It’s important to have the time to focus on projects that empower women to progress no matter the industry they’re in. Striking a work/life balance is crucial for all people, but especially for women, who are often the caregivers in a family
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Agnieszka Wilk.
Agnieszka Wilk is the CEO of Decorilla, an online interior design service that connects customers with vetted professional interior designers who create curated 3D and VR spaces based on customer style preferences and budget. With a team of over 300 interior designers and 200 furniture partners, Agnieszka led the first interior design firm to offer VR to clients. She has been featured in publications such as TechCrunch and VentureBeat.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
When I was seven I immigrated from Poland to Canada and saw my parents work incredibly hard to learn a new language and create a new life. They taught us that nothing in life is easy, and you have to work hard to reach your goals — that has always stayed with me.
I moved to Seoul after high school and quickly found that my finance background didn’t fit well in South Korea’s male-dominated industry. Being both a woman and foreigner, I was offered an HR position but I know this wasn’t what I really wanted to pursue.
I focused my energy into decorating the apartment, and discovered the financial and time costs of a trial-and-error approach. It led me to thinking about how there’s a lack of online interior design resources to support these kinds of projects. I’d always had a voice in my head saying that I should be an entrepreneur and once I began nurturing this business opportunity, I took the leap.
Today, I run an international online interior design company and know that even though it hasn’t been an easy path, it was definitely the right decision.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Funding was a big learning curve for me. In Decorilla’s early days I spent a lot of time researching how to get funding, and honestly, I wasn’t very good at it. Luckily, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I have since seen many of our competitors raise tens of millions in funding but try to grow too fast without perfecting the product — which has meant them going under.
Meanwhile, we were focusing on testing, iterating, and getting our services exactly right. The processes taught us to carry a sense of responsibility with us at all, to manage our cash flow, and put quality before quantity. It’s certainly not easy to get organic growth right, but I did learn to slow down in my business processes and do what’s right rather than what’s fastest.
Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting?
Early on when I started Decorilla a lot of people asked me for design advice, especially when I was taking my first sales calls with clients. There would sometimes be an awkward pause or I would try to research answers for them. This took me way too long because I’m not a designer and I hope I gave the right advice! I learned how to properly answer their questions and refer them to the right people. I don’t have a background in design, and as a business professional, I’m the last one that should be giving out design advice, so I learned not to spend time on something that isn’t my personal strength.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I learned to believe in myself, and to explore avenues that I may not automatically think I’m knowledgeable about. People assume that CEOs have the answer to everything but the truth is, they lean on their teams a lot to be specialized and have in-depth know-how. As time has passed, my team has helped me grow in so many ways, and I can only hope that I return the favor to them on a daily basis.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?
For me, under representation is a big factor. Women don’t have many role models they can relate to — especially in tech. This is why women often don’t believe they are capable or even welcome in those spaces, it’s what perpetuates the feeling of being an imposter. There are also stereotypes about what kind of work is appropriate for women, which hinder women’s advancement in some fields currently dominated by men.
Likewise, old stereotypes die hard. In this day and age, women are still told they don’t make as much as the men because men have families to support. The claim is bizarre because women are also supporting families, and yet one woman was told by her manager that she “doesn’t need pay equity, you’re married.” This outdated attitude also fuels the misconception that women are paid less because they stay home more to raise children. Yet, not all women are taking time off. Many families rely on two paychecks and cannot afford for one parent to stay home. Studies have even shown that only one third of the women in senior positions in Fortune 100 companies took a leave of absence.
Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?
We make sure to pay female team members the same as their male counterparts. We also actively look to hire females in tech and product management — an area where women do not get the visibility they deserve.
Additionally, we offer mentoring to all female employees, as well as flexible hours and the option to work from home. This allows women to create their own schedules and grow into their own strengths — it’s important to have the time to focus on projects that empower women to progress no matter the industry they’re in. Striking a work/life balance is crucial for all people, but especially for women, who are often the caregivers in a family, Decorilla tries to curate a healthy, tailored professional life that fits seamlessly with women’s personal lives.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.
Low wage workers account for some of the biggest discrepancies in pay between genders, one way to overcome this is to raise minimum wage in general. This also applies to workers who rely heavily on tips for income (a majority female workforce). If legislation is developed where employers have to cover at least 70% of salaries earned from tips, women would have a more equal, stable income.
Similarly, the law can do more to protect women. San Francisco and Vermont have already passed legislation that allows women the ‘right to request’, where they can ask for more flexibility or more regular shift patterns. These practices are necessary for working women to have job security while living their lives. Elsewhere, laws can be passed to improve pay transparency, so women can freely talk about how much they earn and make open comparisons with their male counterparts.
Elsewhere, community programs can do a lot to reduce the gender wage gap. Early childcare and education can allow women to work and build long-term careers without compromising their children’s wellbeing. Especially for single mothers, access to high-quality childcare is essential to keeping and excelling in a job.
Free training plays a big role too in encouraging women and changing the perception of not having opportunities in certain industries or positions. Hosting female-specific training sessions, workshops, webinars, tells women that they are welcome and that they deserve the recognition and reimbursement that men receive. Equally, it’s important to educate all teams, whatever level they are in a company, about why gender equality is important, to review processes in the business, and to have open, honest conversations about improving gender equality there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As a female immigrant, entrepreneur, and executive I see the lack of education opportunities for women, especially those in poor countries. According to UNICEF, only 66% of countries have reached gender equality in primary school education and the gap only increases in secondary education. ( https://www.unicef.org/education/girls-education) I feel equality in education is the foundation for equality growth in other areas whether that be at home, in the workplace or elsewhere. While there are already great organizations combating education inequality, I feel continued attention and initiatives are need to keep the movement progressing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Surround yourself with the people who push you forward, and not the ones who hold you back. Essentially, people fall into two groups — motors and anchors. Make sure you stick with motors.
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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I really look up to Oprah for being a strong female representation and pushing forward boundaries not only in her industry but in society as a whole.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.