As discussed in chapter 4, our schools, communities, and nonprofits rely on the unpaid help of stay-at-home parents. These jobs range from things as simple as baking cookies for the annual school picnic to running major fundraising campaigns. While you are pausing your career, you get to choose with whom and where you share your talents. Smart, modern women understand that unpaid volunteer work can be a powerful tool in their career development.
Consider Atsuko Jenks. She was born and raised in Japan before coming to the United States to study business, where she met her American husband. After graduating, Atsuko worked for Williams-Sonoma assisting them in their efforts to reach the Japanese market. After her second daughter was born, she decided to pause. Atsuko knew she would eventually want to re-enter and knew she needed to keep up her skills and network so she joined the education foundation of her daughters’ school district to help run its multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign.
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“I knew I wanted access to high-profile executives, but I was out of the paid workforce. I realized one of the best ways for me to do that was to talk with them about our schools,” Atsuko said. “I was invited as a guest into the homes of some of the biggest names here in Silicon Valley. That network has been essential for me in my current business.”
Today, Atsuko is a strategic advisor to Japanese companies that want to do business in the United States and to American companies interested in doing business in Japan. She sits on the board of the U.S.-Japan Council and is working to help the Japanese government increase more women in its workforce. Given her current success, you’d never know she was out of the paid workforce for nearly a decade. Atsuko understood the importance of setting herself up for future success while she was pausing her career.
For many women I spoke to it was the connections they made while they were volunteering that helped them relaunch. Take Alison Cormack, for example. She left a satisfying career at Hewlett Packard after the birth of her second child. She knew it was risky, but she felt her family needed her. Like many stay-at-home moms, Alison was an active community volunteer. But rather than focus on in-classroom efforts, Alison used her time and talents to strategically advance her skills, network, and marketability. She joined the Palo Alto Library Foundation board and chaired its Better Libraries campaign formed to pass a $76 million bond to rebuild and modernize the town’s libraries.
It was a Palo Alto Library Foundation board colleague who helped Alison land a job at Google. “He worked there and knew I was job hunting. I told him I had found a job posting at the company online. He helped me navigate the recruiting process and recommended me to my current boss. It was, without a doubt, my new network and that leadership role as a volunteer that helped me onramp.”
Alison not only used her volunteer experience to help relaunch her second (paid) career, she also used the expanded group of contacts she made while she volunteered. This strategic use of her time and human capital enabled Alison to work, pause, and thrive.
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