'Transparency Alone Isn’t Sufficient If We Don’t Attack The Structural Barriers That Are Holding Women Back'

We spoke with Leslie Caputo, Director of Enterprise Strategy at Werk


Ahead of the Women in Strategy Summit in New York, February 27 & 28, we sat down with Werk's Leslie Caputo to talk about how outdated work structures are holding women back and how Werk aims to combat this by modernizing the workplace.

Leslie Caputo is a thought leader on the future of work and a leading expert on the millennial workplace. Prior to joining Werk as Head of Enterprise Strategy, Leslie spent five years as a management consultant at Aon Hewitt helping Fortune 500 companies solve their most pressing talent challenges. Leslie’s consulting experience cuts across a diverse set of industries, most notably tech, life sciences and financial services. She has developed strategies and solutions to address an array of human capital challenges, including but not limited to talent acquisition, engagement and retention, organization transformation, leadership, development, diversity and inclusion, and mergers and acquisitions.

Leslie is an organizational psychologist by training and at heart—she is profoundly curious about the “why” behind everything we do, especially as it relates to the workplace. She is deeply committed to helping people and organizations cultivate greater purpose in all that they do – a passion that led her to join Werk in July of 2017.

Leslie holds BA in Psychology from Connecticut College and a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.

How did you get started in your career?

I graduated college in 2009, right into the recession when it was nearly impossible to find a job. After a tireless search and hundreds of applications I finally landed a job (through Craigslist!) as an account executive for a designer shoe company. It was character building and a great bootcamp for the real world, but far from fulfilling. So I did what many millennials do when they’re feeling professionally lost and discouraged — I went to grad school. I went to Columbia University to study Organizational Psychology which is essentially the psychology of work, and graduated in 2014, which is when my consulting career began. I joined Aon in New York City and for the next five years consulted with hundreds of Fortune 500 companies on how to manage their most pressing people challenges. Through that experience I built my reputation as a millennial workplace expert, an experience that ultimately led me to join Werk in 2017. At Werk my role is focused on helping companies build a culture of flexibility to modernize the workplace and help women reach the highest positions of leadership.

What do you think is behind the lack of women in senior positions? What do you think companies can do to address any imbalance?

Here at Werk we profoundly believe that an outdated structure of work plays a large part in preventing women from reaching the highest levels of leadership. Of the 30% of women who drop out of the workforce after having a child, 70% say they would’ve stayed if they had access to flexibility. The structure of work was decided a long time ago before women had a voice — we’re working to change that and we believe all companies should be doing the same.

Progress has been slow for gender parity in many industries, particularly STEM. Do you see improvements coming anytime soon, or is it likely to be a long journey? Do you think company-wide pay transparency has the potential to help address the issue of gender pay inequality?

There is no question that it has been and will continue to be a long journey, but I do see the light. 2017 was a year where many women found their voices, and here at Werk we’re optimistic that 2018 will be the year they use their voices to create real change. I am always in favor of transparency as a first step because it shines a light on the issues we need to address — and yet at the same time transparency alone isn’t sufficient if we don’t attack the structural barriers that are holding women back.

What impact on workplace diversity do you think will come from changes to the nature of employment? Will more people working remotely in the future help to augment innovation? 

Companies need to radically reimagine the workday and the nature of the employee-employer compact in order to support diversity in the workplace. The workforce is so much more diverse than it was a century ago, and yet we still assume the conventional office-based 9am-6pm schedule works for the vast majority of us. The truth is it doesn’t — companies need to find a way to customize the employee experience so that employees with diverse needs can access life-compatible jobs that allow them to perform at their best. Remote work is one element of this, but there are many other workday customizations that can be implemented to support a thriving workforce.

How important is diversity for innovation? How can female leaders drive innovation forward?

Every major study conducted on the value of diversity has found that it supports innovation — so that’s indisputable. Diversity doesn’t just support innovation by bringing diverse points-of-view to the table, it also enables companies to more effectively address the needs of their customers. If your employee population isn’t as diverse as your customer base then you’ve got a problem. Female leaders getting a seat at the table is the first step, but then it’s about using their voices to advocate for their perspectives and the perspectives of other women.

What will you be discussing in your presentation? Is there anyone else you are particularly looking forward to hearing from?

My presentation is going to explore how outdated workplace structures have prevented women from reaching the highest levels of leadership, and what we’re doing at Werk to restructure work to meet the needs of modern society. I’m incredibly excited to hear all of the other speakers, but particularly interested to hear Pepsi’s talk on leveraging design methodologies for the modern female.

Hear Leslie speak at our Women in Strategy Summit in New York, February 27 & 28.

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