Returning to work after a career break can be intimidating, especially when the field you’re returning to is characterized by constant change like technology and engineering. Perhaps that’s why, out of the 41% of women (more than double the number of men) who’ve quit jobs in the high tech industry, so few return.
Thankfully, some companies — like United Technologies — have recognized the need to bring more women back into the workforce. That’s why its Re-Empower Program was launched at the start of this year, with the aim of helping experienced professionals who’ve taken a career break of at least two years to return to work.
With access to coaching, mentorship, and relevant work experience, participants in the first cohort’s paid, 16-week program received no shortage of support. Just ask Karen Hooper, a Re-Empower grad who now works full-time at United Technologies as a project engineer.
"Re-entering the workforce in my field of study, and at a level that was comparable to my work experience, was challenging,” Hooper, who’d worked over 15 years in the aerospace world before taking a break after the birth of her twins, said. “Many companies see career breaks as a negative and don’t consider what an individual might have learned during that break to be of much value.”
This was a frustrating misconception to be so regularly up against, she continued, considering she had spent her career break adding to her transferable skills in meaningful ways.
"In my ‘mom role,’ I continued to manage budgets, schedules, and conflict, as well as identify priorities and work with all kinds of people to get tasks completed on time and within budget,” she said. “However, some think technology has passed us by, and that we’ve been out of work too long to catch up or learn anything new.”
United Technologies, however, saw the situation differently. After being hired into the Re-Empower cohort, Hooper was given the resources needed to ease her transition while enlisting the unique perspectives she brings to table.
"Our managers were hand-picked because of their reputations for being excellent managers,” she explained. “Peer and technical buddies were also identified, and I loved having a ‘go-to person.’ It made me feel that I wasn’t always bothering someone.”
Outside of United Technologies leaders, Hooper felt similarly supported by her cohort members, as well, which consisted of five other women and two men (because, as Hooper noted, “women aren’t the only ones who take career breaks”).
"It can be a bit lonely starting a new position, especially when you’ve been out of the workforce for awhile,” she said. “You sometimes wonder if you can still do this, and how you’re going to balance work and home responsibilities. But the cohorts all rallied around each other and offered encouragement.”
Sixteen weeks, several learning experiences, and numerous words of encouragement later led to Hooper becoming part of the United Technologies family in a more permanent way: she was made a full-time offer. As explained Jeff Anderson, a United Technologies manager, making the decision to hire Hooper from the Re-Empower cohort was “truly a win-win” for both parties.
"The organization has the opportunity to bring ‘life-experienced’ personnel back into the positions they had experience in prior to leaving the corporate workforce, and the Re-Empower employee is provided an easier transition and the best opportunity for success,” he said.
The process at United Technologies — which, Anderson notes, is a company he loves for its culture of “inclusion and family” — was also seamless. This is partially because the Re-Empower openings were designed to reflect true positions at the company — meaning, the role a participant fills during the program’s duration is the same role that could become a full-time position.
"The process was excellent and very well-organized,” he said. “I will continue to look to the Re-Empower Program for future resource needs.”
As for Hooper, she feels grateful to have landed among such a “great group of people, with a very diversified workforce,” and loves that she gets to “use her brain again” within a space she had years of school and work experience in.
"There will be a learning curve, but that’s true of every new position — so, go for it!” she said. “You have a lot to give.”
Interested in re-joining the workforce in an environment you’ll feel supported in? Check out UTC’s Re-Empower openings today!
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