One-line solution summary:
A critical life line for workers amidst COVID-19
Pitch your solution.
We’re in a prolonged national crisis. Millions of people are unemployed or doing anything to retain to a job. Every day workers connect with Empower Work who are struggling to deal with cut hours, bullying, COVID safety, discrimination, unemployment, and re-employment.
It’s particularly stark for women. And most devastating for Latinx and Black women.
Empower Work is changing the lives of historically excluded workers and building more equitable, inclusive workplaces.
We help people thrive ensuring they have the support, information, and resources to navigate complex work challenges - via technology.
Our approach fuels positive change in three ways:
Improved economic and emotional well-being for less-represented and less-resourced workers via immediate, confidential SMS support,
Improved workplace practices as volunteer peer counselors bring their 25+ hours of Empower Work training to their workplaces creating a ripple effect, and
Systemic workplace change as our data and storytelling informs new approaches, training, & policy.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Jobs are core to opportunity. Before COVID, research showed that workplaces were not working for most Americans. Over 95% of working Americans report experiencing at least one extraordinarily adverse work situation - from challenges with a manager to wage theft, discrimination to job loss. Unfortunately when faced with one, over 80% of working Americans lack a trusted place to turn.
Under-represented and under-resourced workers are not only more likely to face adverse situations, they’re less likely to have support, resulting in calling in sick (often unpaid), leaving a job with no next job, taking a pay cut, or leaving an industry altogether. This has a negative ripple effect across people’s lives, exacerbating inequality.
With COVID, that inequality has astronomically deepened.
Empower Work is the first confidential, third-party support that puts employees first, ensuring people make it to solid job opportunities, and have support through them.
A woman experiencing harassment who we helped deal with the stress, report her experience, and find a new job, wrote, “Support like Empower Work is so crucial for those feeling marginalized that have nowhere else to turn. It may even save a life.”
What is your solution?
Empower Work addresses a critical gap and is a complement to existing workforce training programs. Our approach blends emotional and tactical coaching, reaching workers on a bus, or a breakroom via SMS or chat. Trained peer counselors provide a discrete, immediate space to process. They guide the texter in exploring the larger context, evaluating options, identifying a next step, and if needed, connecting to resources.
Over 91% of people report improved mental health and 87% indicate they took an action that felt right for them. They asked for a pay raise and got it, organized with coworkers for PPE, advocated for paid leave, got a new job without losing pay or having gaps in employment, and perhaps most importantly, felt a sense of resilience, strength, and agency.
A few weeks after a conversation with an Empower Work counselor, people shared they felt, “empowered, relieved, less stressed, unstuck, safer, able to pay rent."
Our unique, 25+ hour, online training for peer counselors, combined with ongoing professional development, offers a powerful way to give back and build skills.
90% say volunteering and training have improved work relationships
87% report increased empathy
82% say volunteering has increased their ability to advocate at work
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
We ensure historically marginalized workers have an accessible advocate at their fingertips.
We designed Empower Work to address a gap that wasn't being met by current approaches. Our founder spent months in early research doing deep quantitative and qualitative interviews, identifying what people needed and how that might be addressed, including how it might fit into other organizations or offerings. We listened deeply and explored possibilities collaboratively. Not only did workers express an overwhelming lack of a trusted resource, they also experienced uncertainty about where their issue fell—not serious enough for legal reporting, not mental health but impacting their mental health, and deeply personal, affecting their livelihoods and economic security.
Till Empower Work, there hasn’t been an option for someone whose livelihood is on the line to access timely, trusted, third-party support.
Of those we currently support, over 78% identify as a woman; 52% as a person of color; 17% as LGBTQIA; and 54% are in their first 10 years working (under 28 years old). Overwhelmingly people express financial vulnerability with at least 40% in lower wage jobs. The top industries served: tech (IT), health and human services, retail, service, manufacturing, education, and "other."
We see that our approach changes lives. We look at key indicators in post-use surveys, both immediately after conversations and in weeks following, along with doing regular user interviews to understand what's working, what to improve, and how people have been impacted.
For example, a mom of three in rural Georgia reached out scared and exhausted having just lost her job as a trucker (she noted the company faced COVID-19 cutbacks but only Black drivers were let go), "I don’t really know what to say other than I’m terrified of what’s to come. I have a lot of financial responsibilities and no one to call on for help. I’m afraid I’m about to lose it ALL." An Empower Work counselor provided space to talk through her needs. By the end, she’d applied for unemployment to cover financial concerns, talked through her emotions, and created a plan for her job search. She wrote that the combination of support, "offered me tremendous hope where I didn’t think I had any." She said the conversation had “brought light to darkness.”
Our unique approach offers blended support - both emotional and tactical - that improves mental health and ensures people have tactical support for next steps that improve their economic security.
As the last year unfolded with coronavirus, economic uncertainty, and systemic racism undermining an already fragile social safety net, we rose to the need. See our 2020 Impact Report.
Which dimension of the Digital Workforce Challenge does your solution most closely address?Create opportunities for people to engage and succeed in the digital workforce by bolstering necessary wraparound supports, such as childcare and employee wellbeing
Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.
We believe we need to ensure people are not just making it into jobs, but are successful in them. That means providing support, resources, tools and information for each employee's wellbeing. We've taken wraparound supports and provide them in a digitally accessible format. With SMS or web chat, there's no barrier to entry, no cost (other than SMS), no fear of getting back to your employer or job training program, and no concern about being overheard in your workplace (an overwhelming need in initial research and now shown throughout our support as being critical).
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?San Francisco, CA, USA
Is your solution already being implemented in one or more of the following ServiceNow locations (Australia/New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom, United States), or are you planning to expand your solution to one or more of these countries?
My solution is already being implemented in one or more of these ServiceNow locations
What is your solution’s stage of development?Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth.
Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.
We know what works and now we're investing in growing our impact. Across more than 300,000 messages exchanged with workers across the United States at some of their toughest work moments, we see transformation. People write, "are you a fairy godmother for work? You are!" "This changed my life." "I don't know what I would have done without finding you."
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Founder & Executive Director
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the ServiceNow US Racial Equity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if ServiceNow is specifically interested in my solution/I do not qualify for this prize
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
What makes your solution innovative?
We designed Empower Work to address needs not being met by current approaches. Over 40M Americans lack access to information and coaching at livelihood altering moments. We’ve built an accessible advocate at someone’s fingertips, ensuring historically marginalized workers have what they need following workplace adversity.
Through deep market and user research, we developed an innovative approach in a people-centered way, incorporating texter, volunteer, and community feedback at every point. And as we’ve built and grown, measuring our impact throughout to ensure we’re meeting our mission. One HVAC worker wrote, “Humanity needs this.”
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
Empower Work leverages technology to meet workers where they are. We connect with people via SMS or web chat through a back-end interface that easily connects volunteers confidentially with people who reach out.
Trained peer counselors provide a discrete space to process. They supportively guide each person in exploring the context and what's at stake, evaluating options (e.g., stay in the job or look for another one), identifying a next step that works for them (e.g., if texter decides to set a meeting with a manager, they may practice that conversation together), and if needed, connecting with resources (e.g., job placement, reporting information).
Our approach scales the power of human connection along with critical resources, at someone's fingertips.
We also run scale-able training - both for our trained peer counselors and for teams interested in building key coaching skills - through our learning management system. It blends interactive, on-demand training with hands-on practice to use and build skills.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
We have a fantastic team of 4FT (hiring 2 more), 1PT, 3 contractors, and hundreds of volunteers.
How long have you been working on your solution?
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
We've built a nimble, creative, diverse team that includes board members, advisors, volunteers, contractors, and paid staff with issue area expertise that touch every aspect of the workplace space including workforce trainers, organizers, organizational psychologists, employment attorneys, UX researchers, DEI specialists, HR professionals, coaches, training designers, and more, combined with leading technical experts in SMS, ML/AI, and engineering, and community outreach specialists. Nearly everyone has lived experience with work challenges.
A full list of our Board and Advisors is available on our website.
Our work is not possible without our impactful volunteer base of peer counselors, over 70% of whom identify as a woman, 2% as gender fluid, and 40% as a person of color. Many are first generation to go to college or join an industry. All are motivated to support others because of a personal an understanding of the need for workplace advocacy.
Jaime-Alexis Fowler Founder and Executive Director, Empower Work