“I don’t know how to get back in.”
Time and again, I hear these words from women who are trying to re-enter the workplace after taking a break in their career to raise children or take care of aging parents. It’s a heartbreaking statement, often said exasperated, as they struggle to get back up to speed on both their technical skills and the ever-changing workplace dynamics and find an opportunity that values their previous experience and skills. I nod and listen, as it reminds me of feeling similar when I was coming back to work after a five-year gap.
This issue is not reserved for a handful of women, but is common around the world. The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) stated that 56% of women leave their organizations at the mid-career level. Many working parents face re-entry issues, but the challenge can be more pronounced in the tech industry. According to research by AnitaB.org and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute, "the mid-level is perhaps the most critical juncture for women on the technical career ladder, because it is here that a complex set of gender barriers converge."
Indeed, 56% of women at high-tech companies leave their organizations at this point. According to “Harvard Business Review,” of the women who voluntarily leave work, only 40% return to full-time professional jobs. When I came back to work after having three children, I knew I wanted to pivot in my career to help women exactly like the ones I talk to now. In my role as the global leader for the tech women at Intuit, Inc. program, it’s empowering to know that I can not just nod and listen, but actually help.
Whether women have taken a break in their career in order to take care of their children or aging parents, we offer a returnship program called Intuit Again that helps them get back into the workplace and provides them with the necessary skills. Intuit Again is a returnship program for mid-career technologists who have taken at least a two-year break from their career, and would like to return to work. Now accepting our third cohort, the U.S. program offers a four-month temporary role where applicants are able to gain hands-on experience in a technical role, and be matched with a mentor. We will have full-time positions available for those who excel in their returnship.
We sat down recently to talk to one of our returnees about her experience in the Intuit Again program, Shikha Singhal, a software engineer who went through the program in Spring 2018.
Intuit: Why did you pause your career and for how long?
Shikha Singhal: I’m the mom of twin girls and I paused my career because I wanted to spend quality time with my kids — and I’m really glad I was able to do it. I thought, “I can always go back to work, but I’ll miss this time with my kids.” I took a break for almost six years when my kids were in fourth grade. I was able to spend time with my kids and volunteer at their school, and I started a robotics team for my girls and their friends that I coached for almost five years. I took the team to the world championships representing northern California, and it was the most rewarding experience I’ve had until now. It was rewarding to teach them how to solve real-life problems with programming.
Intuit: What were the biggest challenges you faced when you returned to work?
Shikha Singhal: The biggest challenge was making sure I was able to keep the work-life balance. On my team I’m the only mom, and with a new job you feel the pressure to work a lot. Thankfully, at Intuit I was able to keep that balance. I’ve found it’s very flexible here, and I’ve been able to integrate my work and life together. My mentor was wonderful. She said to me, “Shikha, find your own balance.” If I couldn’t have that balance, I wouldn’t be able to continue working.
Intuit: How did you feel about your primary skills when you returned to work?
Shikha Singhal: During my break, I kept learning. I realized big data was the big thing and all of my skills were in Java. So, I took a few courses and got two fellowships to build a skill set in big data. I learned the new technologies like Spark, Kafka and Cassandra. I felt I was ready because the team I joined was using exactly the same skills I learned during my break.
Intuit: What new skills did you develop after joining Intuit Again?
Shikha Singhal: During Intuit Again, I got a chance to work on a data pipeline project similar to the one I had worked on during my break, but this time in a production environment. In this new field I was able to develop (and am still learning) new skills in Scala. When I joined Intuit, my team was using Scala, so I bought a book and reached out to people to find out what would be good resources.
Intuit: What would you tell someone who’s thinking about applying for Intuit Again?
Shikha Singhal: I’d say Intuit Again is an amazing program and you should join it. We were able to meet so many people in leadership, including the CTO. It gave me the feeling that they really wanted to make a difference in our lives. That was the highlight of the program for me. Overall, it was a very rewarding experience. It’s helped me believe in myself and has given me the confidence that I can provide regular contributions in today’s world. And it was all possible because of the strong mentorship I received.
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Tracy Stone is the global leader of the Tech Women @ Intuit initiative, an initiative aimed at attracting, retaining and advancing women in the technology organization. Tracy has a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and has several years of engineering experience at Adobe, HP and Intel including leading software development and technical program management teams.
Before joining Intuit, Tracy paused her tech career to take care of her kids for five years. During that time, she co-founded a non-profit girlSPARC which is dedicated to increasing the number of girls exposed to STEM at the elementary and middle school level.
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