A few years ago at a wildlife center in Alaska, the naturalist told a group of us that the magnificent hawk perched on his arm was in ‘stealth mode’, hiding in plain sight. At a professional breakfast last week, the OnRamp Expo, sponsored by reacHIRE at Boston’s Innovation Center, I witnessed the same phenomena. Let me explain.
I watched a group of 19 incredibly talented and credentialed women — who had stepped out of the workforce for some period of time — briefly share their professional stories. I was blown away by their experience, their intellectual firepower and their enthusiasm. Take Marie Dieringer, with deep expertise in strategy and planning at Bain and Boston Consulting Group, with three degrees to her credit including two from Ivy League institutions and whose passion and playfulness were clearly on display in her brief remarks. Or Divya Das with an MBA, an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and years of experience managing key vendor relationships for companies like Bell South. Or Cheryl LaMonica, with extensive financial experience working overseas, a stint at JP Morgan Chase and a degree in economics from the University of Rochester and an MBA.
As a corporate consultant, I hear a great deal about the reality of a changing global marketplace, the importance of innovation and perhaps most frequently the shortage of talent. Thus, I am stymied by this paradox whereby an enormous source of talent — professional women seeking to reenter the workforce — are literally hiding in plain sight. These women are driven, smart, capable and incredibly energized about returning to the workforce. Yet, they remain unrecognized through the typical employment pathways.
Addie Swartz, the CEO of reacHIRE, declared in her opening remarks:
The hiring highway is broken and we’re going to fix it.
In 2013 she launched reacHIRE to bridge the gap between talented women seeking to return to the workforce and innovative companies who she knew would greatly benefit from all they had to offer. Through a carefully designed PowerUp training program, women come together in cohorts of 15 to 20 for a skills refresh on the latest technologies and business tools and to build camaraderie with other women moving through the same process. But what distinguishes reacHIRE’s approach is a several month paid project working on real-time business challenges for leading employers. ReacHIRE offers a comprehensive on ramp for women through active placement in companies that provide them the opportunity to put their skills to work.
One PowerUp program graduate shared her path from a marketing career in consumer goods and technology to her post reacHIRE position in a technology role for a premier financial services company where she helps to communicate technology strategy to senior leadership. More than 60 reacHIRE alumna — placed in companies such as Fidelity, Boston Scientific and EMC — have started to create an ambassador network with a strong desire to demonstrate their capabilities and pay it forward supporting other women on their reentry journey.
At the breakfast, Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito spoke passionately about her own career journey, improbably moving into a public service career and the power of professional advocates and mentors who offer help and support. She shared her experience of seeing a substantial workforce skills gap in Massachusetts and recognizing how talented professional women returning to the workforce can be part of the solution in helping to close the gap. Lt. Governor Polito implored the employers in the room to think differently and to create concrete “on and off ramps” for women so that the faulty hiring highway can get some much needed repairs.
Massachusetts is just the beginning of the journey for reacHIRE. With such a passionate response in Boston from women and employers, the company is working on bringing the PowerUp program to cities across the country. America’s strong female talent is too good to keep hidden in plain sight!