There’s always a silver lining in all the dark clouds we may have experienced. One thing is that the pandemic has also elevated many good things for women in the workplace. There are flexible opportunities available even while being stay-at-home moms. Rosie Zilinskas interviews the founder of Untapped Potential, Candace Freedenberg, about the endless benefits of engineering social change for women. Together, they discuss critical concepts on gender equity, diversity, and work-life balance. This is very beneficial to discover because we should try to bridge those gaps and balance our careers as women. We have the potential to rise and excel as long as we are informed and committed to attaining success. Candace focuses on helping women bring their skills and services back into the market, guiding them to thrive and unleash their creativity.
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Engineering Social Change For Women With Candace Freedenberg Of Untapped Potential
I am so excited because this episode focuses on the women that are staying at home, not employed, and are thinking to go back into the workforce. That could be a stay-at-home mom, a woman that maybe got laid off a couple of years ago or maybe was staying home to care for a loved one and now are thinking about getting back into the workforce.
Let me tell you about Candace Freedenberg. She is the Founder of Untapped Potential. Her mission is to engineer social change for women impacting gender equity, diversity, and work-life balance. She is the recipient of the Connecticut Women of Innovation Award. Her prior career was in optical engineering. You can read about Untapped Potential in the Hartford Business Journal.
Candace holds a BS from the University of Rochester and an MBA from Boston University. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children. Candace’s Untapped Potential organization is incredible. They have such a great program for women who are now going from being at home into either corporate or another type of job.
Our conversation was incredible. I’m so excited to bring this conversation to you because I know that there are many women out there, and I’ve talked to a few women that are in the situation where they have been staying home with their children. Their children are now getting into junior high or high school years and are ready to get back into the workforce. With that, stay tuned for this awesome conversation with Candace.
Candace, thank you again so much for being here. I want to start by asking you. I have been talking to a couple of women. They are stay-at-home moms. The question that I get is, “I want to get back into corporate but I don’t know even where to start.” To both of these women, I have said, “I know the perfect person that you can talk to.” I talked about you. What is your recommendation for someone that’s starting to think, “I would like to go back to corporate?”
Thank you for having me, Rosie. I’m so happy to be here. That is often the question we get and how this whole business evolved. We have been at it for several years. They were like, “I don’t know where I sit. What do I do first? I can’t access my resume. It’s three computer systems behind. Where do I start?” Even having that inkling of the fact that women are telling you where they want to go back or are voicing that, “I want to get back to my corporate profession,” that alone is a great step in the right direction.
By saying it to your peer moms or even those that are in the workplace, the more you say, “I want to get back to the workplace,” and the more you get out there with your vision of what you could be doing in the future, the more you are going to get feedback and refine that statement and vision of what you want to bring to the marketplace. We focus on women bringing their skills and services back to the market. It’s almost like they are marketing a product or a service, and it is them. I’m talking about it and refining it. It’s so important. That’s a great first step.
I see that your mission here is to engineer social change for women impacting gender equity, diversity, and work-life balance. I love that mission. My mission is to eradicate the gender gap in the corporate world by empowering women in their career development. They are very similar because we are both in the space of empowering women, so they can get that career that they love. Let’s say you have a woman who is a good manager of their home but they think to themselves, “I have no skills.” What do you say to that?
We want to return the value of parenting, mothering, and caregiving and elevate it in our society. The important work you are doing is what you are doing now. We also look for those jewels and the skills that you’ve developed, whether it’s multitasking, having empathy for multiple team players or making sure the end goal for the whole team comes together.
All those organizational skills you get from running a project for your kids’ sporting, music event, as well as the PTO and things of that nature, we put them in business terminology, those transferable skills. We craft them in a way and pull them up to a higher level and generically apply it to the objective at hand. A lot of women say, “I’m so much more of a contributor now than I was when I was doing A, B, and C at a company but it doesn’t look like that on paper. How do we get the paper to represent the value you are bringing to a community of work?” It’s asking those key questions, “What do your friends come to you for? What do you look up to?”
It’s like, “I’m the one that’s good with spreadsheets, so everyone is going to bring their spreadsheet problem for the organization to me.” Take that next step further like data analytics. We often relate those micro-skills that they enjoy or find that they are friends are all coming to them as the lead to, “Do you want to develop that further? Is that a marketable skill? Can we put it in terminology that would add value to a nonprofit, a corporate entity or a startup?”
I know that you are the Founder of Untapped Potential. That’s exactly what you are doing. You are taking the skills from stay-at-home moms and converting them. You don’t necessarily have to be volunteering or doing anything outside your home because you are the CEO of your household. You organize and take the kids wherever they need to go and do most stay-at-home people that do their finances. All of those skills are transferable as well. Would you agree with that?
If you're a stay at home mom, you think you haven't been working. The truth is you've been doing valuable work. You've been doing labor and work that is valuable. – Candace Freedenberg Click To Tweet
Absolutely. You are the chief medical officer and the chief financial officer. You are budgeting and planning short-term and long-term goal setting. You are developing minds. You are great with business needs. We seek business needs a broader definition of what businesses need. One key thing where empathy, leadership, emotional intelligence, and a growing role that our moms are able to slide into is an agile and scrum project manager. Those roles pay half in the dollars. They leverage a lot of the skills that are gained during parenting.
One of the questions I have gotten from those same couple of people is, “How do I explain the gap in my employment?” One person had been out of the workforce for 10 years and the other for 15 years. That’s a long time. Although we can convert all of the skills you have been using, what do they say when they are interviewing for these positions?
It’s a tough question. It has two different schools of thought. What I want to say is you have been working. You have been doing valuable work. You have been doing labor and work that is valuable. We had a session on capitalism versus caregiving prior to the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted that we need to pivot and think of how we value and reward caregiving. While you might be only caring for a family of 2, 4 or 6 for X years, it’s valuable work.
LinkedIn announced that you could add that as a role in your historical chronological thing. There are some that are pros and cons to that. That was one of my first red flares that, “It’s going to be harder for women to get back to work because of the job board system, the applicant tracking systems that are looking for keywords and years.” I wrote to LinkedIn and said, “Why can’t we just write the years transpired?”
Untapped Potential has innovated all our profiles that our clients look at. It’s a fresh, clean slate that brings a lot of things to a high level. It has years transpired. We ask them to measure our candidates by their skills and experience and not necessarily say, “You worked at Rite Aid in programming and did it for seven years but you did it seven years, a decade ago.” On the other hand, we want our candidates to know and be confident that women with a gap of 18, 17 or 15 years often are the first launchers to launch.
When we put ours generically where they don’t see the years or the gap, the first 1 getting 2 offers is one that has been out for sixteen years. It’s a mom who raised four kids and had great acumen and ability poise to carry herself in the room. If you remove that bias, it’s not a factor. We know men are able to contribute to the workplace until they are 60 something. Women live longer than men. You are going to have a long glide path for your career post-caregiving. If you start at 33, 40 or 50, you still may have 20 to 30 years to go.
If I am someone who’s a stay-at-home mom but I’m thinking about getting into corporate, what are some of the things that I could start doing that are actionable things and that I can start taking action with?
One of the things is to know yourself. One thing is our demographic wants to be successful. They don’t want to fail. The more you explore what you want to do and what is your 3-year or 5-year vision of what you could do and think out of the box, you do some exploratory things that let to know yourself better and what’s going to work for you. What I also say is to know yourself now. You might have logistical constraints. You might want to do something that’s more freelance or things of that nature to make sure you are delivering on your responsibilities as a mom.
It doesn’t have to be that you were cold turkey when you opted out, which is unfortunate. I laugh at myself for using that term opting out. Especially from the pandemic, we know women were pushed out of the workforce and viewed themselves as career professionals. They had to go in on and were dropping the kids in three different school systems and juggling everything. The floor was wiped out from under them.
Most moms that come and interview with us all have an issue that forced them out, whether it was a husband’s role moved or a company asking them to move, and you couldn’t balance dual careers. I wasn’t kidding about the CMO, and we call it 3 or 4 A’s. It’s growth in different issues like autism, ADD, and allergies that are all growing. It’s the mom that’s taking on that burden and researching that. They are deciding, “My goal to get to second level manager is not as important as this now.”
They take that and think, “I had a Harvard degree, MBA, great internships, and got to second level quick. I can get back.” The thing is, you can get back. There are steps in ways to do it. It’s about knowing yourself and the logistics that you have so that you can live up to what your expectations are and not fail. Any other thing is to take that first step. We say, crawl, walk, run or one of our sayings is Newton’s Law, “An object in rest stays in rest. An object in motion stays in motion.” We want to reduce that friction. Once you take that first step, the ball keeps rolling.
Attend one of our mentor mingles or copy the talks about your vision for success or informational interviews. Find a network of women that are going through what you are going through and seek out a mentor system of those things of getting out of your mom box and out into corporate settings, even if it’s a library but a professional type thing. It’s a place you feel safe but a little bit out of your box so that you are having those interactions professionally and getting your jargon back. That will build your confidence and things of that nature.
There are a lot of things that you can do. I know you said for women to get to know themselves a little bit but what are some of the things that they can do to start to get to know themselves? Sometimes people don’t even know where to start.
We have a couple of inventory analysis things that we do when they step onboard. It’s finding out, “Do you want to do what you used to do? What skills have you built?” One is from a skills approach. It’s also a free Holland Code test, where you are using quick studies and seeing this more than this. Those are things that our kids are doing when they go through college preparatory things.
It aligns with multiple career paths. Within those multiple career paths, it feeds you what potential roles you could take those paths. They might be nothing like what you considered when you were in your college interviews or from one company to the next company and moving on to the next role but it might open your eyes.
After you’ve done these quick studies where you are comparing things and taking these personality analyzers, you are seeing, “I could be a recruiter. I love working with people. I never thought of myself as in sales but that’s what I’m used to doing. I’m good with science, and now there’s this whole data analytics thing. It’s leveraging what I learned when I would do experiments. I can apply that.” It’s gathering your skills, what you did in the past and might want to do in the future, what you’ve done more recently, and how it aligns with current in-demand skills. Those personality tests guide you and open your eyes to what your potential could be.
One of the things that I use is the StrengthsFinder. That’s an accurate assessment for sure. The other thing, too, is people forget to go back and think about, “What did you like to do when you were a kid? Did you like to paint? Did you like to draw? Did you like music?” There are things that you can go back to your childhood and think, “What did I enjoy when I was a kid?” and try to marry those skills with a type of job that you would have fun and enjoy doing. As you well know, many people in corporate are not engaged in the work that they do. We don’t want these women to come from being stay-at-home moms to going into a job they don’t want to do.
Our inventory that we take is so thorough. Companies come back to us because we know our candidates well. We have met with a variety of mentors that also give them and us feedback. In that, we gravitate to what we always were. On the playground, if you were one that was always gathering everyone together or wanted to stay in and clean the erasers, whatever environment you went to, that’s where you likely will gravitate to as an adult.
Kids can change us. They can get us more out of our box than we would have been otherwise and surprise us. That’s so true. What we want to align people to is, what is their dream job for their second stage career? While you might have been getting out of college, you might have been building your resume. You are now building your stake in the ground, your epitaph for what you might want to leave your children with.
To your point of impacting gender equity, a lot of women gave up a job that they had to do something that has a definite longer payback like caring for their kids and developing these humans. You are not going to get an A or $10 but you are going to get that longer payback. When they are looking to return, they want to make a difference. There’s incredible growth in ESG, Environment, Social, and Governance. Companies are more socially oriented. Find a company that matches the mission that you can dive into so you aren’t in that cog-in-a-wheel type of role. It’s important, and it’s what we strive for.
Let’s talk about the woman that may still have school-age kids. She’s ready to get back into the market or the workforce because we had the pandemic, and they were homeschooling. Things are now somewhat starting to normalize. We are still in this pandemic or endemic, whatever we are calling it but they are thinking about going back to work and having school-age kids.
Let’s say junior high kids that for the last few years, they see mom there every day, and she’s available. Whenever they want to do something, they can do it, but now, she’s going to be working. What are some emotions from both the mom leaving the child and these children losing their mom back to work? Have you had conversations with women about that?
Yes, for sure. Number 1) It takes a village. Number 2) The mom’s guilt is real. Kids might not think it’s fair. You have to have those preparatory conversations, which is another thing we work on with the mom in time boxing her day. We are figuring out when she’s going to do these things or what she is going to offload to that village to her mom team, that’s the drop-off and pickup thing and making trades. Know that it’s a growth period for her, engaging the spouse to pick up the slack. Often, they are further along in their career and can take a day when school is close or what have you, now more than a woman starting back in an incubatory role.
Give your children independence. Often, we think, “They need me to bring their shoes to their soccer game before it starts.” The one day you don’t, they will never need you to do it again. They are going to be more independent and self-sufficient, and you want that for them. It’s whether them packing their lunch the night before. Any of these things are all adults building skills. We had one mom that got back. Her daughter couldn’t go to the chess club after school because there was no physical ride.
For ten years, the mom was able to bring her to everything. How do you get over that? We will play chess on Saturday night, whatever it is. Do something different to solve that problem but you got to go into it with a positive mindset. You can’t go into it that, “This is just for me.” It’s for all of us. It’s for you to have more independence. It’s for us as a family and our goal to be able to pay for college. These are the benefits that we are all going to get out of me exploring my professional self. It’s not self-centered.
I want to unpack a couple of things that you said. First of all, you said that women going back to work gives independence to their children. That is huge. I read a statistic that young girls’ confidence peaks at age nine. I am guilty of being a former helicopter mom, where I did so much. I didn’t allow my kids, specifically my daughter, to problem solve. That has impacted her in her life. The fact that you are saying that it helps the children too to become self-sufficient adults is a perfect point because the mom’s guilt is real. There is no such thing as dad guilt. Maybe it’s very minimal in comparison. It’s so crazy how we, as women, make ourselves crazy.
There is some study of what the kids needed during those teen years. You mentioned the junior high to high school, especially for boys, having a dad influence where they are going to be picking them up and have those opportunities to chat are as valuable during that time to build that relationship. One thing out of the pandemic is dad has got to be around their kids more while they are working from home. Both parents are needed.
How does Untapped Potential specifically help women get placed in these different positions?
We have unique ways that we do it. Our big thing is twice a year. We hold a return-to-work week for women. We are prepping women all along for those client candidates’ speed interviews. They are industry-focused days. Women go through a series of things that they can participate in, whether it’s copies where they talk about their elevator pitch.
We give them tools and techniques for developing it, figuring out who they are, what they want to bring to market, their aspirational goal, and therefore, what their go-to-market statement is. Also, prep informational interviews with different mentors, so they are not going cold turkey like, “I want to apply for a job,” and then being in a real interview. They’ve done a number of talking about themselves professionally in mentor mingle and safe situations where they are also talking to an unknown person.
Moms often have a hard time talking about themselves professionally with their peers that might be VP of this company or that company but they know them because they are parents of their kids’ friends, so they say, “I’m a lawyer that did this.” It doesn’t come up. You can be in this environment where we recruit mentors to participate with us and be that benevolent ear to give feedback and provide that scenario. They’ve practiced that a lot. They’ve maybe gone on some live interviews with our client companies. The speed interview is a great way for them to see how they clicked.
Our clients are looking to bring people onboard in a flexible way. That’s another unique thing where you can go to a direct hire role that they might have on a job board that has specific criteria but we ask our clients to think more openly like, “I need a marketing person, and you have a marketing person. How can we develop a role around that person? I need marketing needs or project management needs who could fulfill that and be open to a broader role, so they don’t get tripped up of, ‘You need to have three years of a workday.'” It’s impossible for a woman that has been out for 3 years to have 3 years of a workday.
Get away from checking the box criteria that we know traditionally women don’t apply. It has one thing on the rack that they can’t deliver. That return-to-work week is for women to explore their skills and how they fit with multiple companies that are looking for, “Is there a match here between us in a flexible way?” We then have a flex return engagement where it gives that transitionary period where you can start moving your kids’ medical appointments of the workday and get to the point where you are not in a catch-22 that, “I can’t work tomorrow because I have all these things to do. In six weeks, I could,” and get them to shave those things up. Meanwhile, they are starting out a role 20 hours a week and migrate to that 40 hours if that’s desired by both parties.
Candace, how did you get to creating this organization? How did you come to be the Founder of Untapped Potential?
It came from a few different directions. I was trying to solve another problem. I looked at this as a gap. I have a background in engineering and IT. In my MBA, I studied Economics. I recall that my Economics professor was saying, “Whenever you have latent talent, a talent that’s not being fully utilized or in a job that they have done for ten years and are not training or learning, that’s where we have a loss of growth and productivity. It becomes an economic crisis.”
Some economists believe our peaks and thrusts in our economic cycle are not due to supply and demand but are due to talent shortages, the inability to move MBAs to the oil diggers when oil digging is growing or something of that nature. I was at a women-based event. I was talking about your vision of what you want to accomplish for 2015.
There were so many high-caliber women with Cornell double degrees or Duke degrees who had worked doing marketing for Jose Cuervo or marketing for brand names and had a lot of accolades. They weren’t able to fit in the existing society, whether they couldn’t envision that they could do that as pharmaceutical sales getting up at 4:30 in the morning and driving to Pennsylvania to deliver a pitch. It couldn’t happen, so they couldn’t do anything. They have the potential to do something but it’s just not what they used to do. How do we capture that human capital and package it?
Meanwhile, it’s looking at the other side of the problem, where a two-sided model on the business front has established leverage from job boards and applicant tracking systems but is leaving a hole. We call this the diamonds in the rough. They are this invisible talent they can’t access, yet if they could access them, they have self-sufficiency, leadership, empathy, and all of these great skills that can give longevity to their career path.
We say that our demographic is the fastest path to women in senior roles. Even in our debates were the wage gap and the lack of women in STEM, which I’m passionate about, and the lack of women in leadership roles. We do skill-up opportunities in leadership, data analytics, cybersecurity, and SQL and get women from point A to point B. They may be returning to the workforce with more currency and skills than the person sitting next to you that has been working in a mainframe computer for ten years and hasn’t shifted in their role.
That’s a huge point because I have known people who stay in the same position for 10 to 15 years. We need those people because they are the foundation of getting things done. For me personally, every 3 to 5 years, I’m like, “What’s my next role.” What you said is that you sometimes have someone that’s coming into you that is placed in a good role with better skills than the person has been working for ten years. Those skills, I’m assuming, are the skills that Untapped Potential has been able to provide them during your programs. Correct?
For sure, for a lot of it. We also have women that had gotten to a second level at GE management role doing finite element analysis in aircraft with Master’s level degree in Mechanical Engineering. They need to find something that they could do twenty hours a week. Is it working at Marshalls? No, but they could work at an aircraft engine company. We just had to craft the right roles for them and were able to do that. In that case, we are not adding skills. We did skill-up opportunities where they worked to understand more additive manufacturing and the pros and cons of that from our tours of manufacturing and some of the new manufacturing technologies.
They led a follow on session with virtual reality and additive manufacturing, then met a mentor and crafted a role around them to launch. They have been there now for years. They’ve helped mentor a second person behind them. Other times, we have these six-week courses. We’ve worked with our second innings. It’s a nonprofit that is training anyone in these types of skills with these short courses. We leveraged that at the libraries for our moms, so it’s a comfortable place. Now, there are virtual courses as well.
Some of our demographic, often women, are coming into the workforce. There’s a specific example where a candidate came to supplement their IT technology team and implement Salesforce. She had some CRM not branded Salesforce experience in the mortgage industry, which is a completely different industry and things of that nature. After being in our short flex return, they decided they needed to pivot the types of resources they have on their whole IT team to be more like her because IT is changing.
Every company doesn’t need people experts in the boxes, bits, routers, and all the hardware because companies are using the software as a service but you need the software as a service customized to the user’s screen. You need someone that can interface well with the user and say, “How should this be set up for you?” and talk them through their daily routine, how they are going to access the information, and how you are going to create automation to have them go through their flows. It’s a communication skill that is different than those people that were deep in technology in the bugs, bites, and the bit.
In 2015, you noticed this gap. What happened to find Untapped Potential?
I was sharing this with a lot of people this a-ha moment. I crafted a business plan on a flight that I was taking for vacation. I first was looking at it as a nonprofit. My accountant said it couldn’t be a nonprofit because you can’t have people work for free, and the IRS wants their taxes. There was a unique scenario where the SBA had an award called InnovateHER. It was looking for new product ideas, systems, and things to support the 30 million women who are balancing and juggling families. It’s things for time efficiency, saving time for them, things for carrying daycares or whatever products.
There was a competition for that. I said, “This is the other end of the problem. Could this compete for it?” They said, “It can’t be a nonprofit. It has to be a business.” The woman at the SBA Organization in Connecticut had introduced me to the social enterprise, and this is social enterprise. Untapped Potential is a benefit corp inherent to its model. It supports demographic and economic equity for women in the workplace. Meanwhile, we run it as a business and make money from those matches that we make coming out of our speed interviews.
Tell me a little bit about some of the successes that you had, specifically women coming from being stay-at-home moms and being able to place them. What are some of the successes that you’ve seen?
Some are simple ones. It’s wonderful where they come and learn about us online. They sign up and fill out our forms. They do our inquiry. We do an inquiry call. We create a craft with them and their profile after they do some of those inquiry-based tests. We work on the elevator pitch in group copies or me-time events. We have about an event a week.
They get used to saying that and working through it. When they simply attend the speed interview and click with some company that didn’t even know they had a need for that skill, this person would have never applied for that job or that company and saying, “We need someone with experience navigating red tape, and this person had it. That’s exactly our problem but it’s a completely different angle,” or looking at someone that has done a real estate while they were raising their kids.
That would lend themselves to customer service, meeting all the client’s needs, and lending themselves to a more customer care type role in an IT space. Those are two things you wouldn’t have thought of if you had looked at the resume. Those are some of the successes. Others are aligning to the candidate’s vision for what they want to do with their life.
We often ask, “If you didn’t have to make any money in the world, what would you spend your time doing?” When an industrial engineer says, “Rather than being in an engineering role, I would love to use the marketing skills that I’ve gleaned while I have been out with my kids to impact changing the stigma on drug addiction and mental health.” We are able to launch them in a marketing role at the largest mental health provider. It’s like they are living a dream. It has been a role crafted for them, and the mental health providers are fortunate to have this high-caliber marketing person with these core skills and professionalism that they wouldn’t normally get access to.”
I would assume that because you do such a good job at qualifying all the candidates, do you have a lot of people saying, “I made a mistake. I didn’t mean to go back into corporate. I want to go back to being a stay-at-home mom?” Have you had situations like that?
I’m not thinking they want to stay as a stay-at-home mom. We have had medical issues that might’ve come up where they had the access and care for that. That medical caregiving is real. It is a burden that is unquantified, and how educated and experienced professionals would be in a high glide path career are impacted by that type of caregiving. We’ve had launches where someone is starting in a role and a flex return. We worked it out, and the company wanted to try the flex return project management IT role in twenty hours a week.
The way we work it is three weeks before the end of it, we are talking about conversion and what the final role looks like. Three days in, they are like, “We don’t want to lose this person. We want to offer them a job.” That often happens. Sometimes the candidate says, “Twenty hours is exactly what I can do. I’ve carved out my calendar. I’ve time-boxed. I can do just that.” In the first week, they do 32, the next week, 35, and they are like, “I’m full-time.”
My question is the reverse. Do you see a lot of success with these women? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being a stay-at-home mom but washing dishes, doing laundry, and carting kids around doesn’t give you the same fulfillment as being a professional and getting paid for that role. The fulfillment is different, in my opinion, but a lot of times, I hear stay-at-home moms say, “I’m lonely. I wish I had someone to talk to during the day.” This new role fills that hole of socialization and that thing. Have you noticed that?
You are reminding me of one of our first candidates. She was so thankful for the opportunity. It’s one of our first virtual roles in 2015 or 2016, where strong skills chemical engineers worked for a nuclear power company. She had an MBA and was a leadership candidate at one of the largest insurance firms. For the rest of her career, she ended up doing data analytics for the DEP around fracking. It was a role that they took the data down but being able to work with other PhDs remotely, talking to them, and having the deliverables they were responsible for. They said it would be so quiet. Their kids had left for college.
The fact that they had this to dive into was a Godsend. That’s social fulfillment. I’m still trying to work on an idea person that helps monetize and communicate the monetary value in that sense of appreciation and reward or award for those years spent caregiving. You are right that there’s certain socialization that many women are going back to, and we ask, “Why are you seeking to go back now? Is it simply a matter, ‘I was going to do this when things got achievable?’ or it’s money and all these different reasons?”
To understand, a part of it is being part of a microcosm of community. We want to belong to something. You want the pat on the back that someone appreciates your intellect in your things. I don’t think many women planned, at least those that got a degree, studied something, and went on to a profession for 3 to 5 years, and our criteria are usually 5 to 7 years.
They planned that they would do it and then go to zero. Work-life balance isn’t zero work. It’s 100% caregiving. Society at that point in time didn’t have many opportunities that were flexible. We are trying to grow those flexible opportunities that are of career caliber. Now, with telecommuting advancing and things of that nature, it is more feasible. When women say they want to go back to corporate, as we talked about, it’s not only full-time Corporate America going into an office.
There are digital nomads and freelancers. There are Upwork and different applications where you can create your professional self and start contributing to professional roles at corporations and not necessarily be full-time committed to a role or even part-time committed to a role. What I wanted to get across to women that might say, “I’m not ready yet,” is you don’t have to be ready to go full-time and work for the next ten years. You can dabble first, and you are getting skills. You are getting that emotional feedback. You are getting that microcosm teamwork. You are also boosting your self-actualization or self-esteem.
Self-actualization for women these days is where we want to be. There are so many women that are amazing. Like you, I am committed to empowering women that are coming up behind me, helping as many women as I can to get to their dream job, and feel fulfilled and happy so they can have the life of their dreams. That’s how all women are going to elevate this world and make it a better place. Here’s one last question before we wrap up. Once the women are placed in their jobs now, have you had subsequent emotional support for them post-placement?
Our program is six months. It’s three months workout period. When they go into either their direct hire placement or the flex return placement, we are with them for the twelve weeks of that. That is a three-month period that works out to align with a lot of different things. In that period, they have a check-in point with a career re-entry expert and their host manager. We are working with the company to define a host manager.
We typically have 1 or 2 external mentors. The mentor is aligned with the role they are trying to do or the phase of life that they are in that’s going through similar hurdles, advising them, and a different person you could turn to with your problem where you don’t want to tell the company like, “I don’t get the SharePoint. I’m not going to be able to get on there.” We bring the right resources to them.
Both the company and the candidates have often leaned on us to say, “We want to make sure this goes smoothly. Do you give resources for this or that?” Yes. From the emotional standpoint, we have not only programmatic support. After they launched, we had negotiation and networking skills. While they are starting in this role, they are still continuing to grow their network and increase their potential marketability because now they are in the game. They are not the stay-at-home mom saying, “Let me in.” They are now ABC company’s program manager for new data analytics portals. They can talk about that at a networking event.
You don't have to be ready to go full-time. You can dabble first and you're getting skills, emotional feedback, and learning about teamwork. You’re boosting your self-actualization or self-esteem. – Candace Freedenberg Click To Tweet
We want them to grow that networking event because, at the end of the flex return, they might say, “This is a fit for me,” or they want to aim higher and work in something else. We want to get them exercising those skills in networking. At the close, we have a flex returners launch and learn where they have peers and accountability partners throughout. They are bringing back their success stories or points of pain. The next group of moms get exposed to that and see the difference from the beginning to the end.
I know I participated in one of your events where we had candidates come. I talked to a couple of people about interviewing skills and general questions like that. I was acting as a mentor, and these women are amazing. The candidates that you are selecting are incredible. I do volunteer coaching for executives that are searching for jobs that are in transition. We recommend a 90-day success plan for them to pitch to their employer. Do you do something similar where you train or do you tell them, “Make sure that when you are in the interview, you tell them, ‘I have a vision for the next 90 days for the new position?’” Do you do something like that?
I’ve gotten some education in the first 90 days and a job from my daughter going to the ILR school. She sent me by phone all the pages. We launched it with two different candidates that were at significant levels in companies. Our 12-week program is exactly 90 days. We have a project plan template that they develop with their host manager. While they might have the requisition of what the job might be like or what the major role we are matching for, we want them to get under the covers.
Within the first two weeks, they are then defining that project plan and getting signed off on it. It goes very quickly where you only have 7 weeks to work towards those goals because 3 weeks prior to the end, we are measuring how you’ve performed against those roles and stepped up in day-to-day operations. We’ve had companies tell us that this is a better onboarding plan than normal hires.
Twenty hours a week is helpful to the companies because they aren’t pulling from their resources to give information and train them. When the candidate does not have enough time to give feedback or do actual work with the 20 hours, you can have 5 hours of interface with other people and have them work for 15 hours. They are professional level. We are working with professionals you met at our event. The biggest eye-opening thing we need to get to Corporate America is these are high-caliber professionals that need to enter at that mid-career level, yet they need some flexibility or time to catch up on workday or whatever three-letter acronym is popular nowadays.
Our biggest thing is when we put someone in for a role, the candidate would view, “That would be perfect for me. That would be a challenge.” Their background in history is often higher than that. They might have been doing a higher-level role and selling the client that this isn’t beneath them. This is what they want now. They might pass through it quickly in three years. They might be on to the next thing or even eighteen months but it’s a necessary step for them to start at that level. Selling them the biggest roles are not beneath them, yet they are not the entry-level role at the company.
Candace, I commend you because Untapped Potential has the whole package. You do support them from the very beginning up to three months into their new position. As you said, these are not entry-level positions that you are placing these amazing home CEOs into actual paying positions at a mid-level. Congratulations. I know you are looking to expand a little bit. Tell me a little bit about that.
We are expanding in a couple of directions. One is wanting to grow in multiple cities of our anchor clients and cities where we’ve had interests. We’ve placed people in various cities across the country and in states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and California. We want to be more programmatic. We are looking for people like me to take this on and grow it in different cities. We also are running a returners bootcamp that will be coming out with it.
It is not only the skilling up or letting them take courses but applying those skills in an ongoing operation so that they have those real-world experiences of applying the women in STEM. There are so many aspects of STEM. There are a lot of spheres around that. Every category of role, whether HR, marketing or customer service, has a STEM component. You need to be able to have said, “I can work with system ABC or systems like XYZ.” Having that bootcamp will develop those skills for our applicants.
This has been such a great conversation. I always end the conversation by asking you to provide two actionable tips. In this situation, it would be actionable tips for stay-at-home moms that are thinking or in the throes of going back to work. Can you provide us with two actionable tips?
There will be a lot along the lines of what I said earlier but let me put some tactical things on it. Know yourself. Start introducing yourself as a professional and getting that feedback from people, whether it’s a stuffed animal, your husband or your best friend. Start to put in together, “I am ABC professional with experience in XYZ companies. I bring a great deal of experience and passion towards your company,” whatever the elevator practice is.
We have Mad Lib templates on our site that we send people to start filling in. We work with a company that has an app to practice and grade it. I don’t think it’s because you want to perfect your elevator pitch. It’s because you want to start identifying yourself with that professional vision of yourself and to know that this is important.
It’s a part where you might have packaged up in a box before, and that Imposter syndrome might come out and say, “That’s not me.” The more you say it and get feedback on it, the more it’s going to come true or that it will be the you, you want to be. The second one is leveraging that. Get out there and put yourself in situations. Sign up for a webinar that you have in your industry. Sign up for an industry convention at your society of mechanical engineers that you haven’t gone to in seven years. At a minimum, we all should have kept that up but we didn’t.
Get out of the mom box and put on your agenda things that grow you to be in professional stature, so you start to get that crawl, walk, or run, or realize you may not want to go back to work now. It’s an ominous thing to tell your family, “I’m ditching you. I’m going back to 40 hours a week.” To do these little micro steps, we have quarterly mentor mingles.
Our seven-year anniversary is coming up soon, and we have our return-to-work week in October 2022. That’s an opportunity to put your professional self on, meet with clients and mentors, and talk about yourself. Think of it as, “I don’t care if anything comes of it. I’m going to get out there and do it.” Your eyes will be opened, and the opportunities will open for you.
Candace, this has been a phenomenal conversation. Any final words?
I believe that the value women have done while they were caregiving, or even if they stagnated in their role to value the work, you still have a lot more value left to give to society. You should be rewarded for that value.
Candace, thank you so much for your time. I very much appreciate it.
Thank you, Rosie.
What a fantastic conversation with Candace Freedenberg. The focus was around women that are currently not working, going back into the workforce. Candace has her company, and the program within her company is holistic. It takes you from A to Z if you are looking to get back into the workforce. All of Candace’s contact information is going to be on my blog on NoWomanLeftBehind.com. The last thing I’m going to do is recap Candace’s two tips. Tip number one, she said, is to know yourself. Essentially, introduce yourself as a professional, start feeling that you are professional, and identify as a professional.
Tip number two is to get out there. Go and put yourself out there. Go to webinars. Go to networking events. The more you are able to use your 30-second pitch, elevator speech or whatever you want to call it, to people and introduce yourself as a professional, the more you are going to identify it. They go hand in hand. Those are Candace’s two tips. That was one of the best conversations that I’ve had. The last thing is to remember to be brave, be bold, and take action.
- Untapped Potential
- Hartford Business Journal – Article
About Candace Freedenberg
Candace Freedenberg is the Founder of Untapped Potential. Her mission is to engineer social change for women impacting gender equity, diversity, and work-life balance.
She is the recipient of the CT Woman Of Innovation Award, CT Entrepreneur Award (social good), reSET Incubator Award, and recently the Woman-owned Small Business of the Year Award by CT-SBA.
Her prior career was in optical engineering at Laser Lab for Energetics, IBM, Kodak, and recently, Orafol, a German-based multi-layer thin film prismatic-chemical company.
Her work, pioneering change, yielded over a dozen US and International Patents in technologies and business processes. She has championed equity as a Keynote Speaker, Workshop Leader, or Panelist for Diversity Network (a global organization), Community Economic Development Fund, sheLeadsTECH, Women in BioC, Greater Hartford’s Women’s Conference, and Tri-State SHRM.
You can read about Untapped Potential’s work in this month’s Hartford Business Journal cover article.
Candace holds a BS from the University of Rochester and an MBA from Boston University and lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children. (Actually, her oldest is now an Officer in the USMC!)