Returning to the workforce often requires a pivot, and in her new book, Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch their Careers, Wendy Sachs digs into issues that can hold women back and talks to a wide range of women who faced down fears, roadblocks and failures to reinvent themselves.
It’s an inspiring read for women, particularly those who’ve taken a pause in their career, and we asked Sachs some questions about the book, her own journey and her perspective on helping women pivot back into the workforce.
Q. What exactly do you mean by learning how to “pivot”? Why is pivoting becoming a vital professional skill, especially for women?
WS: The popularity of “pivoting” has its origin in the tech and start-up world. When a start-up launches it may find that it needs to pivot on its original idea or business model. For example, Instagram started as a social messaging app. But the Instagram folks found that what was really catching on with its early audience was the photo sharing component. So they dropped the messaging and pivoted Instagram entirely into a photo sharing app. Pivoting is also a close cousin to iteration and agility. These are other buzzwords in Silicon Valley that have become increasingly popular and mainstream across industries – not just in the start-up space.
I loved the concept as it applies to women and their careers. Pivoting feels powerful – instead of floundering or failing, we can re-direct. By pivoting we can also think of our skills and careers not in rigid or fixed ways, but we can embrace change and growth. The nature of the workplace today requires us to pivot. Digital has disrupted and blown up so many industries: publishing, entertainment, advertising, media, news, retail, automotive and the list goes on. To stay relevant, we must be able to pivot.
Q. How has the professional landscape changed for women since you began your career on Capitol Hill in the 90’s? How has pivoting impacted your career path and what made you decide to write this book now?
WS: Fearless and Free comes from a very personal place. I had lost my job in 2014. Traditional journalism and media – where I had spent my career working – was on life support. I was over 40 and felt like if I didn’t get a job at one of the bright and shiny media startups in New York City sometime soon, I would become a dinosaur. I was afraid of becoming irrelevant. It also became clear that for many jobs in my industries – media and news – I was too expensive. These industries can hire young and cheap talent. It was after one particularly depressing interview when a bearded Millennial was turned off by my Capitol Hill experience job as a press secretary – a job that used to open doors for me – that I realized I needed to switch things up. I needed to re-craft my pitch, hone my story, lean into my skillset but probably learn something new. I also realized I might need to take a step backwards before I can could move forward again.
Since I began my career on Capitol Hill, I do believe that we are seeing progress with women in the workforce. Millennials are forcing changes that to make the workplace more accommodating to for parents and to be more flexible for everyone. Millennials are demanding that they have a life outside of work. I am also encouraged by the trend in corporate America to make diversity, especially in management and leadership, an imperative. There are also efforts to retain female talent and bring women back into the workforce. All of this makes me optimistic that as we start seeing more women in senior level positions, real change will happen from the top down.
Q. In your book, you talk about how women should approach their careers with a Silicon Valley start-up mentality. What can that mean for women who are looking to re-start their careers?
WS: Today, we all need to think like entrepreneurs, even if we aren’t running our own businesses. We must take risks to build confidence and move forward. We have to brand ourselves and own our stories. We have to learn how to sell our skillsets and get in the door. For women looking to re-start their careers, there can be feelings of inadequacy. We can worry that we aren’t qualified, fear that we lost our mojo, or we may even suffer from the impostor syndrome – that nagging feeling that somehow we are a fraud and will be found out. But instead of getting stuck, we must take action – even little baby steps to get going. We have to network and let people know that we are looking to get back into the workforce. The boys in the hoodies in Silicon Valley may have terrible business ideas that will never make money and yet their passion and confidence can land them millions in venture capital funding. They are the living example of that “fake it until you make it” philosophy. I truly believe that women need to dig deep and grow their confidence. Feeling like you can act on something is the foundation to making a change in your life or re-igniting your career. We must get comfortable in the uncomfortable – which is a very entrepreneurial sensibility.
Q. What are “superconnectors” and where can women, particularly those who have been out of the workforce, find them? Why, as you contend, are weak ties potentially the best ties?
WS: Superconnectors are those people who seem to know everyone. You probably know these people from your community, your kids’ schools, the soccer field sidelines, your church or synagogue or they are former colleagues from your past. They have wide networks but most importantly, they enjoy connecting people.
Studies have found that weak ties can be the best ties. We only know who we know and our networks tend to me limited because we are usually connected to the same circles of people. But once you start pushing outside your immediate network, you expand your connections and those “weak” ties, studies find, are much more likely to land you a job.
Q. How has the demise of job security complemented the widespread quest for more flexible work and greater work-life balance, especially among women?
WS: Sadly, there is no such thing as job security anymore. Millennials are expected to have six jobs before they turn 30 and companies no longer show the job loyalty they once did. The freelance and gig economy is completely transforming the workforce. And crazy enough, freelancers are expected to make up nearly half of the workforce by 2020. All of this has become the perfect storm for more flexible work schedules. Although we may find ourselves constantly hustling for projects and freelance jobs, the upside is that we may also find ourselves in more control of our schedules, which can create a better work/life situation for all of us, especially women.
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