One venture-capital superstar. One HR Tech vice-president. Put them together and what do you get? Something of the time, and something for the future as well.
For some people, there is a phantom thread being pulled through the fabric of their careers. And when that thread happens to be philanthropic, the more such a person succeeds, so do others. In the case of Wo/Men Inc, launched today in Berlin, the thread finds purchase in a platform that, through a vast business network and a series of curated events, supports career-focused women as they build meaningful professional networks – ones that will grow with them throughout their professional lives.
For co-founders Lea Vajnorsky and Robin Haak, it’s been a natural career progression to Wo/Men Inc. For Lea, through her female-focused initiatives with VC firm Redstone and the NOAH conference. For Robin, as SmartRecruiters global VP, minimizing bias and stressing inclusivity in recruiting. There’s much to say, so let’s hear it from them, in their own words.
How did you two meet?
Lea: I met Robin when we both worked at Axel Springer back in 2012. We became good friends, and have been working together since last November, and the result is or Wo/Men Inc initiatve.
How did the idea for Wo/Men Inc come together?
Lea: When I was working with the NOAH conference, Marco, the founder and CEO, encouraged me to work on strategies for female entrepreneurs, and from there, the idea for this started to blossom. After I organized a networking breakfast last November, I understood there is a need for a platform that focuses on women, but also includes men. While talking to Robin about it on the phone, the idea came together, and I felt that feeling, kind of like the one you get when you fall in love.
Robin: She’s right. When an idea just hits – that spark, that chemistry – it feels like being in love. Everyone is seeking that feeling, and it can be about a business idea as much as about a person. I just knew Wo/Men Inc was going to be great.
What makes you think your co-founder is the right person for the job?
Lea: We’ve known each other long enough to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our business relationship is grounded on a very stable friendship.
Why set up this organization now?
Robin: I think different generations face different problems. Something similar to Wo/Men Inc should and could have been there all along. We admire and honor any organisation tackling these topics and trying to make a positive impact.
Why is this topic so important to you?
Robin: I co-founded a company called Jobspotting, which has helped millions of people find jobs, but diversity is a larger topic. At the moment we are working on an artificial intelligence recruitment product which we will launch with SmartRecruiters in March, that will hopefully help filter any gender or racial bias on the part of recruiters. Wo/Men Inc is closely related to this, and gives us the opportunity to see actual outcomes.
What do you see as your biggest challenges as you get things started?
Lea: We both have day jobs so it isn’t easy to do this on weekends and late night to get things done but we are fully committed. I think another open concern is, how big will it really get? We want to change the world, we want Toni Garn, Waris Dirie and Sheryl Sandberg and so many others join this movement. We want to make money we can donate globally. As is every entrepreneur, we are challenging ourselves, and the challenge is to fight the fear.
What is your strategy for your upcoming events – in what areas do you want your message to most resonate?
Robin: We will have standalone events in Berlin, Frankfurt, San Francisco as planned. We will partner with NOAH in Tel Aviv, and we will host a female reception by Wo/men Inc in March. We will also do satellite events, like we did with Becycle in Berlin, which allowed us to donate over 1,000 euros from 30 participants to the Desert Flower Foundation.
Which existing organizations do you see as allies? Which ones would be considered competition?
Lea: We don’t have competitors, really. We have a great network of friends around the world, who approach issues like gender equality and workplace diversity from many different angles, and we can’t wait to connect with them more.