She is a Marketing & Business Consultant & Future-of-Flexible-Work Advocate Meet Brea Starmer, Founder & CEO of Lions+Tigers
Q: Tell us about your background and your career path leading up to Lions+Tigers?
BS: The daughter of two self-taught entrepreneurs, I was the first of my family to graduate college and took full advantage of my time at Washington State University, elected as the eighth female Student Body President in school history. That taste of advocacy work led me to take a role in Public Sector marketing for Microsoft just after graduation.
After almost five years with Microsoft, the entrepreneurial juices kicked in and when I was asked to come alongside the founder of JefferyM Consulting as its first employee, I jumped at the opportunity. I took on every role in the company from running the first payroll to negotiating every contract. Every year I was there, the company was on the Inc 500 Fastest Growing Companies list. I got my hands dirty. It was amazing. After a stop with a digital marketing agency, I joined Porch in 2015 as employee 435. And that’s when my career planning stopped. Ten months later, and seven months pregnant with my first kid, I was laid off along with 20 percent of the staff. I wasn’t “hirable.” I was without a job or health benefits. The only work I could get was on contract. I billed 60 hours a week until my son was born just to save enough money for a short maternity leave.
Under duress, I found my path forward. I loved consulting. The lifestyle unlocked a freedom and level of impact I never knew in previous in-house jobs. I knew I had to share this way of working with as many people as I could – and especially wanted to help other working mothers. And with that, I set out to build the company of my dreams where impact is measured in the number of people we employ and the work they do, not the hours they clock. This led me to launch Lions+Tigers.
Q: What impact have you seen on women’s equity in the workforce and on working parents since the pandemic? What is your advice to employers to keep these high impact workers in the workforce?
BS: Like many moms, pursuing a career has always meant allocating time between work and family. The difference now is that utilizing childcare to create space for my work actually puts my kids’ health at risk. This is the dilemma many working moms are facing right now. Caretaking is not a night job. It has consumed our decision making and focus, and for those of us needing or wanting to stay in the workforce, the stakes are even higher.
When families opt out of childcare, the mother is most likely to take a step back in her career to absorb the caregiving workload. Several of my high-achieving working mother friends have had to take a step back. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their families. Women of color are even more likely to hold that responsibility, with a significant 84.4 percent of Black mothers and 60.3 percent of Latina mothers. Working women still spend three times as much time on household chores and nearly twice as much time caring for children than our male counterparts. That doesn’t even begin to account for the mental load of just keeping life on the tracks.
The Maternal Drain of women stepping out of the workforce to absorb family needs is setting us back nearly a decade in terms of gender inclusion and access. That’s tragic.
Employers need to promote an environment where working parents don’t need to apologize for life converging with work and assess their current workplace human resources and flexibility practices to spot opportunities to give more grace, in a culturally appropriate way, without sacrificing profit. They should also customize recommendations for workplace models that improve culture, like revised rhythm of business, core hours or shifts, collaboration tools and technology, and manager training. Really reenforce the people-side of business.
Q: Can you tell us how you manage your work life balance?
BS: Childcare. Because I have access to childcare, I’m able to work full-time. Because I have a supportive partner who has taken a step back in his career, I’m able to work full-time plus. Of course, I do it flexibly, working on the projects that best serve my community. But that capacity to work at a fast pace makes a ton of difference and that’s a privilege I need to acknowledge.
When I’m working, I’m also still mothering – ordering kids’ shoes, the groceries, and making sure our house is well prepared for whatever’s coming next (lately, it was prepping for a third kid). I weave these things through my day as a busy professional, and that ability to choose how my time is spent is also critical. I rely heavily on a team of people at Lions+Tigers who are innovating and reacting to our community and client needs. All of this feeds into a productivity solution across Trello and Todoist to stay organized.
I also rely on being in community with other women, founders, and business builders. These communities – like the Wise Women’s Council hosted by Sarah Peck – have transformed how I stay connected during a pandemic.
Q: What’s your advice for women to see success in male-dominated fields, like the technology space you frequently work in?
BS: Some of the onus is on employers creating a work environment where women can thrive. There was a study released earlier this year focused on strategies to keep women in the tech workforce and one of the key findings revealed half of women that go into tech leave by age 35. It seems far from a coincidence that the data found that the age women are leaving the tech industry is approximately the same age range we see women struggling to strike the balance between full-time careers and motherhood responsibilities.
I deeply believe that fearless women change the world, and that organizations are changed for the better to have even a slice of their brain and heart dedicated to their product and customers. I see organizations who champion flexibility earn greater profits, enjoy greater employee retention, and have a happier workforce. Brands that see flexibility as a strategic advantage, as I do, will outperform those who don’t in the years ahead. Individuals should quantify that impact when making the case for change.
My advice for individuals seeking change in the technology space is to find allies, both men and women, who believe in this change vision. Make business cases for the unique needs of caretakers – childcare stipends, reduced hours without penalty, outcome-based performance reviews instead of time-bound – and build a support system to make it so. Build the path for those coming behind you, so tomorrow looks different than today.
Q: How does having a very diverse workforce impact overall business performance?
BS: We are seeing a call to arms, especially here in America and around the world. A cry for social justice, for inclusion. There are so many conversations happening at every level of organizations that are long overdue. As many statistics have shown, organizations that have diverse and inclusive boards of directors, leadership teams and workforces are more profitable, they are more equitable, and they are able to sustain big challenges in the market better than their peers who have less diverse workforces. What that means is that organizations, more than ever, are thinking introspectively about how inclusion is not about the number of people of color that they’ve hired, but about how diverse perspectives benefit the product they are building so there is representation from all communities. It makes the depth of the work more rich. It certainly brings about fresh perspectives, new ways of selling, more relevant messaging, and new ideas for operations. Looking strictly at the benefits for business performance, organizations who invest in inclusive teams outperform their peers.
Q: What is your advice to companies looking to fill talent gaps with high-impact consultants verse a strictly traditional workforce?
BS: I’d ask the company to consider what would happen if one of their high-performing employees resigned to stay at home to take care of her kids. What would they want the solution to have been before they got to that point?
Even though Covid has changed the world in many ways, the gig economy movement was already underway. It is predicted that by 2027, more than half of American professionals will be freelancers. Embracing this shift puts organizations at a talent advantage before attrition surprises them.
At the same time, brands need to do more with less, iterate quickly, and have access to talent to solve unique needs. It’s not always possible or prudent to hire full time employees — and that’s when a specialist can step in for a sprint project. The Lions+Tigers model is unique: we build highly flexible custom teams that meet both our talented team and organizations right where they are today, and naturally shifts over time.
Our consultants have 10 years of experience on average and have held positions like Marketing Director, General Manager, Operations Director, Analytics Lead, etc. We have a member of our team on what she calls a “corporate detox” because she was one woman on a team of 85 product managers and she just couldn’t keep going. Now, she’s working 20 hours per week on a very high-impact project and she is able to homeschool her elementary-aged child without guilt or apology.
Q: What’s the single most important thing people should know about the future of work movement?
BS: Freelancing is a $1 trillion industry and will approach more than 50% of the workforce by 2027, growing at three times the pace of traditional employment. Most people would leave their current job for a more flexible option. At Lions+Tigers, we coach organizations on two complementary strategies: First, building flexible work infrastructure to support full-time staff and second, empowering full-time leaders and teams to maximize their time and impact by outsourcing non-core functions to highly-skilled freelance specialists.
Organizations will need to embrace more flexibility and strategic people acquisition and retention methodologies in order to keep top talent in the workforce.
Q: For traditional companies concerned about the implications of losing high performing employees due to lack of flexibility, what suggestions or strategies do you think organizations should implement to avoid this type of attrition?
BS: There are three points I like to hit here. First, technology opens the door to allow for asynchronous work. This does require organizations to flex their creativity and invest in processes, tooling and policies that allow for projects to be structured in a way that does not require people to all be online at the same time. A combination of open-mindedness and operational rigor will unlock asynchronous work. Rather than requiring a standard 9:00 to 5:00 work schedule, offering the flexibility to break apart work in sprints and work when employees are most productive, unlocks an organization’s ability to retain top talent by offering inclusive flex work policies and break the barriers of geographical location, ultimately leading to a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
The second point - is centered on how organizations strategically plan, implement and support change in the new normal. While most companies are still thinking about what they need to solve for tomorrow so that customers don’t exit, partners remain engaged and the supply chain continues to operate, we’re also seeing organizations put a stake in the ground, announcing commitments to embrace flexible, remote work indefinitely. The sprint that was flex work in 2020 has spurred a marathon that requires preparation and commitment to sustain long term. Recognizing and strategically planning for the significance of this shift is critical to achieving organizational clarity, broad support and buy-in to invest in the change management and mission and vision alignment that is critical to embedding a new model of work into a company’s culture and practices. Companies that strategically plan for and support these investments to build a sustainable future of work model will retain high performing employees who feel supported, seen and respected within their organization.
Finally, how do you think about hours clocked vs. impact in your organization? Do you want your system to reward the number of hours worked or can you shift your organization’s definition of high-performing employee by evaluating and building success metrics that better align to impact? Companies that are willing to invest in building a reward, promotion and compensation system that reflect the outcomes accomplished by individuals or teams rather than activities completed and solve for the outdated reward systems that are still so deeply engrained in employee performance management will be rewarded with employees who feel a more meaningful connection to their work and its impact on business performance and mission.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
BS: I’ve been blessed with strong women mentors and champions who show up in my daily life and encourage me to “keep going”. That makes more of a difference than I could ever explain.
More globally, I look to thought leaders like Melinda Gates for her advocacy of women, to Brené Brown for leading with research and heart and causing an era of self-reflection and empathy that was sorely needed, and to Bozoma Saint John for rewriting marketing and culture in front of our eyes.
Five Things About Brea Starmer, CEO and Founder of Lions+Tigers
1. Who is the most fascinating person you’ve ever met?
When I gave the commencement speech at Washington State University’s graduation, I met Governor Christine Gregoire. She was a leader who was elected despite many odds, who went on to make great change in Washington for education, public health, equal rights, and more – with moves many would consider aggressive for a female politician. I was inspired by her endurance and intelligence and counted myself lucky to get to meet her and learn from her.
2. If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?
Barack Obama. I find Michelle to be addictive, fascinating, and inspiring. I want to know more about her – and really dig into how she’s navigated so many situations with grace. Her spirit seems to “go higher” no matter the situation or the expectations of her. I imagine she’s been lifted by many other women ahead of her and I’d love to investigate those relationships and stories with her over a glass or two of wine.
3. Favorite dessert?
Lefse, my Ballard-native Grammy’s recipe, of course.
4. What app can’t you live without?
BS: Podcast Addict (which I am) or Voxer (for sending voice-memos to my staff and girlfriends).
5. Do you have any hobbies?
I am the mother to three kids under 5. My hobbies are to keep them learning and fed with endless snacks. When I do have a moment, it’s usually spent with my husband who has the best ability to make me laugh.