Nancy Jensen was on track to reach a high-level position at Microsoft when she took time off to care for her two young children. Getting back into the working world wasn’t easy.
“When it was time to go back to work, despite the fact that I had a very rich, successful professional background, people were really dismissive,” Nancy says, recounting a job interview where a CEO looked at his phone for most of the time and said he wouldn’t hire her because of her gap in employment.
The Seattle mom took that negative energy and ended up spinning it into a career training program called The Swing Shift. Earlier this month, she appeared on stage at Ignite Seattle, a series of events where speakers present five-minute lightning talks on a variety of topics.
We recently caught up with Nancy to ask how she thinks corporations, hiring managers, and employees can help remove the barriers that women face when they re-enter the workforce. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: The title of your Ignite talk was gendered. Was that deliberate? Is this still solely a women’s issue?
A: My title (“Oh, you’re a mommy who wants to work. How sweet.”) is something somebody said to me (chuckles).
The overwhelming majority of the time in a heteronormative relationship, it’s the female who goes home. That’s definitely changing, but right now that’s where it lies.
It comes down to the cost of childcare. For the most part, when women enter the workforce, the pay is even. Those inequities start widening as women step out and then step back in. In addition to lost income, you’re looking at lost investment opportunities and lost advancement opportunities.
Q: So how do we fix it?
There are three things that need to be fixed. No. 1 is getting that cost of childcare down, and the second is that companies need to mandate half of the interview slots for women.
But the biggest thing you can do — whether you’re a man or a woman or you’re nonbinary — is that when you see a woman in the workplace and they need somebody to speak up so they can get their point across, you can amplify their voices and be an ally for them.
Oh, and vote.
Q: What if I am “a mommy who wants to work” after taking time off? How do I navigate that process?
A: Have a good, crisp story. Say “I took time off to care for my family, and now I’m ready to go back.” That’s all people want to hear.
Use your community of connections — not just professional but your school connections, your personal connections — they are what’s going to help you get back into the workforce.
Q: Tech companies in Seattle are known to compete for talent by offering generous benefits. Is our city poised to lead the charge in fixing unequal pay and supporting working mothers?
A: This a great opportunity for corporations in our region to step up to the plate and set the example. I think it’s going to come down to a dollars-and-cents business decision. Valuable people are walking away, and that’s what’s going to convince companies to change.
On the one hand, it’s easy to see human capital as an easily replaceable gift. And on the other hand, it’s not. Why would you want to let people that you’ve invested time and money and energy in just walk away?