I’ve had a number of male clients ask me how to bring more woman leaders into their organizations recently. I don’t care that this might be a knee-jerk response to current events; I’m just thrilled to have the conversation. “Want to bring more women into your organization?” I ask them. “Try recruiting at a PTO meeting.”
A 2015 Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.Org and management consulting firm McKinsey found that 43% of leadership-track women derail themselves for child rearing at some point; 90% of them opt out, with the intention of returning. During their opt-out years, these women channel the drive and skills they developed in the corporate world into their volunteer work running organizations like school PTOs. But, unfortunately, when they’re ready to get back in the game, résumé gaps and related biases make it difficult for them to land. I know; I was one of these moms.
I was fortunate to begin my career in a Fortune 50 tech company where I enjoyed a challenging and financially rewarding career in the mid-80s to mid-90s. My good performance led to bonuses, promotions, and fast-track opportunities—and I reveled in it. Until, that is, I had my first baby. Suddenly, my career goals were in conflict with my maternal instincts. With no flexible work options at my level, I was faced—like so many women then and still today—with the “all or nothing” choice to work 60 hours a week or quit and stay home.
I chose the latter and became part of the female brain drain that plagued (and still plagues) the U.S. workplace. Like many before and after me, I dove deep into volunteer work and gained new and valuable skills and experience in community organizations like, yes, my children’s school’s PTO.
I like to think that if I had returned to my company, one with an impressive record of promoting women into senior leadership roles, I would have earned my way into a senior spot. Instead of waiting to test that theory, however, I joined a firm to help others like me return to flexible work in companies that value their skills and experience and don’t care that they opted out temporarily.
I learned a lot from these client companies, most notably that, once they overcame their reluctance and hired that slightly “rusty” candidate, they realized they had tapped into something special—and they came back for more.
What It Takes to Return to Work
Although many of the women I meet are defeated, fully expecting rejection as “punishment” for taking years off, the reality is they are employable; I’ve personally witnessed hundreds of them finding fulfilling work in my small corner of the world (Connecticut).
Some things make it easier, of course, like keeping up with industry trends, staying current with certifications and licensure, and maintaining relationships with old clients and coworkers. But what I saw, over two decades of placing women returners, is that even women with skill deficiencies and lapsed credentials can successfully return to work if they have these five things:
- Realistic expectations based on thorough research and honest self-assessment;
- A compelling résumé that meaningfully accounts for their opt-out years;
- A commitment to remediating skill gaps on the job or through inexpensive means like online or local continuing-ed courses;
- Aggressive (a word women typically don’t like but is spot on here) networking to get in front of connectors and hiring managers; and
- Flexibility and the willingness to consider unconventional offerings like temporary projects or low-paying internships as a way to get a foot in the door.
The labor market is tight. Recent articles in The Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio report that there are more jobs in America now than qualified Americans to fill them. Similarly, Reuters recently reported that the rate at which U.S. workers voluntarily quit their jobs has hit a 17- year high indicating strong worker confidence in the labor market—and creating space for others to join it. So … the gapped résumé, the “not entirely perfect” experience, and the job application that meets only 60% of the job criteria are all going to be plenty good enough now. And returners should be taking advantage of the timing while it lasts.
Why Employers Should Hire Returners
“Returners” come to the workforce with a renewed energy and passion for work; they are an eager and stable workforce, and there are thousands of them out there—“MBA Moms” with finely honed skills, executive experience, valuable volunteer and community experience, and many work years ahead of them—excited to return to work after raising children.
Data my partners and I collected from over two decades of interviews make clear that these women are motivated as much by challenge and intellectual stimulation as they are by money (making them more curious and engaged than the average worker), and they are recognized by hiring managers we’ve polled as being the best and most productive hires.
In addition, a majority of these women have deep roots in their communities and a commitment to a school system for their children, making them a stable talent pool less likely to be seeking relocation the way, say, Millennials with few geographical ties often are.
So, executives and hiring managers, pay attention: There’s a brilliant, untapped source of talent you’ve been ignoring and, in some cases, driving away. Dig up that gapped résumé you tossed aside, and give that mom a second look. Invite her in to interview; listen earnestly to her story—you may well be wowed.
And, you, the discouraged mom who’s ready to get back on the corporate track but playing it safe working for minimum wage, listen up: Your time at home was valuable; its impact will be long lasting. But it’s time to take the bold next step back onto the career track and become a leader in the workplace now—to lead with the same drive, focus, and productivity that you lead the PTO.
|Susan Rietano Davey was a longtime partner in the staffing and consulting firm Flexible Resources, Inc. She recently co-founded Prepare to Launch, LLC, a company focused on coaching women through the return-to-work process. An online version of the company’s successful women’s career reentry course, Prepare to Launch U, goes live on October 1, 2018. For more information, visit www.preparetolaunchu.com.|