In Spring 2017, Medallia welcomed its first “returnees” from the Path Forward program, which provides short-term work opportunities to women and men heading back to paid work after significant time away caring for family. As our head of People and Culture and a working mother myself, I’ve been excited to support Lauren Jackman, our Inclusion Practice Lead, in establishing this partnership. To highlight the impact of the program—and help everyone understand the possibilities presented by our ongoing Path Forward partnership—we asked Job Portraits to help us tell the story of Medallia’s first returnees: Meena and Lisa.
The day we speak to Lisa Reeves, she’s recently learned that her son has pneumonia—so she calls us from a cafe, where she’s waiting to rendezvous with her husband before heading to the office to finish the work day. Luckily for Lisa, her employer makes flexible hours and remote work possible. She’s completing a four-month “returnship” with Medallia through the Path Forward program, which helps women and men return to the workplace after long periods away caring for children or family members.
Like most Path Forward returnees, Meena Kamran, who joined Medallia’s Applications Solutions team, and Lisa, who joined Professional Services, spent many years raising their children full time. Meena has an 8-year old son and two daughters, 13 and 11 years old; Lisa’s sons are 7 and 9. As fulfilling as their time at home was, both women eventually craved more intellectual stimulation. “Now that my kids are growing up, I feel like it’s my turn to grow my career and my aspirations,” Lisa says.
The Rocky Road Back
Despite having desirable skill sets—Meena holds degrees in computer science and electrical engineering, and Lisa’s experience includes management consulting at Accenture—both face challenges common to full-time parents returning to the workplace.
First off, finding a role that’s a good fit can be difficult: returnees seem overqualified for junior roles but lack the recent work experience to compete for senior positions. And while core parenting skills like “chaos management” and clear communication transfer to almost any job, the central role of technology in today’s businesses—and its relentless rate of evolution—can make returnees feel like they’re starting over. “When I started thinking about going back to work, it was overwhelming, because technology had changed by leaps and bounds,” Meena recalls. For her, entering a three-month developer boot camp was key to getting back up to speed.
Being out of the workforce for many years also tends to shrink your network, a key asset in any job search. Meena’s family lived in three different countries while she was raising her children, and they were most recently in Texas. Likewise, Lisa moved to the Bay Area from the U.K. when her children were young. “It’s harder to network when everybody knows you as a mum as opposed to a professional,” she explains.
These challenges, coupled with the bias returning workers often encounter, add up to another common stumbling block to successful reentry: self-doubt. Chris Verges, Medallia’s Director, Applications Solutions, says he’s an eager Path Forward partner in part because he’s seen that challenge firsthand. His wife, a former McKinsey consultant and Ph.D. who chose to care for their kids full time, struggles with her own reentry fears. “My wife is, frankly, smarter than me,” Chris explains. “But many stay-at-home moms are judged based on unfair, preconceived notions in a way that makes them doubt themselves. I thought, if there’s something I can do to help someone get past that barrier, I’ll do it.”
More Consultant Than Intern
Natacha Hardy, Senior Manager, Professional Services, also jumped at the chance to have a Path Forward returnee on her team. She’d been interested in moving into a people management role, and Lisa became her first direct report.
At the time, Natacha was also thinking about starting a family—she’s now expecting her first child in September—and welcomed the opportunity to add a parent’s perspective to a relatively young team. “Degrees are great, but at the end of the day, the life experience that comes from raising a family—the ability to manage time, and chaos, frankly, while also being adaptable—a degree cannot replace that,” says Natacha.
Understanding that a returnship is a short-term arrangement, Natacha took special care to identify projects that let Lisa interact with as many people outside her team as possible, including senior leadership. She also took time to understand what Lisa was nervous about, and looked for a first project that would help build her confidence.
Over her four months at Medallia, Lisa helped wrap up one implementation and supported the beginning of another. But the project she’s most proud of is The Loop, Medallia’s new intranet. Her accomplishments on The Loop include building out collaboration rooms where experts can create internal documentation, and even devising an in-platform treasure hunt to boost engagement. The team wondered where she’d come up with such a novel solution; “That’s just a mum thing!” she says.
Meena was also able to own two major strategic initiatives “pretty much end-to-end,” Chris says. One was a backend development project, while the other focused on frontend, giving Meena a chance to learn React. The first project helps bridge Medallia’s new self-service survey builder with SMS messaging. The second project—building a reusable library of social link buttons for a survey’s thank you page —went so well, Chris decided to extend Meena’s four-month contract so she could finish it up. “Meena proved herself as a full-stack developer and, as the expert on both projects, is instrumental in the final go-to-market push,” Chris recognizes.
Returnees also bring important viewpoint diversity to their teams. When Natacha asked for feedback on Lisa’s returnship experience, for example, Lisa pointed out that Natacha might be sending a message she didn’t intend—by scheduling all of her obstetrician visits on the weekends. “I had been so happy with myself,” Natacha recalls. “Lisa helped me realize I was missing an opportunity to set the example that it’s okay to step away from work for a few hours.”
Natacha likens Lisa’s work with the Professional Services team to bringing in a consultant, rather than an intern. “The ramp-up is so fast; the relevance of the questions Lisa was asking and the feedback she was providing after a very short period of time was incredible,” she says. Chris agrees: “If you’d take an intern on, you should be willing to take a returnship on. And if that’s not the case, you need to honestly reflect on why.”
A Transformative First Step
Path Forward started as an internal program at Return Path, a New York-based company helping email marketers improve deliverability and revenue. In 2016, to help meet the growing interest in the program, Path Forward launched as a separate nonprofit with Tami Forman as executive director.
Tami is a working mom, and Path Forward’s other staffers are all returnees, so everyone on the team understands firsthand the challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities. To help returnees meet those challenges, all of Path Forward’s returnships start at the same time, giving participants a cohort of colleagues to connect with during regular workshops.
While later workshops cover networking, résumé writing, and interview skills, early workshops focus on more personal struggles, like the guilt moms often feel about not managing their households as closely as when they were at home full-time. “When women go back to work, they often make an implicit or explicit promise that ‘nothing will change,’” Tami says. “The reality is, everything needs to change—and that change can be good.”
Tami hears lots of stories about children stepping up and taking on more responsibility when their parents go back to work. Lisa also found her moments of quality time with her children seemed to increase when she returned to the workplace. “Now when I get home, I make an extra effort to connect,” she says, “and everyone understands that our time together is more precious.”
To make sure her children feel engaged in her transition, Meena debriefs them about her work each evening around the dinner table. She even introduced her 13-year-old daughter to code school. “My daughter now tells me, ‘Mommy, I’m gonna be a better coder than you!’” says Meena. Meena’s response? “More power to you!”
Meena and team members at lunch.
To make sure returnees transition smoothly onto their teams, Path Forward provides managers with a helpful information packet, as well as strategy calls—and Lauren Jackman, Medallia’s Inclusion Practice Lead, provides additional support. The partnership kicks off with a conversation aimed at helping managers match returnees with the right role, then continues with additional calls to set expectations for the end of the engagement and to plan for the returnees’ departure. “I felt very supported throughout the process, like I had everything I needed,” Chris says, “and if I didn’t, Lauren was right there.”
One bit of advice Chris has for future Path Forward managers is to discuss expectations of a long-term position as early as possible. A couple months into Meena’s returnship, he explained that, even though he “loved what she was doing,” he didn’t have bandwidth on his team to provide the mentoring she would need in a full-time role. “I could tell she was disappointed,” Chris says. But Meena returned to work the next week optimistic and determined to make the most of her remaining time.
Despite the fact she won’t end up at Medallia long-term, Meena says she’s gained a lot from the experience—and the team. “Everyone has so much energy and is well-versed in so many topics,” she says. “It amazes and inspires me.”
Lisa was also impressed with Medallia, though her husband’s new job in Seattle ultimately meant she didn’t take a full-time position with the company. “Medallia is the perfect organization to take on a program like Path Forward because they’re serious about diversity,” she says. “It’s not just messaging—they really live it.”
Interested in learning more about open Path Forward opportunities at Medallia? Check out our careers page!