wasn’t easy. I mean, they didn’t have the technology.

Ceci Amador [00:07:58] It was harder for people to work from anywhere I worked at any time. But with the technology available today, it just makes sense to empower workers in general, regardless of sex or age or whether they’re a parent or not, to simply work whenever they’re going to work their best. And I agree that it’s amazing to have people in a team that they want to get involved in other things. And I think that makes work even more. Passionate. I don’t know, like I feel like I love my job, I feel like I have the perfect job to be a working mother and to still be successful in my career. And they like working because of that, because it enables me to do that. It allows me to work in my own time. And I still like that I don’t miss deadlines. I’m still very productive. And I think that’s the thing people need to let go of the notion that you have to be in an office in order for you to actually work. And we’re seeing that right now with the pandemic, I don’t know, in the United States. But here in Guatemala, a lot of managers were worried that if they sent people back home to work well with the outbreak and everything, that they wouldn’t actually work. And they were looking into software platforms that could kind of like control or at least monitor how much time employees were spending and the computer, what times they were working. And I was like, no, that’s exactly the opposite of what you should be doing right now. Like, just empower them, let them do it. And people I feel like people that work mostly, they want to work. They want to find a way to make their work life work for them in combination with their family time. So I think that there are definitely many strategic advantages, both for the employee and the employer with setups that allow and enable for flexibility.

Brea Starmer [00:09:50] Yeah, that’s exactly right. And the market, the talent market is shifting so much. So before there was, there was a lot of risk and concern of people going home and, you know, watching TV all day and not doing their jobs. I mean, I get it. I totally get that. It’s counterculture to the production societies that we felt. However, I, like you, am an optimist and an idealist about putting people into what I call their highest and best use. It’s a real estate term that it takes a piece of property, a piece of land and makes sure that we get the highest return on investment on that square footage. I think the same thing applies to people. And if we can put people in their highest and best use, meaning giving them the tools that they need to be successful, the kind of organizational clarity that they need to understand how their work ladders up to the bigger mission and then help them along the way through support culture connection, which can, by the way, all be done remotely, then you really can start to build loyalty because the cost of replacing an employee is huge, is huge for an organization to try to undergo to try to recruit a net new person, train them up, which takes six months to get them to a place of equal utilization. When we could just focus on retaining those employees. And the risks are that, you know, if you look at surveys from Forbes and others. Fifty one percent of employees would change jobs to have more flexibility. That’s the risk for employers that they need to be considering talent. Talent is the currency, no matter what your product or service says, having good people to do the work in your building or now across the world really is the opportunity for how. That is the economic engine. And so how you procure that talent in this new world of work really is what will make companies win or lose. And that’s where lions and tigers have stepped in and said, hey, you may not need a full time employee to to service that particular need or to solve that particular challenge. You might be able to do it with fractional staff or sprint staff as opposed to full time. So potentially consider multiple models for brands that are thinking about this progressively.

Ceci Amador [00:11:59] And you just talked about talent. And I think talent has become over the last few years the number one priority for organizations. And one thing that flexibility and remote work allows is for organizations to tap into talent that is not locally based, which can be great. And I think it’s something I think it’s great for companies to hire local talent. But when you can tap into a global talent market, that just opens up so many possibilities and it just makes sense.

Brea Starmer [00:12:32] It does. And this is turning into now an opportunity for the most inclusive hiring practices we could possibly consider. There are tons of legal implications of hiring a global workforce. Of course, our systems have not yet caught up to the kind of pace and innovation that businesses are trying to consider in this talent revolution, for example, in America. We have a tax system that looks at a W2 worker versus a ten ninety nine worker. They’re tax classifications for how an employee or a freelancer works. And so then to think about hiring some Australia or Guatemala, there are many considerations that an employer has to think about from a risk perspective. So I’m not at all suggesting that we’re able to just jump ahead of some of the regulations that we need to catch up. But the reality is that it will need to catch up because the global workforce is truly opening up these virtual boardrooms now for companies who need to make decisions on a dime. I mean, that’s what’s happened. Sassy since the pandemic has come about is that we’re not really doing three year planning anymore. We’re doing a three month planning or three week plan anyway. Planning. I mean, that’s it. That’s all we can do is like let’s look at the next three, three weeks and try Ozge. And so sometimes you just need someone to help you make that next decision. You might not need someone to think completely long term about an embedded part of your business. You simply need to make the next decision. And that’s really where these kinds of flexible consulting or talent models can step in and fill in that gap.

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Ceci Amador [00:14:04] I definitely agree. And I think the pandemic has come to show that there are still a lot of issues and regulations that we need to address. And right now, something that I think is very relevant to your company, to you is working parents that are at home with children that are not yet going back to school. And recently, I think it was an I think it was a university in Florida that recently kind of had a press release saying that their faculty was not going to allow them to take care of their children during work hours. And I was like, well, what? How is that even a thing? Like, even if they didn’t want to like the kids there, you have to figure out a way. And it’s not like you can hire a babysitter right now, because obviously what you want to avoid is bringing more people into your home, exposing people and your kids to others. And so it just baffles me that this is something that people are going to have to deal with right now. And I think that not many organizations are realizing how hard it’s become for parents and caretakers right now to juggle both work and family life while stuck at home.

Brea Starmer [00:15:25] That is the reality of the situation. Absolutely. And to be honest and statistically speaking, it is disproportionately affecting women and mothers. And that’s the part that’s so hard here, is that I’ve seen studies that show anywhere from women working an additional 15 to 70 hours on home, making and caring for children in addition to their jobs every week. And you’re seeing certainly an increase for men, but just not at the same pace. And I read that article Sassy. I mean, it was heartbreaking to see that an employer would take a stance like that, especially in the education space. The front page of The New York Times a couple of days ago essentially had this article that I will summarize in one sentence, which is like, why are we not screaming louder about this? And it does seem like we’re missing this huge moment of grace for especially the mothers who are homeschooling, caring for many members of the family, not just their children, but we’ve got sandwich generations. And then also trying to perform at work. It is just too much. And relief doesn’t appear to be coming soon. So. So, you know, what will happen is that women will fall out of the workforce. We may have the potential with a pandemic to erase decades of progress, of gender equity and racial equity that we have tried to bring about into our workforces. And this pandemic is really, really a risk for women and especially women of color who are facing a lot more challenges than many of their white male peers.

Ceci Amador [00:17:03] What are some? Suggestions or strategies that you think that organizations can take to avoid this, to kind of make sure that women, women of color, caretakers, that they are still that we don’t kind of like just dump and be the great progress that has been made in gender equity in the workplace. What are some things that companies can do that they can look at? What are some ways that they can protect these types of workers?

Brea Starmer [00:17:34] Yeah, there’s a few things. First, we talk about technology. You mentioned that technology is really opening up the doors to allow for what I consider asynchronous work. And what that means is that we structure projects in a way that don’t require people to be online at the same time to do their work. And this does require some creativity, requires an organization investing in how work is completed. And maybe you move from a scrum to an agile methodology, or maybe you take a production line approach and consider how we might take that virtual. And so there definitely has to be some operational rigor put in to unlock asynchronous work. But that’s one approach because it allows caretakers or folks who don’t have the kind of same 9:00 to 5:00 availability to be able to break that apart due to our sprints, come in and work like I worked until 1:00 a.m. last night because I spent the evening with my children. Like that was my choice. But I was able to do that because my team had left me some work for me to pick up after they went to bed. And that kind of skills shift work is one approach to it. Another I always go back to is a strategic planning initiative. So many organizations we’re still seeing are in a trash mode. They’re still thinking about what are the things that I need to solve tomorrow so that my customers don’t leave me, so that my partners remain engaged so that my supply chain continues to operate. What we’re starting to now kind of look at is that that is starting to lengthen a bit as people start to reopen. And so strategic planning seems a little idealistic, but it’s not in that you can use that as a function to bring people together to ensure that you are aligned to the new mission at hand and then start to break out pieces of organizational clarity that help people understand what’s expected of them. This goes back to not necessarily setting their benchmarks on hours worked. So if our system today rewards the number of hours clocked and that’s how we compensate people that ladder up like it is that the metric that we want to track a line to our biggest mission? Or perhaps could we think a little more creatively about the mission at hand and how we might reward impact done by individuals that ladders up in a different way? Can we think about compensation in a different way so that there are many other options? But those are a couple that come to mind quickly that might help us think about that. A way to have a little more grace and inclusion.

Ceci Amador [00:20:13] Great. And then can you speak to some of the organizational advantages, benefits that having a more diverse and inclusive workforce brings?

Ceci Amador [00:20:23] I think that people often don’t realize the great value that having a very diverse workforce can have on how it can impact overall business performance.

Brea Starmer [00:20:36] Yeah, certainly as as many statistics have shown, organizations that have diverse and inclusive boards of directors, leadership teams and workforces are more profitable, they are more equitable, and they are able to sustain big challenges in the market better than their peers who have less diverse workforces. We are seeing a call to arms, especially here in America. And I know around the world we are seeing a cry for civic justice, for inclusion. And so there are now really conversations happening at every level of an organization that are long overdue. And what that means is that now organizations more than ever are thinking introspectively about how inclusion not just helps them with, you know, putting the metrics up on the board of how many how many folks of color they have hired. But more than that, they’re thinking about how to do diverse perspectives, benefit the product that I’m building so that we have representation from all communities who might potentially be purchasers of my product. It actually makes, ah, the depth of our work more rich. It certainly brings about new perspectives, new ways of selling, new messaging, and new ideas for operations. And so you see organizations who invest in inclusive cities outperform their peers. And we know how important that is, especially in women founded businesses in the v.C space for venture venture funding. You know, less than five percent. Way less than five percent of funding goes to female founded organizations. So there are systemic challenges that women are up against when they’re trying to be entrepreneurs and need that kind of backing, that mentorship and that sponsorship. So, of course, my encouragement is always to consider how we can use our dollars? Are economic engines our economic opportunity to help fund and bring along the next generation of innovators at lions and tigers? My company has seventy five percent women and 77 percent parents. It’s been really important to me from the start to bring about a group of folks who are representative of the future of work. And so that’s how we have manifested in our hiring practices.

Ceci Amador [00:23:00] That’s amazing. Amazing. And I completely agree that there are so many benefits and they’ve been proven and it’s just been kind of slower for people and organizations to act on it. And then going back to the start in lions and tigers. I know I didn’t. And eventually ask you this, but what’s behind the name? What’s behind the Lions + Tigers name?

Brea Starmer [00:23:24] Sure. So lions and tigers generally, I get kind of two reactions to that name. First, do people think about the animals like lions and tigers being these very strong, courageous, fierce animals who live in pride? They’re very female heavy. A lot of caretaking happens. And the community happens in this animal kingdom. And then the other kind of inspiration that we had for that is the movie in the book, The Wizard of Oz, because Dorothy is one of the greatest stories of a female who brings along others on this epic journey of self discovery. And so both of those themes were so true with what we’re trying to do here at Lions and Tigers, which is to help inspire people to live fearless lives. And that name came to me when I was returning from a camping trip and I had two kids sleeping on either side of me. And I was sitting in the back seat with them because, you know, you got to give them goldfish and stuff on the drive home. And I was just sitting in the back brainstorming names and I wrote that one down. And as soon as I wrote it down Ceci, I knew that there was something that was something. And so and then we hired a bunch of copywriters and creatives to try to come in and beat it. And we could never beat the name. It was just sending that stuck with us. That just really brought about that kind of courageous mission that we’re all trying to prove. So it has stuck and it is really landed, I think, with our community. Well.

Ceci Amador [00:24:50] It’s a very powerful name, definitely like when I saw it. It definitely grabbed my attention and I just couldn’t figure out what was behind the name. But now that you mention it, it makes sense and it’s really, really amazing. I wanted to ask if there’s anything else that you’d wanted to add. And if not, if you could just kind of quickly sum up what we just talked about today, the value of flexibility as a strategic company policy. I guess it should be.

Brea Starmer [00:25:25] Yeah, I think that the opportunity for brands as we move into this new world of work will be about embracing talent acquisition strategies to help them succeed, to help them compete. And I encourage brands to think a little bit creatively about how they bring the workforce of the future along, which means empowering their employees and considering staff augmentation or consulting to help with spread agile projects or big problems that they need to have folks come alongside them with great expertise to solve. And if they consider that sort of holistic talent solution and offer the kind of flexibility that their staff needs, this new world of work evolves. They will see greater gains, greater loyalty, and in a more diverse workforce that represents the products they’re trying to build. So I’m a huge advocate for people thinking about this as flexibility, as a strategic advantage to benefit their workforce and themselves.

Ceci Amador [00:26:28] Amazing, I completely agree that flexibility can be a very valuable strategic advantage, and I definitely think that in the future of work we will constantly and regularly move towards increased flexibility, not just in terms of employees, but I think organizations overall will have to become a lot more flexible and resilient with how they respond to different market needs, changes and even pandemics like the one that we’re living right now. So thank you so much Brea for taking the time today to chat with us.

Brea Starmer [00:27:02] Thanks, Ceci, I really appreciate it.

Ceci Amador [00:27:04] And thank you, everyone, for tuning in once again to the Future of Work podcast. Remember, you can also tune in on Allwork.Space, Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn Radio and Podbean.

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