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Ep 6: Return to work : Tami Forman, Chief Executive, Path Forward & Contributor, Forbes Women

Updated: Jul 22, 2023


Hello, Sirisha here! Today's guest interview is with Tami Forman from Path Forward. Join me as we talk about all the resources available at Path Forward, returnship programs and networking tips for anybody looking to return to work. Come, let's #paintlifetogether!

Follow us on Instagram @womencareerandlife and don't forget to listen & subscribe to the podcast here!

Below is a transcript of the episode, slightly modified for reading.


[00:58] - Tami's story [Jump to section]

[04:24] - Returnships... [Jump to section]

[10:18] - Path Forward...Networking... [Jump to section]

[14:32] - Support for returnees [Jump to section]

[17:20] - Systemic Change [Jump to section]

[19:47] - Forbes articles [Jump to section]

[25:27] - Board of Advisors... Information Interviews [Jump to section]

[28:42] - Note to your 21-year-old self... [Jump to section]

Food for thought. Episode takeaways [Jump to section]


Tami's story [00:58]

Sirisha: Hello, everyone, welcome to the women's career and life podcast. We're really excited to have Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward with us today. This is the series on returning to work. So Tami, before we dwell into the organization, we wanted to learn a little bit more about you, who you are, what motivates you in this journey, where you are with a path forward at this point.

Tami: First of all, thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited to be on the podcast. So I started out my career after college in media in New York City. I worked in book publishing for a while, I moved to digital media in the late 90s. Because there was a lot of interesting things happening at that time in New York, eventually ended up at a small software company, doing marketing. Corporate marketing, so running PR and corporate communications and that kind of stuff. While I was at that company, I had my daughter and took maternity leave, I had my son, I took another maternity leave. Around the time that I was working and having my children, they were starting the HR department. Other executives as well, at this company were working with the National Center for Women in information technology, to try to help to close the gap of women, both in technology, jobs and in leadership. I was someone who had always felt like this was important, right, that there was a stall that had happened in terms of women's workforce participation rates, and really their advancement within the workforce. Women were working, but they weren't necessarily advancing at the same rate, there were a bunch of things that were happening and one of them was, the HR department started a returnship program. I thought, well, this is fantastic. I love that we're doing this and I'm also the head of PR. So this gives me a perfect opportunity to talk about a great and cool initiative that my company is running.

We started to get some attention, both from the press but also from other companies who started reaching out to our executives to say, hey, this thing you're doing getting women back to the workforce, that's cool. Could you basically help us, could we have a chat about what you're doing and how you're doing it, that led to the CEO of that company deciding to start a nonprofit organization? In order to make it possible for other companies to get help, I'm creating and launching and implementing these kinds of programs. So, having never worked for a nonprofit in my life, I felt very strongly and passionately that this was an important initiative. Something that if I got involved could be really meaningful for me, but also have a huge impact on the world. So that's went from media to software marketing, to running a nonprofit organization.

Sirisha: That is a fantastic journey. As you said, you have gone from working in more art type, in that kind of industry, to a tech job, now to running a nonprofit and so many career pivots along the way, keeping your underlying theme of your media and content management. So that's a really cool way. I think the returnship process spoke to your own journey, having to go through two maternity leaves. Both, Usha and I have taken similar breaks and come back to work, so that resonates with us. Can you actually talk a little bit now more about Path Forward and what you do? What type of roles and is it just more US-centric or does it have a more global presence as well?

Returnships... [04:24]

Tami: As I said, it started out this initiative within this small company. As other companies start reaching out, the realization among a few of us was like, wow, there's a real opportunity here to expand the opportunities available to people who are trying to restart their careers, focusing on employers, right, by focusing on creating more demand. At that point, a lot of things out there that were a little more focused on kind of like helping women, right, whether they were reskilling or coaching or conferences or things like that, that were sort of focused on helping women find a way back into the workforce. That's all real important work, but we felt like there was an opportunity to focus on like, well, let's get employers to create more demand, right, let's create more opportunities. So we've focused our efforts on finding employers who have been through this kind of program and this kind of talent, and then also making it easier for them. So helping their HR teams to set up the program, training their recruiters and their hiring managers on how to interview, how to review resumes, how to onboard someone into a return ship, how to manage them for three or four, six months, however long the program is, and how to set them up to be successfully converted at the end if they do a great job and it's the right fit on both sides.

Helping HR teams to setup programs, train their recruiters and their hiring managers, on how to interview, review resumes, how to onboard someone into a returnship, how to manage them and set them up to successfully convert if they do a great job and our the right fit

So we felt like there was a real opportunity to get companies, to do these programs and to do them well, to create really good high-quality programs. So that's what we do. We launched five years. ago, we've now worked with about 85 companies, it'll be close to 100 by the end of the year of all sizes. So we started out with a lot of small to midsize tech companies. As we grew, and as we show that this could be, this could have an impact and that companies could find great talent, we started to move up into bigger fortune 500 companies. We've now worked with Walmart, Apple and Amazon, Facebook, and all kinds of great companies that are running these programs, we work with mostly tech companies.

Tech companies, as everyone knows, have had an insatiable desire for talent over the last several years, COVID, notwithstanding their hiring needs have been high. So there's a lot of opportunity in that sector, which is, I think, one of the reasons why they're so eager to tap into any kinds of hiring programs that can help them with that. The tech sector has also been focused on diversity, particularly gender and balancing out their technical teams. Even as we've worked with many tech companies, we've worked with tech companies on a variety of roles. So certainly many companies are looking for female engineers and we have, you know, worked with companies on hiring many, many, many female engineers, but also roles that are what we think of as tech adjacent roles that are things like customer success, product management, project management, possibly even certain kinds of product marketing roles, things like that, where it's not a hands on the keyboard development job, but it requires some technical facility, understanding technical concepts and being able to work with technical materials. Then corporate jobs, right companies, tech companies still need HR and they need finance, and they need corporate marketing and branding, and all those other things that every other company needs. So it's been across the board in terms of the jobs that people have hired returnees into.

Female engineers, also roles that are tech adjacent like customer success, product management, project management, product marketing that require understanding of some technical concepts

Sirisha: That's excellent. Actually, I know a few people in my own company and other friends who have gone through these returnship programs and come back to work. It's a fantastic program, like you said, yes, there's a sector that addresses women and for us to feel empowered to come back. But it's good that on the other side that there are corporations working actively to do this. It gives the facility for both the person who is looking at the opportunity and the employer to evaluate each other and see if they're a good fit. So, yeah, this is what adds to it. Right. It's sort of a trial period for everyone to say, is this a fit? Because it's a challenge to return, that transition can be quite hard when you break. I recently saw on your website that Amazon is putting together 1000 returnships.

Tami: Amazon has really raised the bar on this type of programming because I think it's one of those questions about, can these programs scale? I think we're starting to see that, yeah, there's some companies that are starting to set higher goals that are looking to bring in 100 people, 50 people, obviously, Amazon looking to bring in 1000, it's great. I think it's all for the good and shows how valuable this workforce is.

Usha: It's all so fascinating how the landscape has changed over the last, I want to say just five, six years because I remember when I took a break, and I tried to get back into work, it was early 2015, late 2014 is when I started thinking, I saw some resources. Then quite honestly, I got back to work, I did not see as many returnship programs. Now when we were looking up to see what was out there, I was shocked at the amount of progress that has been made. So it's very, very encouraging. It's, it's just awesome. I'm going to put on a listener hat and ask you a question. So it's a lot of information that we see when we come to these websites. But if I was a listener, and I'm looking at getting back to work in the next three to six months, and I come to Path Forward, what can I do other than signing up for alerts, what would be three things I could do to set myself up for success over the next six months?

Path Forward...Networking... [10:18]

Tami: I always recommend, sign up for our newsletter for sure. That's how we get information about opportunities with our employers. So that's kind of the mechanism we use. There's also ways to navigate our site to find, jobs in your area, jobs in your discipline jobs by company, so you can kind of really explore what those opportunities are. But beyond that, I tell people, so I say the word 'networking' and everybody's like, Oh, why did she say that word? Why do I have to do that? And I really want to change how people think about networking because I think part of the reason why we dread it is because we think of it as like, Oh, I gotta go ask someone to help me find a job and they're not gonna want to. And that's going to be terrible and a lot, right, I just I'll just let me just go on the job boards and click Apply 700 times, which is just going to get you nowhere.

So I like to encourage people to think about networking, as having conversations and getting knowledge and learning about what's out there and what the opportunities are for you and think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow and, gain knowledge and knowledge is power. So there are a couple things that I tell people because I think this is also hard because a lot of people will say to me, like, well, you know, I haven't worked in five or 10 years, like, everybody I worked with is retired or I, you know, are they going to remember me like? So first of all, there's a couple things, it's a great strategy to actually start with the people who are in your current network, who you may not think of as professionals, but maybe right so like, the person who runs your kids Cub Scout Troop, or the person who's you know, the class mom, or you know, the people at your, at your synagogue, or mosque or church, right? Like the people in your neighbourhood. If you're used to hanging out with the other stay-at-home moms start hanging out with the working moms, ask them what they do, where they work. if you're still hanging out with stay-at-home moms, that's fine, ask them where their husband works. Start to network within your community, your true local community and you'll be surprised to learn people have fascinating lives outside of the school run and, that comes out of the meetings. So you can start there and work outwards.

Networking, having conversations and getting knowledge and learning about what's out there and what the opportunities are for you and an opportunity to learn and grow

I think of it as concentric circles, like starting with the people that are closest to you and then absolutely, positively reaching out to people you worked with. Even if it was a long time ago, I am delighted when I hear from someone who I used to work with, and they want to catch me up on what they've been doing and asked me for advice. I love it right we have a blog post on our website about how to approach someone, you're not going to go and say, Hey, I'm looking to go back to work. Can you help me find a job? That's not the first question you're going to ask. You're going to start with Hey, I am. You know, I remember working on this great project with you. And it's such a fun memory of mine. I'm looking to get back to work, I'm asking some people for advice. We'd love to catch, you know, 30,40 minutes with you to get some advice. Who's going to say yes to that? Of course, they will.

Usha: No, that's great. It's two things, right. The way we think of networking is always that you're stuck in this happy hour or maybe the networking where you have to just go up to people and talk. So that's the impression all of us have in our head, but to your point that simple things. I mean, we miss it to we never think of people in that circle. So that's great and then reaching out to people. Also, I think the whole informational interviews, approach, Siri and I have talked about it in a podcast is it is underutilized. I feel like even as we go through a career, not just that breakthrough the career to keep moving and understanding just that information. So great advice and then now going along with that process once somebody lands a returnship, through your website. Now, is that where your support ends? Or do you actually work through and I'm curious what happens after they finish their returnship?

Support for returnees [14:32]

Tami: Yeah. So, no, it doesn't end there. We support when we are working with an employer, we support the returnees that they hire through the length of their returnship. So we do that in all kinds of ways. It's all virtual now, obviously. We have some written materials that we share with people, but we also get them help on resumes. We have alumni from our prior programs come on and tell their stories and talk about what worked for them, kind of create this mutual support environment, all of it is focused on the transition back to the workforce. So any job training or skills training people need, they're going to get that, you know, either outside of the returnship itself or within it if they're working, depending on how they're working with that company in their manager. But our support is focused on getting feedback, setting yourself up for success, having a plan for how you're going to succeed within this within this program, the change in home responsibilities and how you're renegotiating what I sometimes call the home service level agreement that has changed significantly for a lot of folks, right. So we're doing all that and supporting folks through that process. About 80% of people who go through a path for returnship will get converted into a full-time offer will get offered ongoing employment with that employer, which is amazing. We have great examples of people who that particular role or that particular company wasn't the right fit for them. They weren't a fit for that role, but they are able to use that experience and move on to another company. They really are able to now show like, Hey, here's what I've done. Here's what I've learned.

About 80% of people who go through a path for returnship will get converted into a full time offer

Coming back to this networking idea, which I just talked about endlessly, as much as everybody rolls their eyes at me, part of what we're helping to support them through is like using that returnship as an opportunity to network like you are now with a whole bunch. So first of all, there's the people in your cohort, right? The other women and men who are going through the returnship at your company, there's the cohorts, the bigger cohort that we create, through Path Forward, where you get to meet those folks at other companies, they may have openings. Also obviously, the people at your company right outside of the returnship, your manager, the other people on your team, and it's a great opportunity to meet folks, and they will have connections into other companies. Then it just sort of blossoms from there. So we talked to returnees about how to make those connections, how to leverage them, and how to use that to get themselves into the next opportunity.

Returnship as an opportunity to network

Systemic Change [17:20]

Usha: And I think that's a lot of good advice I feel for men and women, in general, because life is no longer linear, even for men. So it's, it's great advice. I'm going to take you a little bit into your writing content will away from Path Forward and switch topics a little bit, because we spent some time going through your articles. There was this common theme that I could see, and you have to tell me if that's that's intentional, or it just comes naturally, is you talk about challenges, but you there's always the solution to the problem. Like you seem like a natural problem solver. You're not like, oh, there's a challenge, let's solve it, Is that right? Is that intentional? Or is that just your personality?

Tami: It's both. It's fairly intentional because it's my personality. I'm one of those people who is very bored by people admiring problems, like, Okay, let's stop talking about problems, let's start solving them. I would say I think it's very interesting, I think on the one hand, I recognize, when I'm writing my columns in Forbes, I always like to think that I'm talking to an individual person, right, I'm talking to a woman who's trying to navigate her career. And an individual, a woman cannot solve systemic problems, like none of us can do that by ourselves. There are things that we can do as individuals that help us to overcome the individual challenges that we're facing. It doesn't mean the systemic challenges aren't real. It doesn't mean I ignore them but it means that I see ways that how people show up, how they connect with other people, how they think about their own career journey, their own personal journey, how they tell their story. I see the real impacts that those individual choices can have within these contexts. So I want to give people advice that they can use to change their individual circumstances and hope that that's one more person who gets into a great position, who could work with me to make systemic change, where we can link hands and make a bigger systemic change, and make it easier for the next person. So we don't have to kind of work around all these barriers and obstacles.

Forbes articles [19:47]

Sirisha: I think that that really comes across right when you read your articles, the top thing says enabling people to navigate a high achieving carrier and a joyful life, I really like that joyful life part of it. You're speaking to each one of us because you're tackling different things. I thought it was funny when you said home license agreement. That's such a neat way of phrasing that agreement at home. I think with COVID, and a lot of conversations with colleagues be it men or women, and depending especially if they have children at home, of different ages, impacts life right now in the circumstances it is, so it really is a conversation to be had. It's a hard conversation, no doubt about it. Totally. And I think when you're talking about a system like that, and the networking, the networking can be leveraged not just for your career, right? It's also looking to women and men for advice on just how do I look for resources to manage my schedule better, or can I do something different? That sort of free's up that time and space we need. We cannot buy time. I think one of the things you talked about was other ways I can buy time, to make my life a little less stressful, so what are those ways to do that?

Tami: I like to talk about some of the part of the support that we give to returnees, I like to talk about and get them talking about the different ways that they solve some of these problems. One of the things I always say to people is like, Look, you don't have to do it the way I'm doing it, like, everybody's got to figure out their own way. I want to give you opportunities to think differently than you might have before. I want to give you permission to think about different ways that you could solve this problem. Think about different ways that you could give yourself the time and the space, that you need to be a whole human being and to do all the amazing things that you want to do. It's always interesting to me, when I do a workshop, and I'll say something, whatever, it doesn't matter, like we send our laundry out, because it's easier than then somebody having run down to the basement. And, you'll see kind of eyes go wide like, Oh, right and that's a silly example because obviously, lots of people think about stuff like that, but it's amazing. People don't like it, you know, I look at some people and I say like, you know, how much could that cost compared to how much you could potentially make if you were back in the workforce. That's a relatively easy trade and I really try to help women and men, but women, particularly to investigate the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we've been told, and made to tell ourselves.

How much could that cost to (outsource) compared to how much you could potentially make if you were back in the workforce

Sirisha: The Department of Labor Statistics, publishes that the value and the salary of a stay-at-home mom, which is like, over 150k, and it's interesting to see all the various hats you're wearing. It's something that you could even when you're talking about your return shift work experience, you can talk about your volunteering, you're running this marketing campaign or running the budget for your scout's organization, there are things in that, that you should pull out in leverage as part of your dialogue with the employer of choice. So even with your friends, you're trying to build that information network. Make sure you have all those pieces that you may not look as relevant, it is relevant because you're juggling things. That's what they're looking for that skill set to stay calm and pull all these pieces together really quickly, as well.

Tami: Yeah, absolutely. We have a blog post on our site that's about how to translate those transferable skills from your mom's life into the business language that a manager or recruiter will understand. Because you have been gaining skills, you've been gaining amazing skills.

Usha: I want to go back a little bit to where you were talking about the stories we tell ourselves. There's an article where you talk about taking the leap, how you have spoken with several leaders in these organizations that you work with, and how they wonder, sometimes they want to give a woman a promotion, but she may not be ready to take the leap because she has so many insecurities. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about in your own problem-solver style, how frequently it happens? And also what we could do to, unlearn some of the things we have learned.

Tami: You know, it's interesting, right? I think we all have, every strength can be a weakness, and vice versa. So I think one thing, and there's a lot of studies on this, like, men are far more likely to take risks. You know, and again, on average, right, everybody's an individual, but like, there's, there's lots of aggregated data on this. Women tend to be a little bit more cautious. I always feel about these things that like, it's a little bit of an act of balancing like there's some good things about the way a lot of women move through the world, like, it's not necessarily a bad thing to feel like you know, what you're doing before you go do it, or to do all those things. I don't think it's a question of throwing caution to the wind. I think there's a helpful story that women can tell that they can remind themselves of, of times that they have done something that they weren't totally sure of, or where they had to figure it out as they went along, where they knew a little bit but not everything and motherhood is a great example of that.

Board of Advisors... Information Interviews [25:27]

Sirisha: One thing that struck me when you said about the conversation, you talk also about personal board of advisors, and this is something which Usha and I talk about in our series on mentorship. Having a personal board of advisors career, it could be on finance, on life, on various, like four or five different areas, that it's good to have someone you could have those discussions and they don't have to be your peers. They could be people who are, say 20 years your senior, 20 years your junior, so you get different perspectives. I was wondering if you have come across that in your personal life or through path forward, or any of your other conversations, even through Forbes women article. So if you can speak to that.

Tami: Yeah, so you're gonna let me talk about networking again, which I love. So this is networking. You don't have to go out and be like, will you be on my personal board of advisors? I don't think anyone actually does that. It's more about thinking about what, where, where are there gaps between what you know, and have experienced and what you want to do, and who has a piece of knowledge that can help to fill in that gap. I think it is especially important for people in relatively small organizations. Although it can be true in any kind of organization, if you're on a very small marketing team, for example, it may be hard for you to get advice from someone who's got more experience. So finding someone who works at a slightly bigger company, either in your same job or in the job above yours. Like, hey, I have this question. I'm working on a campaign, I'd love to get some feedback. Here's the thing, I always tell people about networking in general, which is, it is important to remember that everyone loves to talk about themselves. It is everyone's single favourite subject is themselves. So if you send an email to somebody and say, Hey, I would love to hear about your career journey. Yes, we will love to talk about ourselves. So use that to your advantage and use that as a way to get people to take calls with you, and get some advice.

You will find pretty quickly that there are some people who are very amenable and will give great advice and other people, you know who not so much. Then you keep moving on and you sort of add to people as you go and as you grow. You'll need different kinds of advice from different kinds of people. I think the one thing the pandemic has done for us, is opened up the possibility of networking. It would have seemed, even for a Master networker that I like to think of myself, I would often feel awkward about asking someone to get on zoom. You would think you had to go, you know, you had to meet with them in person. That's kind of all gone away. I think we are in a new world where you can say to someone, Hey, I'd love to have a quick phone call with your I'd love to jump on a zoom. And learn more about what you do and how you got to where you are, I'm thinking about some different career options. Those can be just really great, rich conversations that will really help you advance yourself and give you the insights you need.

You'll need different kinds of advice from different kinds of people

Note to your 21-year-old self... [28:42]

Sirisha: I find today's conversation to be extremely fascinating, we started off talking about really returning to work but touched on networking and finding that balance empowering the men and not just the women. But we are reaching that time, so getting close to wrapping up. We ask every single guest the same question, what is the thing or one quality thing that you would write in a letter to your 21-year-old self that would help you in your journey both in your career and your life?

Tami: Oh, that's a great question. I think I would tell my 21-year-old self that you've been told a lot of lies. So you should know that people have lied to you about ambition and about motherhood. And that not only will having children, not make you less ambitious and driven, but will actually make you more so. Children will make you more ambitious than you could ever imagine. for one simple reason is that they are very, very expensive. It costs a lot of money. But more importantly, because you will suddenly feel a desire that you can't begin to imagine a desire to make the world better, that you will want them to grow up in a world that looks different than the one that you grew up in. That and as much as you might have thought and you might think, you little 21-year-old, Oh, yes, yes, I want the world to be a better place. Oh, yes, yes. I think long-term. Oh, yes. Yes, I would like to make a difference, nothing will clarify the idea around making the world better than a tiny little helpless newborn. Where you suddenly and that sense of time as like, Oh, if I want the world to be better for my daughter, she's 13. I've got like, less than, I don't know, six, seven years before she's like, thinking about entering the workforce. That's not a lot of time left, right? Like I gotta get move it I gotta make this better. I gotta go. I gotta go. I gotta go. So, that's what I would tell my 21-year-old yourself, having children will make you far more driven and ambitious to make an impact on the world than you can ever imagine.

Having children will make you far more driven and ambitious to make an impact on the world than you can ever imagine

Usha: That was from the heart. Thank you so much.

Tami: You're welcome.

Usha: Well, thank you so much for coming on this podcast. Thank you for Path Forward, the content you put out there for, building that positivity. For me the most the thing that resonated a lot also is , how you said, as individual women, you can have to play with the cards that are dealt out. Yeah, to a point to solve it until you can get to a point where you can lead systemic change, like what you're doing. I think that's a great way to think of it because it also sets you up to succeed now, but also as far to get to a point where you can lead systemic change. So I think it was great overall. So thank you so much. Again, Siri, I don't know if you want to add something before we wrap up.

Sirisha: I really like the fact when you when wrote your letter to your 21-year-old self, about changing that conversation, it's a journey, right? Your conversation is changing within yourself as you learn that you're working through the different stages of career or your life, and you gain those experiences. I want to echo similar to Usha's thoughts, you do what you can now, and then broaden your scope. We want to thank you so much.

Tami: Thank you so much for having me on. Thanks for reaching out. This was delightful. I really loved it.

Food for thought. Episode takeaways

Here is today's food for thought,

  • Networking, having conversations and getting knowledge and learning about what's out there and what the opportunities are for you and an opportunity to learn and grow

  • About 80% of people who go through a path for returnship will get converted into a full-time offer

  • Returnship as an opportunity to network

  • How much could that cost to (outsource) compared to how much you could potentially make if you were back in the workforce

  • You'll need different kinds of advice from different kinds of people

  • Having children will make you far more driven and ambitious to make an impact on the world than you can ever imagine

Resources Mentioned:

Similar Podcast Transcripts: Return to Work Season

Guest: Tami Forman

Guest Host: Usha

Host: Sirisha

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