News, Spring 2017
Opting Out of the Workplace, And Back In
BY JENNIFER LITTON
According to Gallup’s report “Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived,” a company’s biggest competitors can be a 4-foot-tall soccer player, a baby in diapers, or a teenager asking to borrow the car on Friday night.
Simply put, the No. 1 factor that has the greatest influence on a woman’s decision to stay in the workforce or not is children, according to Gallup’s report.
Jessica Charlsen, 35, an Omaha mother of three and manager of new business at Omaha Steaks, has thoroughly researched the topic of women in the workforce. Charlsen was part of a team of volunteers who conducted interviews of 80 area leaders for the Women’s Fund “Women in Leadership 2016 Research Report.” She is also a Women’s Fund Circles alumnae, and is working with local organizations to create a network that helps women build a bridge to a fulfilling career.
The Women’s Fund report revealed that little has changed in the women’s leadership landscape in Omaha over the past 10 years. The report found that across all measures, women lag behind their male counterparts in the Omaha community. Median earnings, representation on boards and occupational representation all suggest that women in Omaha do not have access to the same opportunities as men. “I was so frustrated because nothing was changing,” Charlsen says. “What’s the action plan? What are we doing to fix this because now we have had a decade of not a lot of change?”
One night, Charlsen came up with nearly “50 little touch points” on the topic, and those grew into a spark of inspiration.
“Literally, I sat up in bed one night and was like, ‘I have an idea.’” Her plan is to help Omaha mothers return to the workforce. After reaching out to her network of like-minded colleagues, Charlsen’s vision is now backed by executives from College of Saint Mary, the Institute for Career Advancement Needs and the Women’s Fund.
Charlsen had heard about Canada’s innovative program to help moms opt back in, or “on ramp,” and discovered it was successful.
“In Canada, they have initiative incubators where they pull women back into the workforce,” Charlsen says. Essentially, these incubators allow a woman who is trying to return to the workforce to step in while another woman is on maternity leave.
“This is a great transition for them to get back into the workforce, even if they’re just back-ending it for a woman who is taking her year off. Worst-case scenario, we find a great worker who can come into the company. Or, she has now filled her resume gap and proven that she can reenter the workforce, and she can go on somewhere else. The best-case scenario is that we can get our original worker back, and we also have this new person who we can bring into the fold,” Charlsen explains.
She spoke to her community of mom friends and heard familiar sentiments among those who chose to stay home: one said she missed working, another shared her desire to rejoin the workforce. Another said, “Oh, I wouldn’t be able to do anything, I’m just a mom.”
Charlsen wants to help mothers on their career path, if they choose. According to the Gallup report, “…people criticize women for staying home with their children, for continuing to work or going back to work while raising their children, for not having children or for delaying motherhood to pursue a career.”
Charlsen agrees and says it’s really a matter of each mom owning the fact that this is what works best for her family. “This is what works best for them, and just because it’s not the same, does not mean that it’s not OK,” she says.
Charlsen credits stay-at-home moms who volunteer at school and babysit her children in a pinch for helping her make it as a working mom. “These moms and women are why we have strong communities. I’m benefiting from these stay-at-home moms, so I feel like I should help them come back in if they want to.”
She envisions her idea could manifest into a course geared at moms interested in re-entering the work force. ICAN CEO Susan L. Hendricks has offered to work on a potential curriculum, Charlsen says, and she has the support of the Women’s Fund in her efforts. She has also met with Maryanne Stevens, Ph.D., president of College of Saint Mary, to discuss her idea.
Charlsen says she is fortunate to have partnered with some of the most inspiring women in Omaha to bring her vision to life. “It is truly a gift to sit with these women who represent a few of the amazing organizations in Omaha and develop what this will look like. I feel extremely fortunate to work at Omaha Steaks and have their support in being involved in the Omaha community.”
The Gallup report states that 53 percent of stay-at-home mothers say flexible hours or work schedules would be a major factor in their ability to take a job, and four in 10 stay-at-home mothers say the same about being able to work from home when necessary.
Shubhra Kejriwal, 36, an information technology manager and technical project manager at Gallup, has found that Gallup’s culture is the perfect fit for her busy lifestyle of raising 4-year-old twin boys while having a career.
Kejriwal was actually pregnant with her twins when she had her first interview with Gallup. “I took a leap of faith with Gallup,” she says. “I had heard great things about Gallup and how they encourage women and flexibility.” Kejriwal says that she was nervous because after three months of joining the company, she would have to go on maternity leave. “How is this whole thing going to work out?”
Kejriwal’s manager, Katie Barton, executive director of software development and Services at Gallup, did not hesitate. “She said ‘Shubhra, it will all work. You’ll make up for it one day. Today, you have little kids, you need to focus on them and your priorities are them. Tomorrow, you will make it up and make up more.’ And she was right. I can’t even thank her enough for guiding me through that.”
Kejriwal says that having flexibility is key to her success. “There are times when I cannot get out of the door at 7:45 a.m. because schedules don’t always work with little kids. It happens and Gallup gets it. They understand. So there is no check in or check out time, which is huge.” The ability to work remotely from home if her kids are sick is also essential.
Gallup Chief Operations Officer Jane Miller is an excellent advocate for encouraging businesses to embrace women in the workplace, Kejriwal says. “This is a change, a movement to build better lives, families, societies and eventually, a better world. Gallup has made it work for the many working women here to be able to prosper both in their careers and families.”
Kejriwal’s boys attend Gallup’s in-house daycare facility, the Donald O. Clifton Child Development Center (CDC). “It is one of the biggest blessings, I believe, as a mom.” She likes the convenience of having only one stop in her work commute and the closeness the CDC provides. “I can always go say ‘hi’ and spend some time with them if I want to.”
For moms who are opting in, Kejriwal recommends making an after-hours rule and sticking to it. She communicated to her team that she would be unavailable for a few hours after the work day to spend time with her family. Working remotely allows for Kejriwal to work when it is most convenient for her and best for her family. “It’s easy for me to put them to bed and then open my laptop and finish my work.”
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RESOURCES AND FORTIFY YOUR SKILLS
In addition to seeking developmental courses from places like ICAN or Lynda.com, Do Space, centrally located at 72nd and Dodge streets, offers a variety of resources for moms opting back in. Jessica Johnson, 29, director of community learning at Do Space, says that for job-seekers, learning the skill of coding is in high demand. Do Space also offers hardware- and software-based classes to obtain new skills for updating resumes. “The public can take advantage of free coding workshops twice per month through our partner, Interface Web School, and Do Space also hosts a five-week beginner’s coding course called ‘Hello Code.’”
Johnson says that several Hello Code students have identified as stay-at-home mothers who are reentering the workforce. One mother shared that she participated because she had been out of the workforce for several years and felt she was falling behind in technology.
Do Space also has a robust volunteer program. “Our mentors are savvy in a variety of technical, hardware and software skills, from operating iPads to learning architectural design software. People can request a mentor via our website and be paired with a person who is skilled in what they would like to learn,” Johnson says. They also can receive one-on-one tutoring over one or two sessions for free.
Do Space hosts Metropolitan Community College on its second floor, which holds MCC’s Noncredit and Continuing Education department, where job seekers can find a variety of classes concerning job skills and professionalism.
“Do Space is a place where a person can change their life. I’ve seen job seekers nearly every day use this as a place to hop on a computer to fill out job applications, as well as learn new practical skills in our 3D lab,” Johnson says.
“Oftentimes, I think our people try our classes as more of a way to pick up a new interest, but while 3D printing seems novel to many people these days, and coding seems like an alien concept to some, these skills can open doors to jobs and careers you’d never think possible.”
SEARCH AND PLAN YOUR PATH
Traci Miller, 45, mother of two girls ages 8 and 10, spent the past 10 years opting out to raise her family. After her girls started school, Traci got bored during the day, and anxiously awaited the children’s return from school. “I needed to do something. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything for myself,” she says. “You feel like you’re not bringing home any income and you’re not helping the family out.”
Miller’s experience matches what 84 percent of women surveyed in the Gallup report said—the enjoyment they get from earning their own money is a major reason they work.
While Miller says her family appreciated all of her hard work in the home, she decided it was time to look for a job. But her husband Nick told her, “Don’t just get a job. Just go to school. Go do something you want.”
So she enrolled in Metropolitan Community College’s dental assisting program. She liked the assistance she received from MCC’s staff in her journey back to the workforce. She had questions such as, “How do I go about this?”
“They took care of everything,” she says. “They told me to come talk to a counselor.” For moms opting back in, success lies in having the correct advice from those in advisory roles. When Miller met with her program coordinator, she was advised to take care of her prerequisites before joining the program.
Miller took her prerequisites online. For other moms considering online courses, Miller advises careful planning: “You have to stay ahead of it. You have to be disciplined. You can work ahead because you know weeks ahead of time what your assignments are for writing papers. I tried to stay a little bit ahead so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.”
Miller is now receiving As in all of her classes and has been invited to join The Phi Beta Kappa Society, an organization that provides opportunities for community service projects, among other things. The Phi Beta Kappa Society is an academic honor society that connects members to a network of high achievers and advocates for the importance of liberal arts and sciences.
The entire experience boosted Miller’s confidence. “It’s really hard to juggle full-time school and two kids with basketball and soccer practice.” She advises other moms: “Just do it. I was scared. I was nervous. I thought I was going to put it off, but I didn’t.”
Her husband has been her biggest backer. “He says, ‘You got this girl. Look at you go.’ He gives me high fives when I’m sitting at the table, pulling my hair out, studying.”
“I love seeing little notes in my book at school that say, “I love you mommy, you can do this. Go, mommy, go.” W