…An increase in inclusive language and policies. As gender stereotypes are increasingly challenged and dismantled, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on language — in marketing, production, sales — that’s truly inclusive of a wide range of human needs and interests. Rather than assuming a dominant point of view, our language will continue to evolve to reflect our changing understanding of identities and bias.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Sascha Mayer.
Sascha Mayer is the CEO and Co-founder of Mamava, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont. Mamava designs solutions for nursing mamas on the go, and since 2015 has placed over 1,900 lactation pods in locations as diverse as airports, sports stadiums, automobile factories, and military bases. Mission-driven and women-owned, Mamava created the freestanding lactation space category and is the leading expert in lactation space design. Mamava has changed the face of public transportation hubs and private businesses with their iconic pod shape. Mayer is a progressive leader in employee-centered policies — with a distinct vision to transform culture to make breastfeeding easier for working mothers and mothers on the go. Mayer speaks regularly about lactation space design, breastfeeding legislation, positive work cultures, and entrepreneurship.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
On Labor Day 2006, with baby number two on my breast, I read a New York Times cover story by Jodi Kantor. You might recognize Kantor’s name, as she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of She Said, about breaking the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017.
In the 2006 piece “On the Job, Nursing Mothers Find a 2-Class System,” Kantor wrote about the health benefits of breastfeeding and pointed out that a corporate class of women, with workplace autonomy, were able to meet their breastfeeding goals, but many hourly wage workers weren’t afforded the same space or time. When it came to breastfeeding, there was a two-class system where wealth begets wealth, and health begets health. I recognized my own privilege of being able to choose to breastfeed my children because I had a supportive employer and autonomy in my job. But I struggled to find places to use my breast pump when I traveled in my career as a brand strategist for a design studio. I knew design could be applied to solve real-world problems so I decided to do something about it. It was a long journey from the time I had the idea, to creating and placing a prototype, to launching the business. When Mamava was conceived, I was lucky to have been working for an employer who believed in the idea. My co-founder Christine Dodson — the right brain to my left — and I were able to incubate the business before striking out and hiring our first employees in 2015.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
To call climate change a disruption would be the understatement of the century (20th and 21st). As employers, we need to be both front-footed about taking steps to reduce our impact on how we produce our goods and operate our businesses and be prepared for the volatility that climate change will most certainly have on our employees and customers’ lives.
For example, we know that breastfeeding is “greener” than feeding formula which relies mostly on dairy production, and a complex manufacturing and supply chain. So our mission to support breastfeeding is fundamental to our sustainability work. In 2020 we learned that our employees could successfully work (mostly) remotely and thus we have greatly reduced commute time and air travel. We also downsized our office by more than half and now use it primarily as a place for product development and group collaboration. We are now more deliberate in terms of how we design our in-office time together to build company culture.
This year we also decided to integrate our manufacturing by purchasing our contract manufacturer. Having greater control of our supply chain helps our sustainability efforts while also stabilizing our business. The supply and distribution ends of our business are greatly impacted by climate change, in particular weather events, and so now we can build in these variables to our planning (as best we can), and, of course, we are always working to make our product more sustainable through improvements on materialization, sourcing, and end-of-life planning.
I believe every business should:
- Make sustainability core to the company values — it’s our only option if we want an inhabitable planet for our children and grandchildren.
- Reduce travel to reduce emissions (it’s the # 1 contributor to greenhouse gas emissions).
- Be ready. Highly populated states such as Texas, California, New York, and Florida all experienced devastating climate events in 2021 that slowed or halted business. Control what you can, but expect the unexpected.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer.” But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
I think a college experience is really important and should be accessible to everyone, but very few people know what they want to do at age 18. College should be a time to experiment, meet new people, and try things out (ideally through hands-on learning). My family is in the thick of it now, as my oldest just entered his first year at college. He chose an in-state college with a condensed three-year program that includes three paid internships Theoretically he’ll finish in three years, earn a bachelor of science, and leave with very little debt as he’ll be making money while he learns. Check back in three years though, as I may give you another answer!
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?
I am a real fan of experiential learning and believe in a jungle gym approach to the employment journey, emphasizing experimentation and play over set processes and roles. At Mamava, we hire smart people who believe in our mission and have the desire to learn. One of our company values is “Yes and…” — a concept we borrowed from improv — which invites people to approach every opportunity, collaboration and challenge with an open mind and willingness to take on any task. Job seekers need to be willing to come into a business at any level and make themselves indispensable especially in a start-up work environment. If their employer is smart, they’ll help them find the job that best fits their interests and talents.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs appear frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
I am a big fan of artificial intelligence technology. I think if developed correctly, and without bias (which is extremely difficult), it has the ability to reduce human error for improved outcomes, and eliminate many jobs that are actually unpleasant. The goal would be to free us up for distinctly human pursuits like art, music, sports, and caretaking. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all enjoy a shorter workweek to spend time on our hobbies or with our friends and family? I tell my colleagues we have to be good at two things: Understanding data and telling stories. It is the intersection of data and storytelling that makes companies strong, so I would suggest people focus on building skills in one or both of those areas for success in the workplace.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
Yes! Pre-pandemic Mamava already had a mostly remote sales force and so we already had the systems and technology in place to operate remotely. For the rest of us, it was just a matter of picking up our laptops and locking the door behind us. Slack and Monday are two of our most effective collaboration tools. The benefits of reduced commute time and flexibility have drastically improved work-life balance — especially for parents. For the first time in my parenting life, I have been able to see most of my kid’s after-school games. Of course, we are a company that makes a product for people who go out in the world, so it is important that we build in time for real-life product engagement and team collaboration. We are still figuring out how to create a strong company culture when you don’t see your colleagues in real life on a weekly basis.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
Paid family leave, universal healthcare, and universal childcare.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
We are all learning how to navigate this hybrid workplace that allows for more employee freedom and flexibility, but as the saying goes “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” Managers have a much more difficult job keeping their team motivated and accountable, and it is more difficult to train new employees in a mostly remote workplace. Some employees might find the downside to flexibility is the blurring of the lines between work and home, and some might just miss the energy and camaraderie of an office environment. Without all the distractions and interruptions, I am 50% more productive working at home. My most productive hours are between 7:30 am and 10:30 am and again often after dinner. So I save my writing and deep thinking for the morning and try to schedule meetings for the afternoon.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
Again, paid family leave universal healthcare and universal childcare. By not having these as part of the social fabric we are paying far more as a society.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Humans have shown they can do amazing things in difficult times, from developing a vaccine in under a year to private space flight, to creating wonderful music, film, and art from home studios. Also, since 2020 five babies have been born to Mamava employees, and you can’t help but be optimistic about that.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
I’d defer to the economists.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Remote work is here to stay. It provides efficiency, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by reducing car commuting, and provides flexibility that is more family-friendly. Companies like Twitter have already made remote work a permanent option for employees.
- The rise of collaboration consultants and software platforms. With so much remote working, businesses are going to need help with creative connecting that energizes and allows for virtual “water cooler” talk. I think well-organized Slack channels are great for this. I have also used a wonderful platform called InSpace which was designed for educators but can be applied to help collaboration in remote business environments.
- Data storytellers. We live in the age of data collected around every facet of our business and personal lives. It can be expensive to collect, complicated to decipher, and fraught with issues ranging from privacy to transparency. Data may be the realm of technologists, data scientists, policymakers, and designers, but what is often missing is the human interpreters and storytellers that can clarify what it all means and what actions should be taken in response to the data. Humans have always needed story as a source of wayfinding, and storytellers are needed now more than ever.
- The end of gender (or at least gender stereotypes). This might be surprising coming from the CEO of a company dedicated to supporting the breastfeeding journey, but I have been amazed at the rapid pace of change in recognizing gender as a cultural construct rather than a designation assigned at birth. I anticipate we will go from identifying our preferred pronouns to neutralizing our language away from male and female designations. The patriarchal systems under which we have been living and working are clearly weakening our society. A more egalitarian structure for managing families and households makes life better for everyone.
- An increase in inclusive language and policies. As gender stereotypes are increasingly challenged and dismantled, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on language — in marketing, production, sales — that’s truly inclusive of a wide range of human needs and interests. Rather than assuming a dominant point of view, our language will continue to evolve to reflect our changing understanding of identities and bias.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
When we were first getting the company off the ground and working around my dining room table, I wondered out loud to my colleague, Janet, if I was the right person for the job. Janet shared a quote from her activist days, “We each have different gifts for the revolution.” I keep this in mind as I think about our team and our mission. In fact, now it’s codified as one of the company values. As a leader, if you don’t have the gifts, surround yourself with people who do.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Can I name two? I always try to listen to Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway’s podcast Pivot. I enjoy their repartee, Kara’s tech world-savvy, and Scott’s clear-eyed perspective on some of the most challenging business issues and cultural dynamics of our day. These two definitely live at the intersection of VC funding, business, and entertainment.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
I would invite readers to follow me on LinkedIn where I regularly share important updates on Mamava and our mission, as well as thought leadership articles about increasing support for breastfeeding people in all walks of life.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.