The ubiquitous #MeToo movement has created space in the public and private sectors for long overdue conversations regarding policies, attitudes and interactions between men and women in the workplace.
When men are surrounded by female colleagues equal in rank and stature, an inclusive, safer and more productive environment results. But that’s not how most U.S. workplaces look today.
The leadership power imbalance remains alive and well—despite women’s desires to advance and collective efforts to help them. Prepare to Launch U, a new women’s career re-entry course, aims to spark much-needed change and push that progress.
The brainchild of two mompreneurs (that’s us!), Prepare to Launch U is designed to guide women through the unique challenges of returning to the workforce after opting out to care for family. We’re professionals who navigated our way back to work after our own opt-out years—and we believe the secret to increasing women’s numbers in the workplace is to help re-launch this skilled, but largely overlooked, talent pool.
Gender bias is one culprit of the glass-ceiling phenomenon that prevents women from joining the highest ranks and keeping the “Him Toos” of the world in check. The other is choice—the “all or nothing” choice to work 60 hours a week or quit and stay home—that too many career women face today.
We both loved our work and had every intention of sticking with it after childbirth, but in the “all or nothing” conflict between career drive and maternal instincts, the latter won. We chose motherhood, a role we loved, resulting from a decision we were fortunate to be able to make. Like many women before and after us, we dove deep into volunteer work in our communities, gaining new and valuable skills in the process.
A 2015 Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.Org and management consulting firm McKinsey found that 43 percent of leadership-track women derail themselves for child rearing at some point. 90 percent opt-out with the intention of returning—but when they’re ready to get back in the game, résumé gaps and related biases make it difficult. This exclusion of capable women as suitable employees reinforces the glass ceiling and extends opportunities for harassment or exploitation to occur. Many of these women could be assuming leadership roles, growing companies’ bottom lines and changing workplace culture, yet many are stuck.
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 eager to return to work after raising children. Smart employers recognize the value of these women, but many won’t give them a second look.
When we met in 2016, we decided to combine our respective expertise in women’s personal and professional development to help women return to work—and, in the process, increase women’s presence in management and senior leadership roles. Our initial offering was a live eight-week career re-launch course that trained women in all of the back-to-work essentials, helped them understand their workplace assets and translate the skills they acquired “away from the office” into market-valuable currency. After seeing the success of the live course, we decided to create a more affordable and fully flexible online program, for which enrollment will begin in August.
Prepare to Launch U provides women the opportunity to slow down, re-focus and reclaim a future vision for themselves after years of being visionaries for everyone else in their orbit. We begin the course with the important foundational work of helping women understand who they are now, because it most likely is different than who they were when they left their career. After three modules and 33 exercises, students have the self-knowledge, the confidence, the skills and all of the tools necessary to reenter the workplace successfully.
And, as each student relaunches her career, she is shaping a future for herself, helping other women who will return to work after her, and influencing workplace conversations, culture and policy that will benefit everyone now, and for generations to come.
Because women are projected to live—and, hence, work—longer, women reentering the workforce will have more time and greater opportunity, in greater numbers, to penetrate the glass ceiling and assume their rightful place in boardrooms and executive suites, if given the chance. Their choice to take leave may have slowed their career progression and lessened their earning prowess, but only temporarily. “Returners” come to the workforce with a renewed energy and passion for work; they are an eager and stable workforce, motivated as much by challenge and intellectual stimulation as they are by money.
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. She’s the mom whose gapped résumé you toss aside at your own peril.
And you discouraged moms who are 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 now, we need you to take the bold next step back onto the career track and become a leader in the workplace—to lead with the same drive, focus and productivity that you brought to your volunteer work, and to make our hallways and conference rooms safe.