Time and again, candidates we work with express anxiety about getting back into the workforce after being between jobs for a while – whether because of family, personal reasons, or the difficulties of finding a job. This week, we’re highlighting a very interesting startup that works with women who have taken time away from their careers to start families, helping them get back into the workforce even stronger than they were when they left it.
ReLaunch Inc. is a Toronto-based firm offering consulting and group networking events to help women find their dream job after taking time to build their families. We interviewed the firm’s founders, Tricia MacOdrum and Jennifer Reid, two women who have successfully navigated the difficult business of rebooting careers after kids. We spoke about the biggest barriers women face when re-entering the workforce, the ways that companies need to change their mindset when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, and the way that the workforce is changing.
While ReLaunch isn’t Supply Chain-focused, we think our network will find tremendous value in both the service and tips they provide.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in helping women get back into the workforce after a leave?
Tricia: Jennifer and I both went back to work after our first maternity leave. We shared our nannies together, and we’ve each had three other children. We’ve both made career changes that were unexpected for us. Neither of us have had the linear career path that we expected when we left school. We’re both runners, and we’d be out running together, talking about careers and family and how common of a subject that balance is for women. We started talking about how many women we spoke with who were looking to make a change, or get back into the workforce. Those conversations prompted us to start the business.
Jennifer: I’ve made some major changes in my career along the way, and that’s the experience we bring to women: don’t be afraid to make a change. I went from reporting on television to working in politics with John Tory to starting my own interior design firm. I never imagined I would own my own firm. There are so many possibilities now that weren’t always there.
What are the biggest barriers women face when getting back into the workforce after having kids?
Tricia: Confidence. People lose their confidence when they haven’t been in the workforce. They might have terrific confidence with things like running the fun fair, being on the board of a non-profit, but they’ve lost the confidence for paid work. The one thing that we’d say is that you’re not remembered for being who you were on maternity leave. You’re remembered for being the person you were when you left the workforce, a diligent hardworking human being. That’s what people will remember.
Jennifer: We often help women invest in a great outfit. Get your hair done, invest in some makeup to help yourself feel good. Because if you have confidence in yourself, people will have confidence in you.
Tricia: We’ve met with women who have been out of the workforce for 15 years. We’ve had women who took maternity leave, extended it for a bit, and then got stuck about what to do next. We encourage people to take the time to figure it out. We met one woman who switched departments and categories to re-evaluate what she wanted to do. Keep in mind that, if you’re a hardworking individual, a company wants to keep you on. So use the time to figure out what works for you.
What are the biggest anxieties you encounter in your clients when you work with them to help them relaunch their careers?
Tricia: Anxiety about work, but also everything outside of it. How is my family going to adapt to the change in our household? How are things going to get done? Every situation is different, and every family has their own challenges. There are so many women afraid of asking for help, and there are other women who are more than happy to help. Carpooling. I don’t think I have a single activity with four children where I don’t carpool. If you’re going to work and have kids, it takes more work, and that’s a scary part of it for sure, but it can be done.
Do companies need to change their approach when hiring individuals who have been out of the workforce for a while?
Tricia: Corporations know that they have a brain drain: women leaving the workforce. One thing they can do to deal with this is offer flexibility. Nestle, for example, offers flex hours. If you want to leave early for hockey or ballet, you can use those hours in a flexible way. The world is changing, and people aren’t sitting in offices from 9-5. Corporations can keep pace by seeing flexibility not as a detriment, but as a way of retaining the best talent.
Jennifer: I have friends in the healthcare field, and they’ve maintained their career in the best way because they have flexibility in that field. They’re pharmacists or optometrists and they can control their hours better. The business world doesn’t have that flexibility, and it should.
What other specific tips would you offer to people trying to get back into the workforce after taking time for their families?
Tricia: One of the key messages we have is that networking is so important. Every consulting opportunity comes from people who have worked with me before. I may not be sitting in front of them. I may be off at hockey with a child, but if I have a deliverable I’ll deliver it, one way or the other.
In terms of networking, make sure to update your LinkedIn profile but also make sure you get out from behind your computer. Book a coffee date. Every time you go to a function at your children’s school, or volunteer for pizza lunch, all those parents have worked, and know people. Don’t think about it as a scary thing that needs to be done. You’re doing it all day, every day, and if you’re looking for work, use those opportunities!
We hosted a big party when we launched our website, and what we heard a lot is that women will talk about children, holidays, vacations, but they won’t talk about getting back involved in the workforce. It almost takes setting something up on a more formal basis. People enjoyed the opportunity to talk to other women. They feel comfortable in workshops to open up, and to learn that you’re not alone in this. Other people are facing the same challenges.
Jennifer: Other tips: don’t forget the experience that you gained when you were on your break. You might not have had formal work experience on mat leave, but think about volunteering – can you bring your baby to volunteer at the soccer club? We had to be at soccer anyway, so we figured we might as well be coaching it. Find ways to get involved that expand your network and experience. I’ve learned a lot as a board member for the first time. If you’ve been out of the workforce for 15 years, of course you’ve done other things during that time. Make a list of what you’ve been engaged in, whether it’s fundraising, or being in charge of checkout, or any other kind of volunteer activity.
Your site discusses how the workforce is changing and career paths aren’t as linear or one-directional as they used to be. What’s your perspective on this shift and how it impacts women getting back into the workforce after a leave?
Jennifer: I think it’s clear that careers aren’t as linear as they used to be, and there are many options. Look at it for what you want to do, and what might work for now. That’s one of our key messages. You don’t need to find something that’s going to work for the next ten years. Find something that will work while your kids are young or in high school, and find something that will work for a period of time because if you spend too much time waiting for the exact right moment, the chance to make a leap might never come.
Patricia: There’s never a perfect time to have a child, and there’s never a perfect time for a job. Be open to taking a contract job, or part-time. When you’re getting back into the workforce, that’s what you’ll have to do, but treat it as an opportunity. People want security, and there’s something to that, but there are more opportunities than there used to be. Contract isn’t as scary as it used to be. Every contract job I’ve taken has led to a full-time job. If you go in ready to do your best work, you’ll be ready to show what value you bring.
As a proudly female-owned company, we’re always thrilled to profile individuals who are helping women get ahead in the world of work. And as a company that’s interested in the ways that careers are evolving to become nimbler and more flexible, we’re very interested in creative solutions to manage the balance between work and life. A big thank you to Jennifer Reid and Tricia MacOdrum of ReLaunch Inc. for taking the time to share their perspective on this issue with the Argentus network!