Welcome to All Hands, a podcast where C-suite leaders talk about how smart HR and people strategy is good business strategy. In this episode, our host, Katelin Holloway talks with Allison Robinson, the CEO & Founder of The Mom Project about why it’s so important to support working moms,the importance of relationship building, and why you never want to be the smartest person in the room. This podcast is brought to you by Lattice.
“When you're such a small team, like you are the sum of the output of like four or five people, right? and so to have a really happy, engaged team, like I realized really early on was so important.”
Welcome to ALL HANDS by Lattice, where we believe that People Strategy IS Business Strategy. I’m your host -- Katelin Holloway. For the last decade, I’ve been a People & Culture executive at some of the internet’s most beloved startups, but my fascination with building true people-first cultures started many, many years ago. From film to tech (and a few interesting layovers in between), the one common denominator remains: I am most passionate about enabling people through belonging to create beautiful, innovative products.
On All Hands, I talk with CEOs and other c-level leaders about how being a "people first" company is a strategic advantage. Join us while we chat with these top leaders about how a “people first” approach isn’t just good for people -- it’s good for business too.
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Today I’m talking with a woman who inspires me both as a business leader and as a mother --- Allison Robinson, the CEO & Founder of The Mom Project. Allison spent just under a decade at Proctor and Gamble working on a go to market strategy for brands like Pampers -- but it was while she was out on maternity leave that Allison learned of a shocking stat -- over 40% of American women leave the workforce after having children. This inspired her to create The Mom Project -- a marketplace that would allow women in all stages of their career to find work that was compatible with motherhood. Now with over 200,000 professionals in their network and 2,000 companies signed up to hire moms, the Mom-volution is in full force.
Katelin Holloway: So welcome to All Hands, Allison.
Allison Robinson: It's a pleasure to be here, Katelin. Thanks for having me.
Katelin Holloway: Thank you so much. So, okay, first things first. I just want to hear your story. Will you tell us your story?
Allison Robinson: Of course. Thank you for obliging me. yeah. Before foundingThe Mom Project, I spent about nine years at P and G. Um, kind of had this interesting background. I started my career there selling some of the biggest retailers across the country. Um, like Walmart, Costco, where like a skew was worth a billion dollars and you couldn't go off script and so I learned a lot in that role about how to sell to big companies and how they make buying decisions.
But my heart was really on the consumer side of the business. So about midway through, I had the opportunity to move back to my hometown of Cincinnati, which was our headquarters, and lead Pampers innovation for North America, and it was just the coolest [00:04:00] job. I was like spending all of my days at home with moms observing how technology was changing everything about parenting, whether it be how she was working or consuming content or deciding what products to buy, and I just really fell in love with that consumer segment and became pregnant with my son Asher, while in that role and sort of just like a very crazy maternity leave. I had only planned to take two weeks off. I had no idea what I was doing like, whatsoever. And my manager was a working mom and she encouraged me to take longer, and so I did.
And, they had actually back-filled my role while I was out on maternity leave. And so a new manager called me back, uh, right before it was due back to work telling me that they had to extend my leave, for a few more months. And I was like, okay, got it. I'm grateful for the extra time home with my son.
And I think it was like two weeks after that, I read a stat from HBR that over 40% of American women leave the workforce after having children. And. It just awakened in me like, wow, it's like really hard to build a career, have a family. Um, and a lot of women leave the workforce early as a result and felt like if I could build a marketplace to really like allow these women to find work that's also compatible with motherhood, like that could unlock a tremendous amount of economic potential.
so I just went for it I started like cold calling while still on maternity leave, like big companies and they were getting back to me and like, it was at a time where companies were really starting to, I would say gender diversity had just kind of shifted from being a social topic to this is really good for business and we're losing women at this same stage, like manager, [00:06:00] mid-manager level.
And so it just aligned really well with that need. And like just workforce trends around more flexibility, remote work, like supportive families and caregivers. So it really created this perfect storm. Um, and so it's just been an incredible four years, kind of continuing to, to build the business.
Katelin Holloway: It's been so exciting outside looking in, watching your company grow from, you know, the first pilot that we ran at Reddit years ago now, to see just how big the platform is. How many moms do you have on the platform? How many moms are you supporting out there?
Allison Robinson: So we're at about 250,000 right now. Adding like 20,000 a month like without spending like, any to acquire user. So it's it's taken off. I would say we've probably, of the 250, we added like 150,000 of those last year.
Katelin Holloway: Wow. Walk me through the product. So you, have access to this incredible talent pool. [00:10:00] How are you helping moms?
Allison Robinson: Yeah. Um, so our goal is really to be there for every stage of her journey. It's really interesting, the moms that come to us. Some maybe just found out that they're pregnant and are already thinking about how am I going to return to like a 60 hour week at a law firm and like try to also raise my child would've been out of the workforce for five, 10 years-- so we've really built a product to make it very approachable. Um, and we're in mom's corner. I would say like the job market place has just neglected moms and it's felt really awkward to talk about things like career breaks or that need to like, leave the office by three or four to pick up your child.
And we just like, bring all of that to the forefront. Um, so when moms are creating our [00:11:00] profiles, um, we're asking for kind of the more traditional things like education background, what do you want in their career, but going really deep on like flexibility preferences, are you able to commute like travel? Do you need fully remote?
And then we're matching them with, uh, the relevant opportunities from some of the best companies in the world that are really committed to advancing women and families in the workplace. Um, so companies like Reddit, like Apple, Facebook, um, kind of more. Uh, older industries, if you will, like oil and gas, consumer retail. So really across the gamut of everything from like a fortune five to a rocket ship startup.
Katelin Holloway: I love that. Thank you for sharing a little bit more.
Now let's talk about inside of the Mom Project, so that's outside. Let's talk about inside. How many employees do you currently have?
Allison Robinson: We're at about 90 right now. Um, and so that's a combination of full time employees, part time, and contractors.
Katelin Holloway: That's such a fun size. I really enjoy that. That kind of stage of building a culture where you're, you're big enough to be able to have some, some real fun, um, and, and have [00:15:00] space to have people thinking about things differently and really having enough, you know, people to bounce ideas off of, but you're still small enough where you, you still can know everyone's name and feel close.
Allison Robinson: It's kind of like having a child. You're right. You like, like every year for different reasons.
Katelin Holloway: Totally. Absolutely. So now where are your offices?
Allison Robinson: So we are based in Chicago, um, in River North, I would say about 60% of that team sits there and then we've got a tech hub. Our CTO, Matt, uh, sits in Portland and so we've got some engineers on the West coast. Salespeople kind of scattered throughout the country, um, with Chicago as our home base.
Katelin Holloway: So back to a little bit about inside of the Mom Project.
At what stage of building your business did you realize the importance of being a people first leader?
Allison Robinson: Oh, man umm, I, I like really early on, because I realized when you're such a small team, like you are the sum of the output of like four or five people, right? and so to have a really happy, engaged team, like I realized really early on was so important, and we're also such like, a mission forward company. I think it even put more pressure on me earlier than maybe most startups to really lead a culture with higher integrity, high values.
Katelin Holloway: Was there anything from your experience at Procter and Gamble that you, you definitely wanted to take with you? That's a bigger company and, and [00:19:00] it's, you know, larger companies are, I think this is my personal belief. It's harder to maintain a consistent culture throughout just because it ends up getting siloed and splintered for, for the work that you were doing with Proctor and gamble, was there anything that you were like, this is good. This is something that I really want to take and carry with me into my next chapter.
Allison Robinson: Yeah, even though it was a really big company, I was, well, I started my career there in sales when I was like 19. And so my manager and sort of the nature of the work has you moving around the country like every 18-24 months. So my first internship was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which is the middle of nowhere. I knew no one within like a 500 mile radius. and my boss was like my family and, and so sort of that, that thought of like very [00:20:00] family oriented, I would say really left an impression on me.
And, um, that stayed true throughout my career there. There was a lot I didn't care to carry forward from a big company, but the people and like hiring for that DNA of very high integrity, is something that certainly carried with me.
This is a prime example of why being a people first leader matters. The relationships we build become a very important part of our network as we develop. Great leaders can have an incredible impact on the next generation of leaders. If we aren’t cared for, developed, or advocated for by our managers early in our careers, we’re less likely to do so for our own teams as we progress.
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Katelin Holloway: You mentioned earlier that that being mission driven has, has really kind of helped lead the way you think about building your team and the way you've, you've had to and chosen to build. So at the end of the day, how is people's strategy more of a strategic advantage for the Mom Project than maybe other companies? Or is it the same?
But to translate that forward into your leadership style, how has being people first really shaped you the way you decided you wanted to lead, not just when you broke out to be an entrepreneur, but as you have been a manager and a leader within different organizations, how has any of that translated to your leadership style?
Allison Robinson: Early on because of our mission, like I was able to punch so high above my weight on talent. The [00:21:00] people's strategy was just critical, And so I think by being able to offer them purpose, I was just able to like, really early on, kind of defined a very strong people's strategy, attract really great people that would make the culture better as we scale the business.
Katelin Holloway: I love hearing that because I think that, you know, this is a drum that I beat often now with our portfolio companies at Initialize. But I, I've always kind of preached this from the mountains around being mission driven, being mission driven will absolutely change the experience that, that your employees have and being a culture first or a people first leader. Uh, it really is about constantly illuminating and reminding folks of why they get out of [00:22:00] bed every morning, now more than ever with the Coronavirus, uh, people are taking time away from their families. This is a really, really stressful time. So unless you are so aligned with that North star , it just feels so much heavier, um, and unnecessary even to show up for something that you're not engaged with.
Allison Robinson: Totally, you tap into something bigger than the business.
Katelin Holloway: Absolutely. it, it grows too, right? With every hire that you make. So people come from the mission and then they stay for the community. Truly. How do you feel that has shaped your, um, the growth and development of your executive or your leadership team?
Allison Robinson: Tremendously. I'm really lucky actually like, I think everyone on the executive team has a fair bit more management experience than I do so I learn a lot from them. Matt, our CTO, [00:23:00] like I have to singularly call him out.
And so it's taught me a lot about building an employee centric culture. He could write a book. He is much more of an expert than I am, so I've learned a tremendous amount from him. Coleen, who, you know, who leads Community, managed like a multi hundred person team at Yelp.
So I like, I'm a sponge. I soak it up. Like actually at P&G I didn't have a lot of direct management experience. I had like, big P&L responsibility. so I have just been like, trying to continually up level myself throughout every stage of the business and just like trying to learn, learn, learn as quickly as I can to keep pace.
Katelin Holloway: It sounds like you subscribe to the old adage that you don't want to be the smartest person in the room.
So as the leader of the company, you're sitting there and you, you show up and you, and your own personal development and your career development, even though you sit technically at the top of that, that pyramid you feel surrounded by people that, that you can learn from.
Allison Robinson: I really do. And, um, again, credit to Initialize who I think has encouraged with, our founders to really like, invest in yourself and your team.
Um, we actually just kicked off torch training for new [00:25:00] managers,, that just kicked off this week, which the executive team will soon partake in. It's so important. And I, early on, brought on a head of people, seeing like it would be better to kind of be ahead of the curve on that hire than behind it.
Um, and so I have such an incredible head of people. She's actually a former lawyer too. She's a total bad-ass. She also chases like our delinquent clients in her spare time when she's not helping the team.
Katelin Holloway: That's awesome. It's so funny. That was my next question. I was going to say, do you have a head of people, um, and when did you bring them on? So what stage of the game did you hire her?
Allison Robinson: Hired her at about 50, and we, you know, try to really live the mission every day. Like a lot of our hires come through the Mom Project platform, they're rock stars. So she was [00:26:00] actually moonlighting with the Mom Project is like, people ops super part time and was doing just like a great job.
And, and was that a place in her career? She was ready to sunset her legal day job and was so passionate and she was just like so impressed by the executive team and like the culture that we were building. She really wanted to be part of it. And so she totally took a new path with us and took a huge leap of faith and so grateful for her.
Katelin Holloway: That's such a funny fringe benefit. I was going to ask about that at some point as well, is, do you, do you skim off the top and take the cream of the crop for yourself?
Allison Robinson: Of course. Of course. Yeah.
Katelin Holloway: Tell me about how you partner with her? What does that look like in your routine? I know that obviously things are a little bit off kilter right now because of the pandemic, you know, just a casual pandemic that's happening. [00:27:00] But, but talk to me about the ways in which you partner, what, what is the core of the work that you do together?
Allison Robinson: She's great. So when she came in full time. Uh, she really set up, kicked off a listening session. She sat down with every member of the team, to really understand it, every level and department within the organization what was going really well, what wasn't going well, and so she has really just been an incredible partner to me. Like I'm still trying to meet with every member of the team, but as the team scales, it gets harder, and she's doing that like every day and bubbling up to me what the challenges are, we talk about like, what benefits are we not offering that the team really wants that will make us a better workplace, et cetera.
Um, so she just has this really elegant approach to like being the voice of the employee. Um, so when she [00:28:00] and I sit down, we, we make decisions. We talk about what the benefits will look like, what are major people initiatives for the year prior to COVID it was recruiting. We were really kind of getting our house in order.
We didn't have an ATS. We didn't really have anyone fully dedicated to internal recruiting. We were launching, um, kind of a more sophisticated performance management tool, et cetera. So we had a lot of kind of ground lain that we were working on prior to COVID.
Katelin Holloway: Yes, I do know, I know very, very well and you know, despite not being an operator anymore, I, the watching, the way the HR community has stepped up during this crisis has just been absolutely mind boggling.
Allison Robinson: It's amazing.
Katelin: Sometimes it takes moments like this -- moments where really serious and really scary things are happening to show you where your priorities should be.
This is something that a lot of CEO’s and companies are navigating right now. And to be frank, the companies I've had to coach and counsel the most have been the ones who have neglected or put off having this strategic people partner.
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Katelin Holloway: I think it's really discouraging how easy it is to lose sight of your values when your back is up against the wall and at this moment in time, it happens to be the entire globe. Um, every single leader is faced with making really hard decisions. Um, you know, whether they are having to lay off part of their staff, um, or have been thrust into like overnight boom, um, that they weren't planning on because they happen to be in the right, right sector at the right time. But for you at The Mom Project, how has your true culture really revealed itself over the last few months?
Allison Robinson: It's been like a challenging time, for everyone. We actually have a research arm of our business. Um, Pam, which Pam leads, it's called work labs and she has actually sort of codified the elements of what we call the employee experience.
[00:31:00] And she's now created her unique bucket, which is called the socio-emotional, and the toll is real. 52% of our team are moms, 70% are parents and so it's just been more important than ever for us to show up to our team every day and instill confidence in this business, the importance of our work.
The trajectory of this company, um, and instilling confidence that we will manage through the future. Uncertainty in this business will be better for it in the long term but it has to be really thoughtful. The language that we use, the timing of communication it's so important. Everyone is dealing with so much right now. Um, it really, it's a time when leaders really have, have to like [00:32:00] show up and lead.
Katelin Holloway: I really do [00:34:00] hope that that one thing that we take out of this, you know, dark experience, um, is, is focusing on the importance of how we support one another and the flexibility of work. And I think that this is where The Mom Project can really step up and fill that gap. You, you all have been beating this drum for years now at this point.
Allison Robinson: It's crazy. And I, I just was on the phone today with like a Fortune 20 bank who would have never considered remote work before, but they're now asking me like, what team should I keep remote? Like it is really accelerating major workplace shifts.
Katelin Holloway: I have been dying to know, uh, you, you all are the tip of the spear talking with these companies, trying to display the power of your partnership.
And I would imagine at this point you have enough data points to to know very quickly if a company is operating people first, if they're just paying lip service externally or if they genuinely [00:35:00] mean it. Um, have you seen any patterns or trends that you're like, okay, they get it. I know that we can have this conversation and, and you know, build a partnership versus the like, Oh, this is going to be like walking uphill in the snow and ice." What are some of those, those patterns for people, first companies that you've seen?
Allison Robinson: As you mentioned, like the HR community, which is typically who we're meeting with within a big company, they're coming together in like a serious way to really be able to support their employees during this time of need.
They're kind of welcoming us into their companies with open arms. You'll appreciate that many companies have, like ERG is a employee resource groups and they don't know what content. So the Mom Project is actually presenting to these ERG virtually, on what they can be doing as managers or employees to, um, kind of keep [00:36:00] productivity high while employees are at home and just managing through all of this uncertainty. So it's been a really cool opportunity for us to be with our customers. I would say by and large, they're looking at this as an opportunity to make their workplaces more human centric and more flexible.
Katelin Holloway: I, I'm so happy that you all are showing up with resources and partnering with ERG is, I think that's a really powerful thing.It's, it's, it is one of those silver lining opportunities where you can show up ready and waiting.
Allison Robinson: Yeah. You love it. And on the policy and kind of flexibility, we're also helping them understand like, how they can build-- embed flexible into like, the future. So things don't kind of go back to status well, post COVID.
Katelin Holloway: I love that. I love that so much. Okay. I'm going to hit you with rapid fire questions. I want you to try to answer them as quickly as possible. Don't overthink it at all. Are you ready?
Allison Robinson: Yeah.
Katelin Holloway: Okay. Is a [00:39:00] hotdog a sandwich?
Allison Robinson: No.
Katelin Holloway: Zoom or phone call?
Allison Robinson: Zoom.
Katelin Holloway: When was the last time you were alone?
Allison Robinson: Three days ago.
Katelin Holloway: That's pretty good. That's my favorite mom question right now. Okay, that was just the warmup. These last ones won't be as easy. And think about your company culture. Is it a family or a sports team?
Allison Robinson: Sports team.
Katelin Holloway: What is your favorite interview question and why?
Allison Robinson: What was your first job? I can tell by how scrappy you are if you're going to be a good fit for building.
Katelin Holloway: I love that. I love that. What was your first job?
Allison Robinson: I was working in the family real estate business at like seven.
Katelin Holloway: Just filing papers?
Allison Robinson: Whatever my dad would let me do.
Katelin Holloway: Scrappiest seven year old you've ever met. So my favorite interview question is, when was [00:40:00] the last time you wanted something so badly it hurt?
Allison Robinson: How honest do you want me to be?
Katelin Holloway: I want the most real answer you can give me.
Allison Robinson: That fundraise. C'mon Katelin.
Katelin Holloway: I pinky swear we can do two takes.
Allison Robinson: I wanted that money really bad.
Katelin Holloway: I don't think it's wrong [00:41:00] for someone to want to be successful because you are banking not only on yourself. You are this, this is money that you need to continue to do what you love and you are most passionate about, which is giving mothers and other people an opportunity that they wouldn't otherwise have.
I think that wanting your company to be successful and that money is that resource, is the fuel that you need. You should not be ashamed of that. And I like it very much.
Allison Robinson: Thank you.
Katelin Holloway: So I just, I really can't thank you enough for chatting with me today.
I'm so looking forward to partnering with you and the Mom Project team more in the future. Last question. When the dust settles and things find their rhythm again out there in the real world, what is the one thing you want to be sure we address as employers or that we carry over into the new, new, new, normal, whatever we're calling it now?
Allison Robinson: I think COVID has really shown all of us that there's a lot of life that happens outside of work. And so let's remember that when, whenever some of us go back to our offices and how important that is.
Katelin Holloway: This is amazing. I'm so glad to have heard your story and I'm even more excited to be able to share your story and The Mom Project with, with our listeners. So [00:43:00] thank you so much, Allison.
Allison Robinson: You're the best. Thank you so much.
Katelin Holloway VO:
And to you, the listener! Thanks so much for joining me on this week’s episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I’m your host, Katelin Holloway.
This episode was produced by Pod People: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert [AH-liza], and Samantha Gattsek [GATT-sic]. Special thanks to Annette Cardwell. Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people focused at Lattice DOT com or find us on Twitter @LatticeHQ. Don’t forget to subscribe to All Hands, wherever you get your podcasts.
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About the Guest
After having her son Asher in 2015, Allison identified how universally challenging it can be for American mothers to juggle the demands of motherhood with a full-time career and decided to tackle the issue on a national scale. Prior to founding The Mom Project, Allison spent 8 years at Procter and Gamble working on go to market strategies for leading household brands with a special focus on moms during her tenure on the Pampers brand.
As CEO, Allison is responsible for delivering on the company’s mission of building a better workplace for women while supporting our customers through innovative talent solutions that help them attract and retain the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives they need to propel their businesses forward.