It’s been a busy quarter for the Women Back to Work team. We’ve been focused on implementing our Full Service Returnship at Cisco. The WBW Returnship is one of the most comprehensive and effective ways to engage talented women looking to return to the workforce.
In just a few weeks, a phenomenal group of returners with a background in Project/Program Management and Software Engineering will start their 16-week paid ‘Returnship’ at Cisco systems. These career hopefuls will spend their Returnship immersed in Cisco culture, working with seasoned employees, and learning the latest tools and platforms, all while being mentored by Cisco’s leadership.
The Returnship, which is an internship for experienced professionals looking to re-enter the workforce after a hiatus, is at the heart of WBW’s mission, and provides companies access to an untapped talent pool that reinforces their commitment to inclusion and diversity in the workplace
To kick off the Returnship program, Cisco and WBW partnered to host a cohort of over 90 returners in March. Women Back to Work is powered by Akraya, a leading staffing firm, which means that all returnees were fully screened and qualified to thrive in their new roles. A significant effort also went into tapping into underrepresented communities, to find talent from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds.
On an individual level, we had the pleasure of speaking at length with our returners, Margaret Seery, who has taken charge of her ‘return to work’ journey and attended our Returnship event.
We asked Margaret (pictured right) to share her perspective on the program from the eyes of a returner. Below are the highlights from our conversation:
WBW: Please tell our readers a bit about yourself, your professional journey, and your path as a woman returning to work
Margaret: My name is Margaret Seery, and I am a STEM reentry professional, who seriously began to take action in relaunching my career beginning this year. I’ve spent the last few years putting thought into how and in what capacity I want to return to work, cultivating a growth mindset, and bringing my skills back up to speed.
I did my Masters in Telecommunication Engineering; and spent most of my 20-year career in the area of software development, specifically for voice and data network equipment. Right out of college, I started as a software developer, spending 10 years doing that, before moving into managing technical projects for the latter half of my career. My last role, before I took a career break, was as a lab director. I helped build a lab in Raleigh for a company called Pulsecom, and I successfully hired a team of engineers during my time there.
After my second child was born, I decided to take a break from work. Shortly after that, my husband who was also in tech, accepted a job with a startup in Silicon Valley. We moved to the Bay Area, and after a 5-year career pause, I began thinking about going back to work. However, around that time in 2003, both my daughters were diagnosed with a genetic condition: a chronic illness that requires a lot of routine, work, and medical care to maintain their health. That was a big red flag, indicating to me that this is not the time to relaunch my career. Instead I threw myself into caring for my children, making sure that they had the tools that they needed to be healthy until a cure for this disease is found. This extended my career break to 19 years!
WBW: What challenges did you encounter while trying to relaunch your career?
Margaret: The 19-year break is definitely one of the greater challenges I’ve faced in trying to find work. It is a very long gap! It’s really the first thing anyone sees when I apply for a job online, and it disqualifies me, even if I am a good match based on my background. I have a lot of energy, and great passion for technology, which I haven’t been able to convey through a resume that shows a 19-year gap.
I have been part of many notable career relaunch groups during my journey to re-enter the workforce. And although they have all been great, I have never really had a chance to be a part of the job search process or speak to people who are in the position to make hiring decisions. This is where Women Back to Work comes in for me.
WBW: Would you say this differentiates Women Back to Work from similar programs?
Margaret: Yes, absolutely! I have been involved with many such programs that put together returnships, but I find that WBW has a unique approach that makes it very personal and more effective for individuals like myself. WBW also maintained constant contact with me and kept me up to date on all developments in the days leading up to the kick-off event, adding to that very personal touch.
This personal interaction with actual hiring managers becomes part of the job search process, and I am able to convey my energy as well as my skills to a real person versus simply submitting my resume online and hoping for the best.
Another key difference is the deep relationship that WBW has built their clients. In this case its Cisco. The tight WBW/Cisco relationship is very evident in all their interactions. This is something that I haven’t come across with the other programs.
WBW: Speaking of WBW, how did you hear about us and the Cisco Returnship?
Margaret: This is a great story! As I mentioned, I belong to several different forums and communities for returners such as myself. I happened to be on a Facebook forum, and another member who was on the same forum saw a flyer for the Returnship event, screenshotted it and posted it to the group! That’s how I got in touch with WBW.
WBW: Did you attend any of our Power Hours?
Margaret: As soon as I saw the flyer, I put it on my calendar. I came in for one of the Power Hours on Tuesday where I had the opportunity to meet with WBW Program Manager Deepika Chhibber (pictured right), WBW Founder Sonu Ratra, and Cisco Account Manager Pam Banerjee (pictured right). They spent time assessing my resume and what I had to bring to the table for possible employers. The soon shortlisted me to attend the Returnship Kick-off event at Cisco on the 15th of March. I was also informed by Deepika that I had been selected for an onsite interview at Cisco for a Returnship position. Deepika and Pam have been very involved in helping me prep for this interview.
WBW: What was your expectation from the kick-off event before you actually attended it?
Margaret: My expectation was that we would come in, have an introductory presentation, meet the hiring managers, and then network with Cisco leadership and other returners. While I have attended other networking events in the past, they have felt more like career fairs. The Cisco event was very different from several standpoints.
First, the initial introductions were done by executives at Cisco who are at a high enough level to have serious impact on the rest of the organization and on the importance of a Returnship event like this.
Second, the people who have taken the initiative to move this program forward were the ones who made the introductory speeches. There were also hiring managers present with whom we could engage with in a Q and A session. This was a unique delivery on a half-day event that really stood out in my mind and made it far more valuable.
WBW: Was there any one thing during the event that stood out as a highlight to you?
Margaret: I really enjoyed the delivery by Andrea Lim (Enterprise Networking Chief of Staff, Cisco) (pictured right). Her talk was so impactful, and it came from a place that was genuine. She spoke about her time at NetApp, where she had helped bring a colleague who had taken a 10-year career break back in to the company in a contract role.
Andrea has since moved to Cisco, but the person she brought in to NetApp continued on to a full-time role there. This made a real impression on me, and it is evident in the work that Andrea has done for returners, that this is a person who walks the talk.
Ravi C (VP of Engineering, Cisco), also made an impression on me. He had worked with Cisco in its early days, did some start up work, and then went back to Cisco. It was interesting to talk to someone like that, who has broad perspective on the company and its culture having been there for such a long time. He has seen the shifts in the industry and how adaptive Cisco has been to the way networking has evolved. I got a good feeling that even though Cisco has grown to be a huge company, there is this cohesive culture there that makes it an exciting place for people to devote a long part of their career to.
WBW: Has this event shifted your approach to your ongoing job search?
Margaret: Yes, I believe that attending this event has led to a shift in my strategy in looking for work. In the past, my job search was entirely from behind my laptop. Even now I spend a considerable part of my time doing that, in learning Python and SQL, and studying for my PMP. My mindset, however, has changed now in understanding the importance of broadening my network and meeting people in a job search. This is really how people are finding jobs these days, and this is especially important for people with career pauses.