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This year, Mika Brzezinski’s Know Your Value conference included a new topic: returning to work after a career break.
For the past seven years, Mika’s Know Your Value movement has empowered women across the country to take charge of their careers and ask for a raise, promotion or the flexibility they need and deserve. But as great and powerful as her message and platform has been, I always felt like it was not speaking to the three million women like me - women who off-ramped or downshifted their career and now want to return to the workforce.
That changed this year. All it took was a text message.
One morning last December, I texted my sister-in-law and bluntly told her that Know Your Value needed to reach out to women like me. It needed to shine a spotlight on the challenges we face and the value we possess. America needs to pay attention to this untapped talent pool and help women like me find our lost confidence and write our next chapter. You've left us out, I told her. And we have value too.
Here’s the text: “Hey Mika, can’t Know Your Value do something for women like me who took a career break to take care of their kids? A lot of us want to figure out how to go back to work - we have value too!”
Mika immediately said yes and asked me to join the Know Your Value team and use her powerful platform to bring attention to women who are trying to relaunch their career after taking time off.
The journey officially began Oct. 30 at the Know Your Value conference in New York City. Mika had Carol Fishman Cohen, the founder of iRelaunch.com, and I on stage for a panel discussion about this issue.
Carol helped spearhead the return-to-work movement. Nearly a decade ago she began creating re-entry programs for companies like IBM and Bloomberg. Today, there are more than 60 similar programs in top companies around the country
It’s a nationwide movement, but there’s still a way to go.
In case you missed our panel, here are some answers to the most important questions Carol and I were asked. This has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Mika: What is the first thing you need to do if you are thinking about a return to work?
Carol: “It might seem obvious, but you have to figure out what you want to do all over again. This means you have to think about whether your interests and skills have changed or not changed. The longer you’ve been out, the more important this is. So, in this regard the career break is really an opportunity, sometimes for the very first time, to step back and reflect, to think about whether you were even on the right career path to begin with.”
Mika: What are the challenges facing a woman who has been on career break and wants to return to work?
Ginny: “The biggest challenge is confidence. Kathy Kay and Claire Shipman wrote in their excellent book, The Confidence Code, that you develop confidence by doing. You need to take small steps.”
Carol: “You also want to reinvigorate your networks and get in touch with long lost people from the past. You may need to update skills, especially if you’re relaunching in a technical area. Then you need to get comfortable talking about your background and yourself, and that’s where that confidence piece comes into play.”
Mika: How do you explain the resume gap?
Ginny: “A gap of five or 10 years on your resume is one of the fear factors for women going back to work. When it comes up in an interview, an interviewer will say, “What’s this?” Explain what happened. You need to address it, and you need to move on. You need to say, “Yes I took a career break and now I’m ready to go back to work. I’m excited about going back to work and here’s what I can do. Here’s how I can help you. Here’s what I bring to the table.”
Mika: What do relaunchers bring to the workplace?
Carol: “They have work experience, a mature perspective.”
On Relaunchers vs Millennials:
Ginny: “If millennials are digital natives, we are real conversation natives. We will talk to you. We have a perspective that you don’t find in younger people. We may not understand Slack, you may have to help us there. But other than that, we’re good.”
Carol: “We have an energy and enthusiasm about returning to work precisely because we’ve been away for a while.”
And finally, what was your Know Your Value Moment?
Ginny: “When I texted you last December - that was my Know Your Value moment.”
Carol: “My Know Your Value moment was when I was looking to go back to work. I went to my 15-year business school reunion. I met someone there, a classmate who was a headhunter and nine months later she came back to me and she said I came across a role that I think is perfect for your skill set. I thought, “What is she talking about? What skill set? When we were sitting in school in 1983?” We hadn’t seen each other since then … Her view of me was frozen in time from when we went to school together. So even if you have a diminished sense of self from your time off, people you used to work with or go to school with don’t think of you that way. Their view of you is ‘frozen in time’ from when you worked together.”
Are you thinking about making a career comeback? I’d love to hear your story. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter @ginnybrz.