The company name is often confused with referencing Rosie the Riveter, but it’s actually named for the CEO’s daughter as a reminder of why she’s working so hard to build what she’s building. But We are Rosie CEO and founder Stephanie Nadi Olson doesn’t mind when people make that mistake. After all, the company’s mission is to allow more women to have the option to work, just on their own terms. As a flexible talent marketplace serving CMOs, Olson started We Are Rosie to show the marketing industry that a diverse workforce is an asset, and that allowing employees to tackle work with more agility yields stronger results.
Olson has a keen understanding of how much potential is wasted by a lack of diversity in corporate America. Her father is a refugee who was often underestimated throughout his life. When she saw the same thing happening with women, especially women of color, across the marketing industry, she saw the need for change.
Amy Shoenthal: Tell me about the name We Are Rosie.
Stephanie Nadi Olson: I named the company after my youngest daughter, Rosie. She was two when I started it. I knew I needed the business to have a name to remind me why I’m doing this because I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I do it because I want my daughters to have more opportunities.
Shoenthal: Why do you focus on marketing specifically?
Olson: Marketing is all I’ve done since I graduated from Georgia Tech. I love the creativity that comes from it. I love the mix of innovation and psychology. I was inspired by all the brilliant people working in this space.
I spent 11 years fully immersed in the marketing industry both at massive companies and startups, and found myself in the unique position of being able to spot a challenge that nobody else was working on solving.
Shoenthal: What was that challenge?
Olson: My dad grew up in a refugee camp, and when he came to the U.S., he couldn’t read or write English. But he still built the American dream, now with three kids who are now college educated.
I’ve always had a view of the haves and the have nots. My parents are different religions and races and speak different native languages. I’ve seen my dad marginalized because of the way he speaks English or his lack of formal education, but he’s brilliant.
Because of this, I’ve always carried a chip on my shoulder for people who are overlooked and underestimated.
I started to see the same thing happening in marketing. There were a lot of people who weren’t given access to work in a way that made sense for their lives, and they were being made to feel like they were unwelcome.
Marketing just wasn’t a very hospitable place for them. Many of those people were from underrepresented groups. Remember, these are the people that we’re claiming to want to recruit or keep at big organizations, according to all these diversity panels I’ve been watching for the last 10 years.
If we don’t change the way work happens, our inclusion and diversity efforts will never be fully recognized and fulfilled. For example, what does it mean for people who have a disability if we insist that everybody work in a physical office? What does it mean for Black people or people of color if we tell them that the only way to work on this big brand is to move to a market where they don’t feel a sense of community?
Once I started to unpack the toll that conformity was having, I decided to build a new foundation for how work happens. I started We Are Rosie to connect people to work that would allow them to have the life they desire and the career they desire.
At its core, We Are Rosie is that access point. We have 7,000 brilliant marketers, creatives and people who have worked at Fortune 500 companies.
On the other side, we work with Fortune 500 companies who are starting to recognize that they need this.
Shoenthal: Do you vet candidates?
Olson: We vet them when they join our community. We would never put a Rosie in front of a client unless someone speaks to them. We have an in-depth intake process. We ask people about what they’ve done in the past, which is how people are currently vetted. But we also look at a candidate’s potential score. We ask, “What is your potential and what lights you up? What type of work for this particular season of your life works for you?”
Life is seasonal and cyclical and we need to design work that way.
Shoenthal: What was your biggest obstacle when building We Are Rosie?
Olson: Funding! I chose to bootstrap the company, which is challenging, especially as we have been growing so fast. Bootstrapping was absolutely the right choice for us, but it presents its own set of challenges, including staying focused as dozens of investors have been wanting to get in on the business.
Another challenge is that we’ve created a new category with a flexible talent solution. Evangelizing our work and product has involved getting every one of our clients to reimagine many assumptions they’ve accepted about how, where, and by whom work needs to get done.
Shoenthal: How do you draw revenue?
Olson: We’ve been profitable since the jump. We mark up our talent and our teams.
We started the company three years ago with my $10,000 investment, and we will be well into eight figures of revenue this year. We have been really financially responsible. We’ve also been incredibly service oriented to make sure we’re the best possible service to our Rosie’s. That’s why we do things like pay them weekly and offer them full benefits so that they’re not worried about their hierarchy of needs while they’re on projects.
Shoenthal: You were poised to help as the Shecession hit and 5 million women left the workplace last year.
Olson: A flexible talent strategy is critical for any CMO who cares about diversity and inclusion within their workforce and also wants agility and flexibility. Covid, the civil rights movement and all of the events of the past year and a half really underscored the necessity for flexible work.
We’re creating a net to catch all of these people who are being marginalized or pushed out the door. As we see consistently, that over indexes for women and people of color. We want to create a place where people have a sense of community. We want our 7,000 Rosie’s to have that sense of belonging and camaraderie that can often be lost when you lose a job or you’re embarking on a freelance career.
When you see these huge numbers of women leaving the workforce, far too often people make the excuse of saying they wanted to go care for their family or stay home with their kids. I’ve quit jobs citing that exact reason although it was absolutely not true. It’s just what we say about women when we push them out.
What disengaged women may not realize is that they’re just at a season in their career where they need more flexibility. We’re trying to normalize that seasonality so that it’s not a choice of, either you’re all in or you’re out.
People shouldn’t have to choose between playing by these very rigid rules of how work happens or getting discarded. There should be fluidity and there should be a middle ground, especially with all of the tech we have to enable people to transition in and out of companies and in and out of teams now.
Shoenthal: What are you most excited about right now?
Olson: Scaling our impact. We’re on track to put 1,000 Rosies to work this year. This will triple to quadruple our growth year over year, and that’s after more than doubling our growth last year.
Our next annual Rosie Report is coming out later this month. There will be some great case studies in there from Facebook, Diageo, WW and more. We’re unveiling it in a webinar June 23rd and it’s all about the trends we’re seeing in flex work across brands, agencies and the marketing industry at large.
Shoenthal: What advice would you give to others starting their own business or embarking on a new venture.
Olson: Go for it! You can always go back and get another job. Go do the things you are afraid you will regret if you don’t. You are the best bet you can make.