On Wednesday, April 20, the Forté Foundation hosted a live panel webinar, “How to Keep Your Career on Track When Life and Work Collide.” The panel was moderated by Michelle Friedman, co-founder of the coaching and organizational consulting firm Advancing Women’s Careers. Friedman said her passion is working “on what individuals can be doing so they have concrete and actionable tools to navigate through the inevitable rough patches that everybody is going to have over a lifelong career span.”
Panelists included senior-level and c-suite leaders who work around flexibility and inclusivity at their jobs: Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri (Goldman Sachs), Serina Pak (Danone North American Companies), Carol Fishman Cohen (iReLaunch); and Maryella Gockel (EY).
Michelle Friedman opened the conversation saying, “We want organizations to have the right policies and programs and especially culture in place,” with regard to flexible working, taking time off, and work/life balance and integration.
Flexible Working as an Alternative to Opting Out
At EY, Maryella Gockel negotiated for a flexible work arrangement when she started her family in the late 1980s, before flexibility and agile working were buzzwords. “I would encourage women and men to think about how they can work differently before they make a decision that they have to leave. You can have a conversation with your manager about what work could look like, once you have a family. We would rather people stay and figure out a different way to work, instead of feeling like they need to leave.”
Flexible Work Arrangements are Good for Business
Serina Pak emphasized that individuals can present flexible working solutions to their managers. “As long as you believe your request is reasonable, don’t hold back,” Pak said during the webinar. Flexibility drives employee engagement and is a great value-add for organizations. Said Pak, “The feedback from our employees has been so positive. Those who have that flexibility come back and say to me, I love working at this place. I give more now than I have in the past…”
Having Confidence When You Leave, and When You Return
Serina Pak offered an empowering suggestion for women weighing whether to take a career break. “There is no right or wrong decision as long as you are true to yourself… Whatever the challenges are, it’s important you know you have a choice.”
Consider these strategies shared during the webinar:
- For women who sense that they are going to take a career break, there are things they can do before they leave that will make rejoining the workforce easier when they return. “Keep a file somewhere where you include anecdotes about your major accomplishments or experiences that are currently happening on the job or happened in the past,” said Carol Fishman Cohen. She said that this practice is very beneficial for women who do go on a career break that lasts for a few years. When they are ready to return to the workforce, this file of their achievements and wins will help them be specific about their strengths in interviews.
- Fishman Cohen also made the point that if you need to take a break from work, leave before you feel overwhelmed. People will have a “frozen in time view of you,” so it will be a confidence boost when you return, that people remember you as a high-performer. She recommends keeping in touch with one’s colleagues, especially one’s junior colleagues, as they will have risen the ranks during your career break. Watch the webinar for more specifics on how to be strategic in the weeks and months before leaving for a career break.
Flexible Culture is King
Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri discussed how employees who wish to take a break from their careers can receive the training and coaching they need to return with confidence. Goldman Sachs’ 10-week returnship program gives employees returning to the workforce the tools, skills and experience to come back to the workforce.
Said Maryella Gockel, “I would say, the most important issue to keep raising among our colleagues and professional networks is, how do we enable a culture that creates flexibility for everyone? How can we help people deliver exceptional client service and still have a great life outside of work?”
Michelle Friedman emphasized that when people take breaks when they need them, their teams and organizations also benefit. Friedman said in a phone interview, “The workplace is not better off having a bunch of people who feel burnt out or who feel torn. The people who [take a break and] return to work, the amount of energy they bring back is amazing, because they’re so excited to be back at work. They have all this new wisdom and life experience. It’s a shot in the arm for the teams that they’re with.”