This article is from Forbes online business blog. Read the original article HERE.
Forget “Work-Life Balance” — Give Us Choices Instead
By Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder, Exaqueo.
From Millennials to new moms, flexibility continues to top the list of what women want from work. Why do we care so much? Our lives require it. From carpooling and play dates to marathon training and boardroom presentations, we make it all fit — or at least, we try to. So it’s no surprise that women no longer want to choose between working or staying home, or some combination of those options.
Forget work-life balance. We want a little bit of everything.
The New “Balance” Problem
I met Lauren Sigler and Anne Brinker for coffee—easily spotted by their trademark Stella & Dot jewelry. Independent stylists for the growing jewelry and accessories brand, Sigler and Brinker are both confident, college-educated moms on a mission to figure out a way to meld work and home in a new way.
The question of working or staying home is decades old. In 1950, women made up less than 30 percent of the workforce. But in 1990, 53 percent of married households had both husband and wife employed. It wasn’t surprising that the number rose so dramatically. But 10 years later (2010) that number remained unchanged. And according to a 2011 Catalyst study, the number of dual-career households is even beginning to fall.
For American families, choosing to have mom stay home is still about a 50/50 split. It seems to be a yes or no decision, and it’s a big one. For women, staying home means sacrificing family income. Going back to work means investing in childcare and juggling home responsibilities.
Four years ago, Sigler and her husband were both attorneys working grueling schedules and trying to get home to be with their first daughter. It just didn’t work. When her second child was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Sigler knew that a typical attorney’s career wasn’t in her future.
This is where it gets interesting for many motivated, educated moms. They have fond memories of having their own mom stay at home, but were also exposed to “you can do anything” messages of encouragement. They invested in college and graduate school only to have the same feelings their own mothers did about being able to stay home in some capacity to raise their children.
And frankly, women are done with having to choose one over the other. They’re demanding flexibility.
“Once we had our first child, I wanted to stay home,” says Brinker, who was an event planner before having kids. Afterwards, she couldn’t maintain that career with its taxing hours and odd schedule. “But I really wanted to keep a foot in the working world,” she says.
Direct Selling, Reinvented
Direct selling isn’t new — Avon was founded back in 1886. Today, 80 percent of the 15.1 million people in direct sales in the United States are women. But the type of woman finding success in direct sales has changed. Enter Stella & Dot.
“[We have] innovated a new business opportunity that we call social selling. We’ve built the business around the premise that women want to be in service, not in sales. They want to easily and authentically recommend products they truly love,” says Stella & Dot Founder & CEO Jessica Herrin.
Stella & Dot is direct sales reinvented for today’s well-educated, technologically savvy women (and a few men!) who are called Stylists. They get their own websites and don’t have to hold any inventory. They rely on social media to drive cocktail-fueled trunk shows where friends can play with the jewelry and orders are all done online—no pressure-filled order forms passed around the room.
And that’s what works for Sigler and Brinkler. They’re not engaging in pushy sales techniques or lugging product around fitting deliveries in between soccer practice and doctor’s appointments. They’re fitting it into their lives.
“We don’t [have time to] go shopping with our friends anymore so a trunk show is a good time to catch up,” says Sigler.
But flexibility isn’t just about the stay-at-home mom. Seventy percent of Stella & Dot stylists have another job. They like the flexibility of earning extra money in addition to a full-time role or the ability to meld it with other part-time gigs. It’s professional ownership. They’re in charge.
That’s exactly how Herrin wants it. Stella & Dot isn’t her first gig as an entrepreneur. She’d previously founded WeddingChannel.com, and realized she hated telling people what it took to be an entrepreneur: her entire life.
So why does it work? Well, for one, Sigler and Brinker aren’t your mother’s MaryKay representatives. While they were wearing Stella & Dot pieces (I recognized them from checking out the recent collection online), they didn’t point them out, pull out samples, or even try to convince me to host a trunk show.
They take the same approach at those shows. They lay the product out and sit back. There’s no order form passed around. Instead, hostesses share wine, snacks and stories to a soundtrack of Beyonce and Adele.
“It’s a product I can actually sell,” says Brinker, who tried other direct sales opportunities before finding Stella & Dot. “I just sit back and it sells itself.” And with half the line under $50 per piece, sell it does. In 2011, retail sales were over $175 million — projected to jump to over $200 million in 2012. The company has paid over $100 million to date in commission to their Stylists.
What Working Women Really Want
The success of Stella & Dot isn’t just another growth story for a modern business world. It’s a sign that traditional work as we know it is changing more quickly than we think.
We already know the workforce of the future isn’t 9-to-5. But most companies are touting flexibility as random telecommuting or flexible arrival and departure times. In a 2011 employee benefits survey from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), only 35 percent of the almost 600 companies surveyed even offered a compressed work week, and only 13 percent offered job sharing.
That means we still have to cave to corporate demands. Forget it — it’s just not working anymore.
There’s a reason more women are graduating from college and yet the number of women in the workforce remains unchanged. There’s a reason women are starting their own businesses more than ever before. And a reason companies like Stella & Dot are experiencing massive growth. It’s all about choices—choices in how, when and where to work—and control.
“In a way,” says Herrin, “We’re democratizing entrepreneurship by taking away almost all of the capital risk of starting a business and the need to have specific experience.” Decrease the barriers to entry, decrease the risk, and you increase control — Stella & Dot stylists have an incredible amount of control over their own success or lack thereof.
And maybe that’s what all this flexibility is really about. My parents raised me with the idea that I could be whatever I wanted to be. I was in control of the choices I made. If I worked more hours at the Drug Emporium, I made more money for college. If I worked less, I had more time with friends. But it was my choice.
That’s the lesson most of corporate America could really stand to learn. Women want the opportunity to fit everything in — even if that means we work a little less and earn a little less. Don’t tell us what work-life balance is; let us decide. If companies don’t get creative now, they’ll run out of talent later.