A flexible future: Aussie start-up helping mums return to work

It can be a tough slog for new parents returning to the workforce after a baby. Enter a new Aussie start-up helping professionals and businesses embrace flexible work.

Heading back to work after having children is often a daunting and a highly-stressful experience. While many Mums (and Dads) seek out part-time work or flexible working conditions, unfortunately suitable opportunities can be few and far between.

Best friends Victoria Stuart and Stephanie Reuss were frustrated by the challenges of trying to balance a high-level job with the demands of a growing family. Victoria spent the last eight years at Google as a manger in their sales team while Steph has a background in corporate consulting and advising for Corporate Executive Board (CEB).

"With three kids each, it became increasingly difficult to pursue our career ambitions and leadership roles at the same time as being the parent we wanted to be for our children," Victoria says. "We just thought, there has to be a better way for people to find balance in their lives." 

And so the pair decided to take matters into their own hands, and started a company called Beam - which is basically an online marketplace that links up job-seekers with fully-flexible part-time roles. 

"We realised the impact could be so great for so many people," Victoria continues. "We were really driven by the social impact - to reduce the stress and anxiety in people's lives and create better work-life balance. And at the same time, we totally understand how important it is to grow a business with the right people and right high-performance team."

Image: Victoria Stuart and Stephanie Reuss

Along with helping people find the right part-time role, Beam's objective is to power the growth of Australian businesses by providing them with access to an amazing pool of talent.

"The number one challenge for small to medium business is being able to find and afford good talent - and our model is changing that," explains Steph. "We've found so many workplaces that are willing to be nimble and flexible in their approach - they don't want to miss out on a whole talent pool by insisting a role is full-time." 

Beam is very strict about the calibre of talent on their website - all job-seekers or 'Beamers' must have a minimum of seven years professional experience plus meet certain corporate skills requirements. They are all screened and interviewed face-to-face (or via Skype) and then invited to join. At the same time, companies also go through a strict vetting process.

"The demand is huge and our database is literally growing by the minute," says Victoria excitedly. "We've found there are three things women (and indeed people) want out of work - flexible part-time roles, career-worthy roles (that don't require them to 'downskill') and to work for a company that is aligned to their own values."

A 2014 National Review by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that one in two mothers experienced discrimination at work, while pregnant, on parental leave or when returning to work.

"I continuously have had to deal with prejudiced statements on what a part-time person can do. There is still very much a culture of ‘part-time person: part-time brain," noted one report submission.

And sadly, it seems men are experiencing similar discrimination - with fathers and partners seeking flexible working hours to be a caregiver twice as likely to have their request rejected and being frowned upon by senior management.

"We've heard of so many new Mums being made redundant while on maternity leave or feeling trapped - because they either have to apply for full-time roles or step out of the workforce completely," Stephanie sighs. "And it's such a monumental waste of amazing talent. We want to help these people find the right roles.

The girls have already helped foster plenty of success stories since the soft launch of Beam in January this year. For example, placing a Chief Marketing Office (CMO) in a four-day a week role for TOM Organic and another flexible one-day-a-week Marketing role for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Sydney. 

And it's not just working Mums and Dads who are benefiting from their new venture. Flexible working arrangements are the key to the future of Australian business, particularly with the shift toward a 24/7 business culture and people seeking part-time work for all sorts or reasons - including caring for a sick family member or wanting to freelance or have more than one career track.

"Flex work is the reality of the future and the great news is that more and more organisations are on board and can see the benefit to productivity," Victoria asserts.

"Our goal is to be the number one destination for flexible work in Australia."

For more stories about inspiring women, take a look at our International Women's Day hub.

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