Stephanie Nadi Olson began her meteoric career in ad sales when Microsoft recruited her straight out of Georgia Tech as its youngest account executive. At the age of 28, she had claimed an executive chair in Silicon Valley. Amid the constant stress of her job, she started a family, and it was then that she realized how the very structure of the traditional workplace sidelined millions of talented people. . So she set out to solve the problem by creating a new type of staffing platform. The demand was there: Temp agencies are a $196 billion business in the United States, and Olson’s Rolodex was full of advertising and marketing executives who needed teams for events, campaigns and social media initiatives like Twitter and Hulu. In 2018, with $10,000 of her own money, she built an all-virtual platform, with flexibility at its core, to help freelance marketers find work. In 2021, Atlanta-based We Are Rosie raised a private equity funding that valued the company at $110 million. To get there, Olson would have to go through a personal health crisis. –As told to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
The first time I felt fallible in my life was after the birth of my first daughter in 2013. I was a sales manager in Atlanta and had postpartum depression and anxiety that didn’t help. have not been diagnosed for a year and a half. It taught me humility and how to ask for help – raise your hand and say, “I can’t keep up with this crazy pace. I can’t travel to New York for a week straight and breastfeed my daughter . back home in Georgia.” After having my second daughter, I moved to a startup where I was the only parent among hundreds of employees and the only female leader. The culture did not support mothers or boundaries. It was so hard.
I admit I had some suppressed rage about a system that made me feel like I needed to work 65 hours a week when I had a newborn. But I think we underestimate how useful rage can be in pushing us to create change. It made me see how many people are marginalized by the way work is going. There is sexism. Racism. Capability. Ageism. Not to mention the year-round work process – hours that don’t fit into the kids’ school schedules. I wanted to find good work for anyone who needed it in a way that fit their life and treated them with dignity and respect. This is how We Are Rosie was born. Looking back, I’m grateful for that experience, because I needed to be uncomfortable enough to quit a seven-figure job. Something had to get me out of this hamster wheel.
In my Palestinian family, my grandmother died in a refugee camp and my father grew up there, without a mother. Neither of my parents went to college, but my dad worked every day at a mall so I could do things like play softball. I stand on the shoulders of people who have sacrificed so much for my success. I began to feel a tremendous responsibility to use the privilege and resources given to me to do something greater with my life. And I aspired to create a legacy for my daughters.
Creating my business has become a spiritual and personal mission. I named it after my youngest daughter, Margot Rosie. As it took off, I did not receive a salary for two years. My small team is also fully invested. In fact, my employees were burning out. Some were homeschoolers, but they cared so much about the mission that they didn’t want to take the unlimited paid time off we offered them.
We weren’t on foot. We needed to take mental health and burnout seriously. We have therefore imposed five days off per quarter on employees, thus creating a constraint mechanism: they can only access their full quarterly bonus if they take this leave. We realized that when it comes to benefits, we need a do-it-yourself mindset. Need for change. Ask, again and again, what employees need. For culture to be truly compassionate, it cannot be prescriptive. Leadership decisions cannot happen in a vacuum.
We have 15,000 independent, freelance marketers – we call them Rosies – on our platform available for project work, from media buying to analytics to social media management. We use our technology and personal verification to recommend individuals and teams for jobs. Contracts are capped at 40 hours per week. We don’t just submit resumes. We ask about potential, real experience and what enlightens you. We are leaps and bounds more diverse in terms of age, race, gender and education than the marketing industry as a whole. This highlights how many brilliant people are underserved by the current work system, because it hasn’t changed in a hundred years. But I learned that the systems put in place by society can actually be changed.
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Excerpt from the September 2022 issue of Inc. Magazine