By Brigid O’Leary
Women have been working in one capacity or another forever. Where, how, and to what degree has varied depending on the era and the society in which they live—and their place in that society. If a woman becomes a mom, she adds new challenges and responsibilities to the balance. Some nonprofit organizations make adjusting to those additional challenges a little easier for families.
We Are Family
“Being in the nonprofit sector, it’s always been more supportive. You can work and not miss as many soccer games, chorus concerts, performances or other events that are important to your family,” said Michelle Sperzel, chief executive officer and president of Girls in the Game, a Chicago-based organization that uses sports, health and leadership programs to help girls find their voice, discover their strengths and learn to lead with confidence. “There’s flexibility; people are there for their passion, their mission. Because we’re not able to pay as much, we can offer different incentives and spending time with family is one of them,” Sperzel added.
Jennifer Tacheff, vice president of business development at Women Who Code Inc., echoed the sentiment.
“Most of the moms I know are some of the hardest working, most efficient people I know. If we invest in this demographic and push for flexible work options, such as working from home, you’ll see the return is tenfold. You’re also building loyalty during a very special time in the employee’s life.” she said.
Women Who Code, headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., is an international organization that supports women to excel in technology careers. Tacheff, herself a single mom, knows firsthand the benefits associated with progressive organizations, some of which go beyond just what most consider a flexible work schedule.
“In nonprofits, much like startups and family businesses, boundaries blur and you develop a really beautiful community; it’s a bit more familial. Everyone looks out for one another, especially families,” stated Tacheff.
Despite the flexibility that can come with working for a nonprofit, it’s not a given. Having had experience working in the private sector as well, Tacheff points to an organization’s leadership as an indication of how open-minded any organization might be.
“I’ve worked in both corporate companies and nonprofits for quite a while and I’ve seen empowering policies but an unsupported company culture and vice versa. You can have empowering policies but if you have company culture that doesn’t back it up it doesn’t matter. Leadership matters which is why WWCode focuses on putting women in these positions so true industry change can occur,” she said.
Working Hard, Not Hardly Working
No matter the culture behind the job, those returning to the workforce after a period of time away should remember that it’s still a job, and with it comes responsibilities.
“It’s a misconception at times. Nonprofits can offer a different pace but depending on your role, it may be the hardest job you’ve ever had,” Tacheff explained. “Many people think nonprofits offer an easier pace. There are high stake deliverables and you oftentimes have limited bandwidth and resources to make it happen.”
While some may be hesitant to take a chance on an employee that’s been away from the workforce for a time, Sperzel said that in her experience, many people “have stayed involved with improving their skill sets while still staying home” and should not be discounted in the hiring process.
“They might have been out of the work space for 6, 10, or more years,” she explained, adding that people can get a foot in the door with jobs that are “organizing, planning, doing data entry – all of these things, from home, [are things that they] can offer the nonprofit structure.”
Tacheff also pointed out that reentry applicants are the fastest growing candidate pool, outside of new grads and believes that companies need to support them, especially women who may have taken time out for motherhood.
“Women need to know they’re relevant. They have critical skills they can parlay into the next career,” Tacheff said, noting that the nonprofit sector can help pave the way for a return to the workforce.
“They should definitely consider nonprofits, especially those that are progressive. Volunteering and part time roles can be leveraged to the next career step,” she added, though she does caution those who are returning to full-time work to be mindful of their worth and not to give away all of their time – or earning potential – in volunteer work. Women overwhelming volunteer their time and skills for free, she said.
Although not all women become mothers, and not every person who finds him or herself absent from the workforce for extended periods of time does so to raise children, each person has personal challenges they have to balance. Though it takes the right mindset on both sides of the interview, nonprofit agencies can provide the best return for a potential employee.
“The idea that nonprofits are a place to camp out for awhile is not true. You’ll have to make lemonade with lemon rinds at times. It’s hard work and totally worth it. Much like parenting,” said Tacheff.