Nichelle Harrison is all too familiar with the obstacles women face when trying to enter the workforce after taking time off. Harrison left her job as marketing director after her husband was relocated for his job. Like many women, her time off lasted longer than anticipated, and when it was time to return to work, she wasn’t getting called back or even invited for initial interviews.
Harrison realized there was a serious problem with qualified women applicants returning to work due to their “gap,” as she refers to it, and so she decided to start the MAP Agency. The MAP Agency works to pair qualified women returning to the workforce with jobs that suit their needs and interests.
Harrison realized this need through her own experiences.
“I was applying for things that I was very well-qualified for. I started talking to other women and I started hearing my story from other women,” she says. “They were applying and not hearing back, even though they were intelligent, qualified women.”
Women who try to return to the workforce after being away are often turned down because of a perceived change in priorities or inability to catch back up with the working world, Harrison says. She explains that many employers overlook very qualified candidates because they assume they won’t be as driven or have lost ground in terms of technology.
“I think anytime companies see that gap on the resume, they see it as a red flag. They think, ‘It’s going to take too much time to bring her up to speed,’ or ‘We don’t have the time or money to invest in that,’ or ‘She’s going to always put her family first and probably take more time off,’” Harrison says. “They don’t want to invest the time or the money or they think that her priorities will be askew. They can be a mom and a great worker.”
Unlike many staffing agencies, Harrison works closely with all of her clients to ensure that each one finds the right fit. Sometimes that includes a career change, and it can mean a part- or full-time position. She also works to ensure that each client has ample resources to achieve her career goals. The MAP Agency also organizes workshops, seminars, and community partnerships to help create a network of resources for each client.
Thus far, Harrison has organized a transition workshop to help deal with the reality of returning to work, and several resume-building seminars. She plans a partnership with the local branch of Women Who Code to offer technology classes for all experience levels.
Harrison also helped launch a return to work program at Michelin that is organized like an internship, to aid adults returning to the workforce after an extended absence. The program has a definitive end in which clients have an updated resume and more experience, as well as a possible offer to continue working with Michelin. Harrison has placed one client, Amy Dammers, in the program, and has a working relationship with Michelin to continue the program.
“As Forbes’ No.1 large employer in 2018, Michelin is proud to support pathways for parents, like [Amy] Dammers, to return to the workforce,” said Janet Krupka, director of recruiting for Michelin North America, “At Michelin, the value of gender diversity is widely acknowledged and is a priority. We look forward to building on Michelin’s relationship with the MAP Agency as a way to connect with parents, especially mothers, in our community who are interested in returning to the workforce.”
Dammers was Harrison’s first client success story, and Dammers’ story resonated with her, like the many others.
“Life kind of moves forward and you’re always wanting to go back, but then another move would happen, and it just didn’t work out until now. The intent was always to go back, but sometimes it just takes a little longer than you expect,” Dammers says.
Dammers says the experience has been invaluable. She has updated valuable skills, learned from her colleagues, and re-acclimated to the office environment.
“She’s been a great source and helpful in networking with other women,” Dammers says of Harrison, and she is grateful for the opportunities and resources that she now has access to.
Harrison isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In the past months, her membership has grown and she has had more success placing clients than ever. She is planning a women’s conference in the fall to help women returning to the workforce have up-to-date tools to feel confident about their return. She says she hopes to grow her geographic reach throughout the Upstate, plan more seminars and workshops, and continue to work with women, and even men, who are dealing with adversity in their career searches.
Harrison stresses the importance of support from other local women who are in positions to help.
“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Empowered women empower other women,’” Harrison says. “I am so thankful for my circle of empowered women who are coming forward and helping me to spread the mission of highlighting the value and overall importance of keeping and helping women return to the workforce.”
Harrison knows she is taking only a small step in changing the way that recruiters look at women, or even men, who have taken an extended absence from work.
“We still have a long way to go to get those stigmas removed and to get them to look at these women as professionals, not just someone who left work for their kids or whatever other reasons,” she says.
“Now everyone, both men and women, wants to spend time with their families and it shouldn’t be choosing between success at home and success in work. You can have both,” Harrison says. “It isn’t just a women’s problem anymore, it’s an everybody problem.”