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Hidden Figures

An ode to the powerful history of Black relaunchers

By Shannon Amspacher

As we mark the start of February, and with it, Black History Month, we also are reflecting on the incredible contributions of Black professionals, and the importance of recognizing the historical experience of Black people in our countries, in our communities and in our workplaces.

These contributions are significant and powerful, and the influence of the Black community permeates every aspect of our culture and society today. However, these accomplishments and achievements haven’t always been acknowledged widely or celebrated in highly visible ways.

In recent years, we have seen a moderate rise of more diverse representation in arts and in industry. While there is still much more progress to be made, thanks to certain directors, producers and actors in the film industry, (and those in other industries) we are all the beneficiaries when the stories and art of Black individuals and their experiences are showcased and brought to the forefront of society.

One such instance is the popular 2016 movie, Hidden Figures. It is because of this film, many are (now) familiar with the invaluable work of several Black women mathematicians, engineers and computers at NASA…work that was critical to the success of NASA’s Project Apollo to put a man on the moon.

We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to highlight the legacy of two of these women, their excellence, and their connection to relaunching careers.

A historical and pioneering relauncher…

Central character in the Hidden Figures film played by Taraji P. Henson, NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. took a career break in 1939 to start her family with James Goble and raise their daughters until her eventual relaunch back into teaching.

After learning from a family relative about the open positions at the all Black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA's) Langley laboratory, led by Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine began the chapter of her career as a computer and aerospace technologist that she is most well-known for in 1953 until her retirement from NASA in 1986.

Danae Aicher Headshot

When I decided to dedicate all of my time and services to my new baby at the time, I understood it to be a revolutionary act. I was doing what our ancestors hoped for us to do...and that is to focus on our children and to our communities and nurture and grow them.

I understood it as the revolutionary act that it was and I took it so seriously [and] when I was pregnant when I found Mocha Moms...and I knew I [was] going to need some support.

Danae Aicher Quote from The Black Relaunchers Perspective Panel with Mocha Moms, Inc.
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Legacies that live on in the present…

Another legendary NASA mathematician memorialized in the Hidden Figures movie is another member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Dorothy Vaughan. Dorothy’s legacy lives on today through her descendants, like her granddaughter, Maida Robinson.

Maida Robinson is the Chief Administrative Officer at Rye Presbyterian Church, responsible for a variety of management functions including finance and accounting; fundraising; and preservation of the church's building and grounds. Maida spoke at the 2017 and 2018 iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences about her experience as a relauncher. She is a CPA and holds an MBA from Florida A&M University.

Maida Robinson at the 2017 iRelaunch Return to Work Conference at Columbia University in NYC with iRelaunch's Senior Director of Events, Sarah Mills

Maida Robinson at the 2017 iRelaunch Return to Work Conference at Columbia University in NYC with iRelaunch's Senior Director of Events, Sarah Mills

Maida has held various finance and accounting positions at Abbott Laboratories; PepsiCo, Inc.; and PricewaterhouseCoopers. During her career break to raise a family, Maida became involved in several community service projects. She served as Co-President of the Blind Brook PTA and the board of the Connecticut/Westchester Chapter of Ellevate Network, a global network of professional women. Maida currently serves on the board of The Port Chester Carver Center which builds brighter futures by serving, educating, and empowering families in the community.

Kuae Kelch Mattox Headshot

So first off, why are we here? Why are we having a panel called The Black Relaunchers' Perspective? Why is it important to talk about the unique issues that Black women face when relaunching their careers?

Quote from The Black Relaunchers Perspective Panel with Mocha Moms, Inc.
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The intersectionality of "hidden" identities

We often refer to the relauncher talent pool as one that is a hidden talent pool…because far too often, those in recruiting or management positions see a gap on a resume and immediately pass that candidate over. They fail to look past that career break to see the existing talent, the ongoing learning experiences and acquiring of new skills during this “break” and the individual's potential for growth.

Instead of screening for potential or remaining curious and empathetic about career breaks, those without the “traditional” sequential work history have their career and life narratives written for them by the hiring managers and recruiters. Assumptions are made of their perceived obsolescence or lack of recent experience and those with the authority to make decisions disqualify them from the hiring process. Our work at iRelaunch is laser-focused on challenging and removing this bias, because dismissing someone’s entire professional history simply because of a gap on their resume is not a productive way forward.

Danae Aicher Headshot

Well, I would say that for as much as we share with anyone who has stepped out of the professional workforce for any variety of reasons, what we also know is that laying on the extra layer of race presents its own set of unique issues, that are unfair.

Danae Aicher Quote from The Black Relaunchers Perspective Panel with Mocha Moms, Inc.

And yet, as the title of the film implies, far too often, Black professionals and in particular Black women’s successes and achievements both in and out of the paid workforce are hidden, diminished or simply never recognized. So, what of the challenges and barriers that exist when they do take a step away from their careers and their professions? And when they choose to return, what elements of an already difficult job search are exacerbated by their identities as both a relauncher and a Black woman?

Danae Aicher Headshot

It definitely has to be called out and call it what it is - racism. If people are discriminating by name, because most of everything now is virtual, so you can't see the person face to face. And if you see a resume that has an ethnic name or Afro-centric name, then it's easy to discriminate behind closed doors.

White sounding names are 50% more likely to get called back for initial interviews than applicants with uniquely African-American sounding names. White job applicants with higher quality resumes receive 30% more callbacks than white applicants with low-quality resumes. But what African-Americans and Black applicants experience is only 9% more callbacks with the same improvement in their credentials.

Danae Aicher Quote from The Black Relaunchers Perspective Panel with Mocha Moms, Inc.
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Committed to unlocking opportunity and networks…

We’re pleased to highlight the efforts of iRelaunch Diversity Lead, Janet Peterson is a relauncher, an HBCU grad, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Mocha Moms. She is focusing her outreach efforts to the relaunchers in the Black community to ensure these opportunities and networks are accessible to all.

Janet with AKA Sorors
Kuae Kelch Mattox Headshot

Access to opportunity and to these networks is one of the biggest challenges that Black women face when relaunching. We have to work harder to find those opportunities...they are not handed to us.

Kuae Kelch Quote from The Black Relaunchers Perspective Panel with Mocha Moms, Inc.
70th Annual AKA Boule Crowd

A glimpse of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated's 70th Boule

iRelaunch was proud to be an Emerald and Gold level sponsor for the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated's 69th and 70th Boule. There were more than 11,000+ attendees at these events and our booth was buzzing with questions relaunching! Members were able to register and join our job board.
I Relaunch Exhibit Table at 2022 Jack and Jill Mothers Work Conference

iRelaunch Exhibit Table at Jack and Jill Mother's Work Conference

Janet hosted the iRelaunch exhibit table at the Southeastern Region of Jack and Jill Mother's Work Conference in Savannah, GA. There were 560 Moms from GA, FL, AL, TN, MS in attendance who participated in workshops and planning sessions to build out their 2023 Programming Agenda.
Learn more about Jack and Jill
2022 Local AKA Chapter Panel Presenter Janet Peterson

Local Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Chapter Workshop Presenter

Janet was a workshop presenter to over 100 members at her local Phi Phi Omega Chapter in Alpharetta, GA. Members of this chapter were able to learn about how to relaunch their careers and learn about our October Return to Work Conference. In 2023, Janet will initiate a job networking Sister Circle which will inform members of returnship opportunities and how to utilize the iRelaunch Roadmap for career reentry.
Celebrating Juneteenth 2022 at Eagles Nest

Janet hosted the iRelaunch vendor table at the 2022 Juneteenth event at Eagles Nest Church in Roswell, GA

This historic event was a 1st for both iRelaunch and Eagles Nest Church with over 1,500 attendees at this event. Members of the Roswell community were able to learn about ways to relaunch their career, register for our job board and Return to Work Conferences.
Watch the recap of this event on Instagram!

Don't relaunch alone!

Join our growing relauncher communities on Facebook and LinkedIn. For more great guidance on your relaunch and updates on when return to work programs are accepting applications, events for relaunchers and more, be sure to sign up for our Return to Work Report and follow us on social media to stay informed!

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