Restarting Your Career After Caring for Family
For most people who take time out of careers to raise children or care for aging parents, jumping back into the workforce takes guts and a lot of confidence — even more confidence than it might have taken to step away in the first place.
The road back to work can be uncertain and daunting. For those looking to restart their careers — a vast majority of them are women — the work landscape might look very different than when they left, and employers are not always welcoming to those with significant gaps on their resumes.
Diane Flynn knows this terrain well. She took nearly two decades out of the workforce to raise her children. Then, three years ago she returned as a chief marketing officer at a tech company in Silicon Valley. She says that soon after starting back, women in her community started to approach her with their stories. Many said they also wanted to find a way back to work but felt unsure of how to proceed.
Flynn said they told her: “I’m an empty nester and my purpose just left the house,” or, “I’m going through a divorce,” or “I’m recently widowed,” or “I just moved to the area and my kids are just starting kindergarten.”
She realized that all these women who wanted a way back to the careers they had left behind represented a huge source of untapped talent. She devoted herself to working with these women to find a bridge back into their professional lives.
Founding Reboot Accel
Flynn wanted to create an organization with the mission of getting women current, connected, and confident to return to the workplace. She teamed up with four other women: Kristin Vais, Patty White, Beth Kawasaki, Chrissie Kremer to begin Reboot Accel, a Silicon Valley-based boot camp for people looking to relaunch their careers after an absence.
The main insight Flynn and her co-cofounders emphasize is that returning workers can mine their time away from work to make themselves more valuable as job candidates. Raising children or caring for ailing parents requires hard work and builds new skills. Flynn found that these women, by and large, are returning to work with more to offer than they initially suspected.
Flynn said the more she talked with these women, the more she realized that not only did these individuals have marketable skills, but the time they took to raise a family or care for elderly parents had given them added perspectives that could be an advantage in reentering the workforce. The women who sought Flynn out for counsel didn’t view their own experiences that way.
“All of these women felt hindered by not having updated tech skills — they lacked confidence,” she said. “I think there is this huge untapped pool of talent that can contribute to our economy.”
The curriculum from Reboot Accel ranges from building a LinkedIn profile, writing a stellar resume, developing a 30 second pitch, experiencing and mastering the Google suite of products, PowerPoint presentations, and social media personal branding. In addition to holding training sessions and workshops, the organization also hosts professional development programs which include networking events and guest speakers.
Around 750 women have been through the accelerator program to date. While men are welcome to join Reboot Accel, the organization’s clients are overwhelmingly women.
The Price of Stepping Away
According to a study by The Brookings Institute and The Hamilton Project, women far outnumber men when it comes to leaving the workforce specifically for the purpose of caregiving (this includes caring for a child or other family members). The report finds that 36 percent of prime work-aged women (between 25 and 54) listed caregiving to be the cause for being out of the labor force, compared to only 3 percent of men listing the same reason.
Industry experts also say women also tend to take longer breaks when it comes to caregiving.
One fear for many women returning to work is the reality that they’ll likely see a significant drop in salary compared to peers in the industry who have worked continuously, or even compared their own previous earnings.
Flynn, for instance, was the VP of marketing at Electronic Arts, a video game company, when she decided to take her break.
“I made less 16 years later, after I stepped out,” she said. “You take a huge hit.”
Addressing Pay Inequality
Since many women feel their options are limited in returning to the workplace, they often find themselves in a poor negotiating position.
For that reason, Flynn said it was important to include a negotiating class as part of her curriculum. She encourages her clients to ask their manager for a review and raise after four to six months in the new job so that they can get their salary to market rate.
Legal progress towards addressing these inequities is also underway. As of Jan. 1, 2018, private and public sector employers in the state of California are no longer allowed to ask a candidate’s previous salary. One of the goals of AB168 is to help curb gender pay gaps by preventing an employer from relying on salary history.
Returnee program directors say they hope that laws such as this will spread to more states to continue the processes on curbing gender pay inequalities.
Career breaks make better workers
Employment experts who work with returning workers cite these five main reasons why taking a career break is valuable to companies.
1. Transferable skills: Many parents who take a career break still apply their skills, knowledge, talent and time to school or extracurricular activities. This leads to the development of transferable skills such as time management and leadership, which employers find desirable.
2, Cognitive skills: Caregivers or those who have raised families bring a different dynamic to the table. Women tend to excel in analyzing problems and are skillful in active listening.
3. Thriving in a team environment: Taking a career break can be an isolating experience. Many women miss being part of a team, and thrive when returning to that environment.
4. Age diversity: Returners bring a lot of soft skills like communication and problem-solving, as well as maturity and judgement, to the table. Hiring managers find that returners are very efficient and productive thanks to years of managing a household and juggling schedules and events.
5. Staying power: Returners are not job-hopping for the most part. They are more stable in their decisions and more certain about their future goals. They are looking for something that challenges their intellectual curiosity while making a paycheck.
The Rise of Returnships
The road wasn’t smooth for Flynn while she approached companies to discuss the goal behind Reboot Accel. She said, “The first year, I got a lot of doors slammed.”
In the last year or so, however, she said she has seen a sea change in how women reentering the workforce are treated. Many companies are starting “returnships,” like internships for returning professionals.
For approximately three to six months, each “returner” earns a nominal amount to “try out” the company, and the company gets to assess the returner’s work ethic and skills. Typically, 50 to 90 percent of returnships convert to a full-time hire.
Reboot Accel has partnerships with Visa, Facebook, Sam’s Club, JetBlue Tech Ventures, Intuit and Google, however, at the moment, they are not exclusive contracts. Through the partnerships Reboot Accel runs a company specific talent discovery program or host classes at the companies. Other organizations that also offer returnships include Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse. Flynn estimates around 60 companies have “returnship” programs.
A Way to Minimize Risk
Hiring managers like to avoid risk, and returnships offer a way for them to do so. The temporary nature of the program gives women a chance to try a new opportunity and get their feet wet. Flynn says the data they have collected based on the women who have gone through Reboot Accel shows that the women are able to get back up to speed quickly.
“We are getting an increasing number of mid-sized high-growth companies that don’t have structures in place to really to do extensive training of a college graduate. They really want somebody who can hit the ground running, add value pretty quickly, bring a sense of maturity to the job and judgement and they don’t really have to micro-manage and train,” Flynn said.
Reboot Accel is tuition-based, and works with nonprofits in Silicon Valley to regularly offer part or full scholarships based on financial need. Six accelerator classes cost $595 or $150 for individual sessions.
Vais says that in the last three years, they’ve seen a worldwide explosion of similar programs. “It really feels like it was a trickle and now it's a wave of companies that are realizing that this is a potent force to be reckoned with,” she said.
Life Experiences Add Value
Udemy, an e-learning platform, offers paid returnships in partnership with Path Forward, a New York-based non-profit organization that helps people return to the labor force, specifically after caregiving. Path Forward works with companies to develop programs to welcome women returning to work.
Steve Leech, Udemy’s senior VP of human resources, said the program has helped uncover a hidden talent pipeline for his company. The skills and experiences these individuals acquire during their time away from the workforce often makes them more valuable as employees, he said.
“Jobs and the skill sets required in the workplace are evolving faster than ever, so learning agility is the key skill that matters as we consider new hires,” Leech said. “Returnees tend to excel at learning and adapting to change, and that’s a really valuable skill in the modern workplace.”
Finding a Path Forward
Path Forward started two years ago, with about 150 people having gone through the program so far. Companies pay Path Forward a fee to help tailor a returnship program. The returnees are hired and paid directly by the companies. The goal is for a returnee to be offered an hourly wage for a 16 week trial, then hired on full time at market wage.
Tami Forman, executive director at Path Forward, says that when speaking with executives at companies, they generally understand that there is a large pool of untapped talent available but that message doesn’t always trickle down to those doing the actual hiring.
“I think what a lot of executives don’t understand is that just telling the managers that it would be a good thing for them to consider women with gaps in their resumes is not what’s going to get it done,” Forman said. “That resume with a gap next to a resume without a gap is always going to look less, it’s always going to look more risky and less relevant to the manger is who is making that decision.”
Forman says that Path Forward aims to change the way hiring managers calculate their hiring decisions.
In 2018, the non-profit will add 10 new companies to the network of partners: Apple, Carta, Campbell Soup Company, DataStax, iconectiv, Intuit, Oracle, Sterling Talent Solutions, TeleTech, and Udemy.
Six companies are returning partners – Cloudera, Cloudflare, Medallia, Return Path, Verisk and Volta.
Confronting Pause Bias
One of the women in Reboot Accel’s current cohort, Dana Granoski, left her professional career in marketing and design 10 years ago to raise her children. Being home with her kids was a new frontier for Granoski, but she kept her toes in the water by consulting.
“I loved being at home as much as I loved my career,” Granoski said. “I definitely felt torn between something new and unknown that I had not done before, and something that I was very familiar and comfortable with, which was my career.”
She remembers the pushback she felt from friends and family about her decision to stay home.
Pause bias plays out in corporations and communities alike.
“A lot of my friends who were working full-time at the time were not happy that I was taking time off my career because I had built it up to a certain point at that time,” Granoski said. “The moms who had worked prior to having kids, we would definitely talk about how we were seen so much differently than when we had our careers. Many of us were individual contributors, executives, all kinds of levels, and it’s just a different world at home.”
Expanding Real Diversity
According to a 2016 ‘Diversity in Tech’ report, the average ratio of women employed at 23 key technology companies was a mere 35 percent. Some companies are taking conscious steps to combat this imbalance.
Flynn says that companies — especially in Silicon Valley — want more women incorporated into technical roles, and therefore are starting to look at “non-traditional” backgrounds, such as returning parents.
“Data analytics, programming, UX design, project management — those are roles that people would kill for,” Flynn said.
While having a computer science or engineering background is valuable, most returning job seekers need to update their skills and industry knowledge. The willingness of employers, however, to recognize this and invest money to close the knowledge gap for these hires varies considerably. Some analysts report a gradual opening of workplaces as more welcoming places for returning workers.
Rebuilding a Personal Brand
Chonladee Schilling was a marketing manager and brand manager in Southeast Asia for over 16 years. When her husband’s job was relocated to Florida, she and her daughter followed along. The family recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, and Schilling joined Reboot Accel to establish connections in Silicon Valley.
Schilling says the last time she had to look for a job was nearly 20 years ago, while in graduate school. A lot has changed since then, namely in branding yourself on social media.
“People take interest in what you are interested in and how you represent yourself in a social world,” she says. “I was not doing that at all.”
Some of the women report their biggest hurdles are learning how to articulate their past and new successes and their career goals on a LinkedIn page and resume.
Finding Leads and Encouragement
Nina Price, a member of a recent cohort at Reboot Accel, worked in the computer industry for 20 years and holds an MBA from the University of Michigan. She was laid off in 2001 during the dotcom bust. She was a single mom who couldn’t stop working, so she pivoted and decided to follow her passion in acupuncture. After working as an acupuncturist for the past decade, she is now ready to venture back into corporate life.
“I updated my LinkedIn profile, and before I even turned it on to recruiters, I got a message from somebody asking if they could interview me for a job they had,” Price said. “I didn’t even look and they contacted me."
Schilling said what surprised her most was the highly qualified women with diverse talents who were with her in the program. “I’m in awe of the skills sets that each one of them has,” she said. “The level of involvement of each one of them has in their community.”
Schilling said it was not unusual to meet other women who had volunteered at their kid’s school or for various organizations for decades. It was eye opening for her, she said, to realize that by being out of the traditional labor force, these women were accomplishing so much and getting such diverse experiences.
“Everybody is going through the same narrative, it’s just a different destination,” Schilling said. “It’s very empowering that you have someone to walk the path with.”