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Lift UP! | Lessons & Advice

We start off this week of Thanksgiving, grateful for the UP community panelists and Moderator, Claudia Reuter who shared their wisdom and advice at our 7th Annual Lift UP Mentor Mingle.


We look forward to this event every year to be inspired by the success of the brave women panelists who are at different stages of their return journey. We talked about everything…from finding the right timing–all the way to successfully thriving in a leadership role. In each story, we found something to identify with, and great advice on getting past the barriers to return.


Our online audience had the opportunity to hear from Nicole Kutz, now Director of Delivery at CVS Health. Her successful return to a job in IT, reflective of her caliber, dispels the myth that “women who opt-out are behind in technology.”


Her role as a senior leader in IT infrastructure at a Fortune 4 Company is proof that caregivers retain the strengths and value they brought to the workplace in their previous career chapter, while also bringing new ones.


Nicole’s view is that moms are immersed in the world with their kids, and therefore are experiencing technology’s forward march in using phones, apps, and tech in everyday life. The tech used in offices today is not something to be feared because work platforms have only become more intuitive. And frankly, the ubiquity of the Microsoft Office Suite means you still know how to use the most common software at hand.


Nicole has a Bachelor's in engineering and worked in project management roles in manufacturing (Takata with clients such as BMW) and insurance (Travelers). Untapped Potential matched her in a FlexreturnTM Engagement with Aetna following one of our Return-to-work Week for Women Events.


She immediately shined and was able to craft a 30-hour a week permanent role following the short apprenticeship-like engagement. She gained valuable sponsors within her work team that worked to bring the permanent role to fruition. It was the first time the team created a 30-hour/week role, and they did it in the midst of a company merger when hiring was frozen.


This was also pre-Covid, when hybrid roles were not the norm. Nicole’s story proves that when returners are given a chance, they can show what they bring to the table and then ask for what they need to manage the work-life tightrope. Sometimes a ramped return ensures a successful transition. Three years on, Nicole is working a full-time role now and comfortable with how she got there.


The on-line portion was moderated by Jennifer Frederick, Career Advisor. With her expertise, Untapped Potential was able to offer a successful hybrid event welcoming participants from FL, NC, NY and more!


After Nicole’s portion, we merged with our LIVE audience at Connecticut Innovations in THE DISTRICT, a co-working space in New Haven. Along with moderator Claudia Reuter, we heard from our Panelists: Returner, Namakula Edwards; Launcher, Amena Islam; and Pivoter, Kelly Cloud.


One of the changes we heard in this year’s panel was the open acknowledgement by workplaces that people are in fact carrying dual roles as a caregiver and that can frequently disrupt “work hours.” Claudia pointed out that Covid allowed us to normalize things we used to have to hide.


We need transparency and the allies of empathy to truly change things. For example, now many people know that the 3pm transition hour when kids are coming and going from school and activities is kind of crazy, but then it subsides quickly. The more we can see and understand what others are juggling, the more we can choose to manage to productivity, not a specified and actually arbitrary set of “on hours.”


This reduction in stigma of sharing what’s going on behind-the-scenes has opened up conversation for how work can shift and be more friendly to caregivers. We are at that next point…what do we do with this information to not just allow caregivers grace, but actually transform the workplace?


Claudia had a great comment about this, “Rather than say, ‘That’s okay’ when someone shares, ‘I have to get my daughter at 3pm.’” Just ensure you move the meeting outside that tricky hour so all can participate, and women retain a seat at the table.

Kelly shared that we feel awful whenever we feel like we are letting our team down. So even though you don’t have to hide that you might need to run to school or the bus stop any longer, you still feel bad if you miss a meeting. So that next step of organizing the team meetings outside of tricky times, makes things less stressful and more inclusive.

The panel also touched on the valuable interpersonal and management skills earned while parenting.


Namakula spoke of the volunteer work she undertook to support her child’s schools and how it exercised communication skills she hadn’t needed when working in a lab with products, not people. She’s known to her school community as someone who is a great advocate for teachers and asks the right questions to ensure various viewpoints are considered.

Namakula expressed how important it was for her to give advice to her older daughter, who is in the work world already the advice she was missing as she faced hard choices in her work-life juggle. She’s so happy her daughter has more choices now, there are more options for flexibility. More ways to stay engaged in paid work while also caregiving. At the time Namakula had to step away, there were no part-time roles in bioscience for her to try to get. Now in plotting her return-to-work, Namakula knows it’s the right time for her and her family.

The panelists agreed there is one thing an employer can offer to make returns-to-work smoother.


Flexibility.

Amena shared some of the flexibility she gains from working in a hybrid situation. The positives of being able to work remotely are many. But also, she sees a big positive in being able to go into an office at times too. It gives caregivers a clean delineation to shed some of the personal life and just be a professional.

Amena commented, "The big gain of remote work is having the flexibility to greet my daughter when she arrives home. It takes less than 5 minutes, yet it is so important in the scheme of her life right now. Then, I am right back to work!”

Asked for advice for someone re-launching, Amena spoke about rebuilding self-esteem and confidence as being key to success. Being able to confidently speak about your skillsets and what you bring to the table forces others to consider you.


Kelly also hit on themes of flexibility. She says the group meetings are no longer held in the conference room at work, they are held on zoom. That allows ALL to participate, no matter where they are. Claudia shared that sometimes a well–placed phone call can seem more personal than a zoom. So, workers are adapting to what feels best and finding ways to connect, even if they aren’t all in the same building.


In addition, the trends Kelly is seeing in her certification work in HR is that mental health of employees is important. And sometimes flexibility could be something as simple as taking a walk in the middle of the day. But that reaps dividends in mental health gains. Companies want a healthy and content workforce and flexibility helps individuals choose what helps them best. Again, with our knowledge economy, that shift to focus on outcomes vs butts in seats makes more sense and allows workers to feel some autonomy and respect.


The world has changed.

The rules of work have changed. And it is up to us to carry forth these good ideas and actions into our workspaces and create more human-centered work that values caregiving. Untapped Potential offers this support both to advance business along their path to change as well as to reignite careers of those that served as our nation's caregivers. As Claudia said, 85% of women become Moms, it’s not going to go away. Why not create the workplace we want for our daughters?

What ideas do you have to make your workplace more open to returning caregivers?


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