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Wherever you turn, you hear another report with the same conclusion: The pandemic has driven mothers out of the workforce. But what’s less clear is how they will reenter the workforce when all of this is over. In a recent Shopify survey regarding entrepreneurship in a post-pandemic world, 62 percent of mothers said they were considering a “side hustle” to supplement their income, with more than half of moms reporting at least some interest in starting their own company.
Has this pandemic, by chance, further illustrated the challenging balancing act that working mothers know all too well? Additionally, are Girl Scout alums more prepared for this post-pandemic shift than others?
I knew exactly who to consult for answers: Girl Scout alum, co-founder, and CEO Carol Fishman Cohen of iRelaunch.
When did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? I’ve always been intrigued by people’s stories — their life stories and their career paths. I was very, very focused on the career that gets interrupted by a career break because I experienced it myself. I was working as a financial analyst for an investment banking firm that collapsed when I was on maternity leave with my first child. That began my career break because I decided I didn’t want to go looking for the next big job. I had three more kids in close succession and stayed home with them for 11 years.
Then I went back to work as a financial analyst at an investment firm because there were people there who had worked with me a dozen years earlier at the investment bank and they remembered me. So I have experienced every phase of a career relaunch firsthand and I feel connected to all the “relaunchers” in our community because I have been in their shoes.
So first I lived it and then I wrote about relaunching with another relauncher, Vivian Steir Rabin. We co-authored Back on the Career Track together and then co-founded iRelaunch in 2007. This has been my life’s work for the last 30 years since I originally went on career break myself.
What does your company do? Our mission at iRelaunch is to normalize the career path that includes the career break and eliminate bias against those who take extended career breaks. We are the pioneering company in the career reentry space, we work globally with employers to create return to work programs, and we have run hundreds of trainings every year for recruiters and managers and relauncher participants in these programs. We’re seeing a broadening of what it means to be on a career break. It used to be the focus was almost exclusively on women who took career breaks for child care reasons — that is, stay-at-home moms. Today the relauncher community includes men who take child care career breaks and women and men who take career breaks for reasons that have nothing to do with child care.
In addition to supporting our community of almost 100,000 relaunchers who are looking to return to work after career breaks, our work inside organizations around the world is at the heart of what we do. Our vision is dependent on employers championing and recognizing the attributes of relaunchers and understanding the value they bring to their organization. In addition to education, work experience, and a mature perspective, relaunchers are no longer in an exploratory mode in terms of figuring out what they want to do. In fact, it’s often the opposite: The career break allows them time to reflect on whether they were on the right career path to begin with, and where they can add the most value to an employer.
Describe how “confidence" is an important trait/value in your business. Having confidence, and rebuilding confidence, is such an important part of relaunching. When we are on extended career breaks, we question whether we can still be successful at work; do we still “have what it takes”? We emphasize that one’s capability to do well at work does not go away when we take a career break, and that voluntary career breaks are taken for reasons that have nothing to do with work performance.
However, when a person is disconnected from their professional career for an extended period of time, they can experience a diminished sense of self because our society attaches so much importance to what we do for work in terms of who we are as people. That is why a relaunch is different from a regular job search. Of course, there are other elements, too, like reinvigorating networks and reskilling or upskilling, but this confidence-building piece is really at the heart of relaunch’s success.
I don't see confidence as a value. I see it as a trait, and one you can develop.
How did being a Girl Scout shape you as a female business owner? I’ve always been a proud Girl Scout — I even wore my uniform to school on class picture day. Where I relate the most strongly to my Girl Scout experience is the values that were fundamental to being a Girl Scout are consistent with the values I have for my life as an adult — integrity, empathy, grit, honesty, and hard work.
iRelaunch is a WBENC-certified women-owned business, leading the career reentry programming space since 2007. For more information, visit irelaunch.com.