By: Rashida Ashley
Photography: Sara Hana
Have you ever had an experience that catalyzed a life changing moment right out of the blue? Have you ever had to make a quick yet crucial decision that not only impacted you but the people you love and care about? Twelve years ago, Stephanie Synclair experienced such a moment. As a single mother, she worked long and hard at a large company in sales and marketing to provide for herself and her son Caden. Despite being a top performer, unfortunate circumstances forced her to make the decision of putting her family first.
Now, as the founder and CEO of luxury tea company La Rue 1680, bestselling author, radio show host, and entrepreneur, Synclair is driven by hurtful past lessons and a mission to help other working mothers like herself through her single mom hiring initiative. In this initiative she is offering multiple jobs in Customer Success, Social Media Manager, Research & Development, Recipe Curators, and Warehouse positions. While some positions require you to work on site, others have the option to work remotely to make the balance of being a mom and having a career a little bit easier.
As a successful woman, you wear many hats. Being the CEO of La Rue 1680 is one of them. Tell us about what made you begin the ritual of making tea and the spiritual impact it’s had on you prior to founding La Rue 1680.
I actually did not like tea until 2012. I’m from Birmingham, Alabama so when you think tea, you think of sweet tea. In 2012 I traveled through Europe and Asia with my son Caden. While in Indonesia (Bali) it was Caden (who was seven at the time) who helped me discover my love of tea. I ended up tasting some tea he was drinking, which was like a ginger mixture. It was surprisingly good and totally outside of what I personally thought about tea. And after four months of living there [Indonesia] I began to get immersed in the culture and started doing more tea and more of the country’s rituals and I loved it. I realized how much less stressed I was. The property I was staying at had a gorgeous rooftop meditation area and I would just go up there in the mornings to drink my tea and meditate. It really impacted my life in such an amazing way.
You have chosen to take the initiative to establish a program for working mothers. Can you talk about some of the issues working mothers are exposed to in the workforce?
One of the issues that really stood out to me before I quit my position in 2009 was when my son was young and in daycare. He had a spiked temperature so of course I needed to leave work to pick him up. I’ll never forget getting the text message from the daycare, then letting my supervisor know that I needed to leave. She looked at me and said “Oh, you can’t go and if you leave, you don’t have a job.” I looked at her, kind of giggled a little bit (she probably thought I was crazy), shut my computer down, cleared my desk and I left to go get my son. It was maybe a week and a half later that I received a call from her supervisor informing me that she had no right to fire me, I was not fired and to come back to work.
Then there is the importance of employee morale. When employees feel cared for, they will bend over backwards to do their job. That always kind of stuck with me. So, I decided that if I’m in this hiring process, it’s important that I give space for people who are single parents. A lot of moms won’t tell you that they’re parents because they’re afraid of people not hiring them. I just want people to know it’s a safe place, so you can come work for me and with me. Certain positions like in the warehouse, don’t allow for working from home but we can absolutely work around that when needed. If it’s a position where you can work from home, then stay home. Just get the job done. I would love that and I want to offer that, because it’s something that wasn’t offered to me.
What were your thoughts and feelings during that interaction with your supervisor about leaving to pick up your ill son?
I felt sort of betrayed. I worked in sales and marketing for a large corporation and was always at the top three of their sales division, so to be given an ultimatum really hurt because I thought I was cared about. I returned to work when they called me back, but my morale was extremely low. I did the minimum to keep my job, dropping from being one of the top three in sales to nowhere near the top because I just didn’t care anymore. I quit within three or four months afterwards. Thinking about that, can you imagine people walking around feeling uncared for in their position?
What is your vision for the culture of La Rue 1680 through the single mother hiring initiative?
When we get to the point that I really desire, my grand initiative is to have a free daycare located onsite where people can bring their kids and to have opportunities for people to work from home whenever possible. I really want people to come to La Rue 1680 knowing that they are cared about and are a member of a team, not just an employee. We really are in this together.
Why is now such an essential time to embark on this initiative?
Well, we’re coming off a space of a lot of people being awkward. A problem that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about is how hard it is to find employees right now, partly because it was almost more beneficial to be on unemployment because it was paying more. Now unemployment is over and people are going to need jobs, so I just think this is the perfect time for us to hire while this whole transition is taking place.
How do you think this initiative will change how you’ve originally done business?
Since we opened during the pandemic our company culture already reflects working remotely, so I’ve been real open minded when it comes to where you work from. It doesn’t even feel like it’s a new thing. It’ll be a continuation of what we did during the pandemic but now more structured.
What advice do you have for the single mothers out there who are in other work industries who need help balancing work and home life?
Here’s the real advice, you cannot balance it. I feel like balance is a word that is misconstrued. There is no balance. Some days your family will get more of your time, attention, and energy while on other days your work will. I would say give up the perfection that we’re looking for. We want to be perfect team members and we want to be perfect parents, and it just doesn’t exist. In reality we’re figuring it out as we go along, doing the best that we can, and we just really need to give ourselves grace and give up that idea of perfection around it.