Michelle Seabourn may be an account specialist in global supply chain who got her start at NASA, but the approach she takes to her first task of the day — waking up teenagers — is decidedly less scientific.
“I try to wake them up by singing annoying songs,” Seabourn, who lives with her family in Connecticut, recently joked. “I usually have to make many repeat attempts before they’re fully awake.”
For several years, her day would then unfold with a predominant focus on family responsibilities, as Seabourn took an extended career break to stay home with her kids. But in 2018, following a stint in business consulting for social enterprises in Asia, she made a full-time return to a career in supply chain by joining Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (UTC). Today, she’s thrilled to walk into an office each morning where she says the culture is “positive and life-giving.”
“I’m able to contribute my best work in a place where I feel respected, valued, and safe, and where work-life balance is encouraged by management,” Seabourn said. “Pratt & Whitney promotes an atmosphere of learning, where it is okay to ask for help. As someone who is not only new to the company but is also returning to the corporate workforce as a working mom, I’ve had quite a steep learning curve over the last year. I couldn’t have learned as much as I have without my colleagues’ willingness to answer my questions.”
The culture of support and learning, she added, has made a world of difference in overcoming the uncertainty that so often accompanies a significant life change like returning to the workforce. And nowhere is evidence of this support more clearly demonstrated than in UTC’s Re-Empower Program, a career re-entry initiative the company launched in partnership with iRelaunch and the Society of Women Engineers.
As a participant of the paid, 16-week program herself, Seabourn was able to receive coaching, work experience, and mentorship, including from company leaders. Though she says the program was “such a gift” overall, one of the pieces she personally found the most impactful was a workshop on elevator pitches during Re-Empower’s orientation.
“This exercise boosted my confidence and changed my perspective. It’s easy to focus only on the deficits of your skills when returning from a long career break, and this can negatively affect your confidence at times when you need it most,” she said. “The Re-Empower orientation speakers and activities made it clear that the things we learned and experienced during our career break are the very things that set us up for success.”
Today, she’s applying her unique background and perspective with confidence to the aerospace industry as a full-time Pratt & Whitney employee. And it’s the day-to-day opportunities for collaborating and solving problems with others, she added, that make this career move all the more gratifying.
“I love working with people to identify and solve problems together, and I also like working together toward a common, worthwhile goal,” she said. “This world is made of beautiful people and I like being part of a company that makes it possible to connect cultures and ideas through the quality products we make.”
In an effort to pay it forward, Seabourn also shared some of the biggest takeaways she’s learned from her experience re-entering the workforce for other caregivers who are considering doing the same.
1. Take advantage of online resources.
“Take advantage of online classes through sites like Coursera and Lynda, and familiarize yourself with the latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or any other software used in your industry. You could also subscribe to industry journals to get up-to-date on the current lingo and news stories.”
2. Write an elevator pitch.
“Write a 30-second elevator pitch to state what kind of job you are looking for. I found it helpful to think about what motivates me to contribute my best and what things energize me. That helped me identify what types of companies and roles I would like to pursue.”
3. Notify your network.
“Tell them that you’re on the job hunt and clearly state what you want to do. Networks tend to turn up more solid leads than online job search applications alone!”
4. Once you’ve landed your next role, see your colleagues as a resource.
“Make a genuine effort to know your colleagues. You will have many questions as you re-enter, and meeting people along the way can help you feel more connected and engaged. These people become sources of encouragement and invaluable knowledge as you adjust to your new role.”
5. And finally — give yourself some grace.
“Be confident in who you are. You may need to catch up on specific skills, but you have a wealth of experience outside of the industry that others do not. These things are what make you adaptable and give you a unique perspective on situations you will face in the workforce. Give yourself grace to make mistakes and have courage to keep showing up the next day, ready to learn. With patience and dedication, you will soon find yourself in a place where you can again be a productive contributor.”
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