Lija Wilson and Sarah Parker Co-Founded Puffling, a next generation job sharing platform, to solve a problem both had faced. Both seasoned and experienced leaders working in the advertising industry found it impossible to return from parental leave into flexible or part-time roles at their previous level of seniority.
Lija’s career has been spent in marketing and advertising group leadership roles for brands including Fairfax, Qantas, Canon and Adshel. She is also currently a contract CMO and Strategy Consultant. Sarah’s previous career includes Client Services Director and executive marketing roles with Chartered Institute of Marketing, Holler, Story Worldwide, Radar and Swordfish Media.
Puffling’s platform matches female job share partners and functions as a recruitment and placement agency into organisations across a range of sectors. There are obvious benefits for women who are able to continue pursuing their leadership career flexibly, and maintain earning capacity. Importantly, organisations also win, with access to a broader pool of talent, built in leave coverage and motivated, engaged staff. Puffling was 2017 People’s Choice Winner for The Visa Everywhere Initiative.
Tell us about Puffling, and what inspired you to start the business?
The concept and story behind Puffling, like many other startups, stemmed from personal experience. Sarah and I had both worked really hard and absolutely loved our careers in marketing and advertising. However, after both navigating return to works after maternity leave with a toddler and a baby each, we started to really feel the challenge of securing part-time work at a senior level.
Our careers were set to plateau if not regress after children, despite our seniority and experience. So, like many women we started to feel the pinch of a trade off. Do we take seniority and salary, squeezing full time remits into part-time hours? Or do we trade backwards, opting for part-time work with less responsibility (and pay)? Or, do we pivot into a new area entirely and disregard our career trajectory and start again somewhere new?
We knew that we were not alone. Our struggles were shared with our friends with children, our new mothers group connections and former colleagues and industry peers.
We started to joke about creating a Joint CV and interviewing together for roles we loved, but knew we could never secure part-time. Puffling was created! We’re now on a mission to redefine the future of work and reimagine job share, without any compromise.
Who is Puffling for, and what industries will you be targeting?
Currently, our candidate base is skewing heavily towards return to work mums. However, anyone who is looking for part-time work can sign up and pair up for roles. We work with businesses of all sizes and have recently expanded into all verticals, now servicing HR, Finance, Marketing, Advertising, Legal, Sales and Admin.
How has your career in the advertising industry influenced your approach to developing Puffling?
The advertising industry is can be tough. So starting in that market was a challenge for us, as there is still a long way to go in the way jobs are designed and the receptiveness to part-time roles at a senior level. Our pilot into the advertising industry taught us a lot, and help shaped the way we thought about our pairings and matching skills. As well as providing the opportunity to also service contract and freelance needs, given the diversity of our talent base.
Our backgrounds in marketing and advertising have also helped us shape the way we frame up problems and creative solutions, and put our customers at the heart of our business and the way we design our model.
Can you share with us some of Puffling’s early success stories?
We have helped a lot of women secure great part-time roles in jobs they love. This is always an amazing outcome for us, especially when we hear a lot of stories around women signing up after really negative experiences. Sadly, there are still way too many cases of redundancies. We ran a survey to Puffling’s audience base last year which highlighted that 76% of women felt stressed or anxious when negotiating a return to work.
We’re also now working with some fantastic businesses, both large and small. The support from Diversity and Inclusion Managers as well as CEO’s, Talent Managers and Hiring Managers who are recognising the power in attracting and retaining senior women has been very rewarding for us.
We have also enjoyed the support of Randstad, the world’s second largest HR and recruitment firm, who signed on as a strategic partner and are actively supporting diversity initiatives in recruitment.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Agh, startup life! There are so many. The biggest challenge for us has probably been dedicating time to work on the business rather than in it. We are very hands on currently and deal with every aspect of the business, from candidate to client contact to marketing and speaking engagements through to every aspect of day to day operations.
What are you most proud of?
Being part of change. We’re redesigning the future of work – something that can impact both men and women and the work/life balance for families is a huge driver for us. On a more macro level, we can contribute to significant improvements for business growth, we can reduce the cost of retaining staff and boost the labour force participation rate for women.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Be confident always in your contribution and value. Keep fighting the good fight and when you have success and you rise, don’t yank the ladder up behind you. It’s tough but we need to continue to pay it forward.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.