I recently learned about Path Forward and was so inspired by their work. I immediately reached out to the nonprofit to learn more. Tami Forman, the ED of the organization, is here to share more with us.
Please tell us a bit about you/personal life/background. I am the Executive Director of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and men re-enter the workforce after taking time off for caregiving. Before Path Forward, I spent a decade as a tech marketing executive with data solutions provider Return Path. Prior to that I worked in book publishing at Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin and held senior-level web editorial positions at iVillage and News Corporation. I am passionate about helping women find career success and personal satisfaction. I live in New York City with my husband and two children, a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.
What is the mission of Path Forward? To empower women (and men) to restart their careers after a break for caregiving. We fulfill our mission by working with employers to launch and implement midcareer internships — sometimes called “returnships” — to give people who’ve taken a career break a jump start back to the paid workforce.
What inspired you to work with Path Forward? I grew up in the 70s and 80s when women were starting to reach parity with men in terms of educational achievements and early career accomplishments. So it was frustrating to get to the mid-90s and see that very little had changed in terms of leadership of women across all measures.
And then I had my children and saw how quickly women can become marginalized once they are mothers. A program to help women restart, and hopefully accelerate, their careers seemed like an important step to changing the gender ratio at all levels of the economy.
Please share some of the statistics that led to starting. The nonprofit was a spinout of a program that began at a private company called Return Path. They fielded an initial cohort of six women. The idea was to increase gender diversity, especially in technical roles.
There are a lot of women who are out of the workforce for caregiving — the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 2.6 million college educated mothers out of the workforce. But the executives knew that managers were reluctant to hire women with a gap in their resume.
The idea of a program aimed at overcoming that bias made a lot of sense to a lot of people. After Return Path got some press attention for the program, executives from the company got questions from other companies — “Tell us more about what you are doing and help us do it.” That led to the creation of Path Forward.
What is a “returnship?” It’s a temporary job that is specifically aimed at people who had a career — so they have skills and experiences — but have been out of the workforce to focus on caregiving. Few managers are willing to consider a candidate who’s been out of the workforce for two years and we’ve worked with women who’ve been out for as long as 15 or 20 years!
What kind of challenges do you come across with this work? Getting managers to see the advantages of someone who’s taken a break in their career, instead of focusing on perceived disadvantages.
What are you most proud of? I’m really proud of my team, many of who are returnees themselves. They are working so hard to make this organization the best it can be because they believe in the mission and they believe in the women we serve. They are overcoming obstacles every day and their energy and enthusiasm never wavers.
Best advice for a mother wanting to go back to the professional workforce after taking time to raise children? Just do it! I know that sounds a little too simple, but I talk to so many women who are holding themselves back because of fear. And it creates a terrible cycle — the fear keeps them from trying, which means they are out longer, which makes the re-entry seem even more daunting. I would say the very first second that you think “Hmm, maybe I’d like to go back to work …” you should get started.
What has surprised you most about this work? I was very surprised at how different the work/life conflict challenges are for women returning to the workforce as compared to the challenges faced by women who’ve continuously worked. Many women implicitly promise their families that nothing needs to change when they return to work. Some even promise that explicitly!
But everything needs to change and that’s okay.
That transition period can be tough, more so for some than others. But I’ve also seen the upside, too. Many women tell me how much going back to work transformed their family in a really positive way.
Personally, what challenges are you currently facing and what tools are you implementing to be strong/overcome? I find the current state of the world very challenging, psychologically. The problems we are trying to overcome, specifically around gender equality, feel so daunting right now. I try to take breaks from the news and am lately finding I really have to be selective in what I pay attention to. I’m trying to read more books to get off the endless treadmill of media alerts. I also find the more time I spend focused on my team, on our partners and on the participants in Path Forward programs, the better I feel. I see examples everyday of people working hard to make the world better.
How do you find balance daily in your life? Well, first I don’t try to find it daily! I’m a big fan of Laura Vanderkam, so I take the “168 hours” approach to life. That’s the number of hours in a week and in that time you can find plenty of balance. I work out 4 days a week, for example. When I’m home in New York I’m have dinner with my family most nights of the week. I do very little work on the weekends and I very rarely travel for work on a weekend. I’m also a fan of the Bullet Journal. I like it the physicality of a notebook as compared to an online task list which never ends! It literally limits the amount of stuff you can commit to. And I keep both my personal and professional life in one place so I’m not overcommitting in either realm.
Image Shutterstock via Business Insider