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EP 280: From a Wall Street returnship to DEI leader: a relauncher reflects, with Jennifer Andrews

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EP 280: From a Wall Street returnship to DEI leader: a relauncher reflects, with Jennifer Andrews

Jennifer Andrews is an equity and inclusion expert who relaunched her career in 2015 as part of Credit Suisse's Real Returns program in their second cohort. After eight and a half years at Credit Suisse, Jennifer took on a new role leading the equity and inclusion efforts globally at Guardian Life, where she is today. We speak with Jennifer about her job search and experience relaunching through a returnship, how a volunteer position with her children’s school inspired her to pursue a career in DEI, as well as her career progression since her relaunch. Jennifer attended the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference in 2014 and will discuss the critical role of the Conference in her relaunch.

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Before we get started, I want to remind our listeners who are actively relaunching to be sure to register and upload your resume on our iRelaunch Job Board, because that is where employers go to find candidates who have gone on career break for their career re entry jobs and programs.

Today, we welcome Jennifer Andrews, an equity and inclusion expert who relaunched her career in 2015 as part of Credit Suisse's Real Returns program in their second cohort. Jennifer attended the iRelaunch conference in 2014 and we will talk about how that experience influenced her relaunch. After eight and a half years at Credit Suisse, Jennifer recently took on a new role leading the equity and inclusion efforts globally at Guardian Life.

Today we'll be speaking with Jennifer about her job search and experience relaunching through a returnship, as well as her career progression since her relaunch. Jennifer, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Jennifer Andrews: Thanks so much, Carol. I really appreciate you inviting me to be part of this podcast, and I'm really looking forward to this conversation.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, I am too, because we have known each other for a long time and through the entire arc of your conference experience and beginning your relaunching to where you are today. So it's very exciting and I thank you for being our guest today. Jennifer, I want to know if we can start with your career history and if you can tell our audience a little bit about what you did prior to your career break and what prompted it and then we'll pick up after that.

Jennifer Andrews: Okay, sure. So I started my career at IBM. I was in marketing and sales and management consulting, focusing on financial services firms. I later was hired away by one of my clients and I worked for a senior technology manager, really as his chief of staff, really helping him to really think about how he could transform that organization.

I then took, I decided to take a step back after I had my son. I originally went back to work, but I really was struggling on trying to figure out how do I effectively balance both my work and home life. My husband and I both had really demanding jobs, and really did not have a lot of flexibility.

This was before the remote working, that wasn't a thing at the time, so we decided that, it was made sense for me to step back and spend some time focusing on our family. I recognize that it was a huge luxury to even be able to make that choice. I know that everybody can't do that, but that's what we decided to do to just benefit our family holistically.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. And so you're on career break and can you tell us a little bit about, I know we talked about how long you were a career break, but just review that and talk about what led you to decide it's time for me to start looking around.

Jennifer Andrews: So there's a few things. One, my kids were getting older and they were more independent and really didn't need me around as much.

I was staying active, doing things, during the career break. I was volunteering, did some independent consulting, but I realized I wanted to do more. I wanted to have some new challenges and then to really be fully transparent, college became more and more of a reality. It was on the horizon.

We realized, having two incomes again would make a whole lot of sense.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, for sure. we talk about financial pressure or financial recognition, short term and long term, and it could be college tuition, it could be saving for retirement, a number of drivers that bring relaunchers back into the world from a financial perspective, as well as all the other aspects of being a first year.

So was there a moment where you woke up one day and thought this is the day or was it a gradual, and what were some of the early steps that you took?

Jennifer Andrews: So I guess it was somewhat gradual, just trying to figure out what do I want to do? What am I capable of doing? I knew up front, I didn't really want to go back to where I was before. I enjoyed the work, but I didn't love it. And I really felt I wanted to do something more people centric, working in, I knew I wanted to go back to work for a corporation, but maybe in a different capacity. So I thought, maybe human resources generically.

And then I thought maybe diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I got introduced to that specifically through my volunteer work, working as a volunteer at my children's independent school in New York city. So I thought maybe, possibly, but I really didn't know how to get started. It was I felt like a little nugget of a idea, but wasn't sure how to make that happen.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then, how did you hear about the iRelaunch conference and what were some of your experiences before and after that?

Jennifer Andrews: Once I decided I wanted to do this, I struggled with, how do I do this? Even sharing it with other people, because, I watched a lot of my peers, their careers soar while I was taking care of my kids. It was an important job, but it's a different type of job.

And I wasn't even sure if I wanted to even tell people I wanted to do it. But then I said, I always heard your network is your biggest asset. So I bit the bullet and started telling everybody that I wanna do this. I was worried about how they were gonna react, but everybody was so supportive. And actually doing, making that decision to share with my network that I wanted to do this is how I got introduced to iRelaunch. A friend of mine who's super success successful, somehow heard about your organization, I don't even know how. And she said to me, it sounds like this might be something you want to look into. The conference is coming up. Literally. It was like almost divine intervention because she probably told me about this, and maybe two weeks later was when you were having your annual conference. I signed up. I was like, I'm going. And that's really how I first got introduced to you all and how using my network helped me begin to really take that little nugget of an idea into something that felt like, oh, maybe it's possible.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And I just want to remind our audience that in 2014, and until COVID, our conference was an in person event and we would have it at university campuses in different areas of the country, and we had the New York area conference at NYU for a few years, and before we moved to Columbia, simply because of room capacity. And Jennifer and I were talking about when she went to the conference, we held it at NYU Stern.

It was an in person event. But the other thing I wanted to just highlight for our audience is your comments about going public with your job search, because a lot of us struggle with that. And I think it's in part a, I'm, what are people going to think? And are they, are they going to say say, what are you talking about?

You've been out of the workforce for X number of years, you're dreaming. Or, it also feels like you're going on record. And so then if people, it's like, what if people check up with me, check in with me in six months, a year or whatever. And I have to say, yeah, I'm job searching. And it just puts a little more

pressure on you.

Jennifer Andrews: Yes. I was like, were you in my brain? Cause literally all those things were going through my head at that time on can I really do this? What if I don't find something that people are going to ask me about it? Oh my goodness. Yes. All of that and more was happening. Yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You had talked to me about the conference being, I don't know if it was, I'd say it was as much of a turning point, but it was certainly a milestone along the way. Can you talk about why or what kind of experience you had there or what changed?

Jennifer Andrews: So I say it was an aha moment for me. I think I told you earlier, I don't really remember what the kind of speakers, who the speakers were, but what really stuck with me was the time I spent with a cohort of people at this time sitting around a table that were all in a similar position as myself, they wanted to try to figure out how to get back in the corporate world. And I guess one of the facilitators said something, and I'm paraphrasing, about, talk amongst ourselves about what do we do around our career break and how can we talk about it in an empowering way when we're talking to prospective employers.

And I really hadn't thought about that before. And so we did this and the responses I got from these strangers, what I was doing, they're like, Oh my gosh, that's so amazing. I mean, they all had amazing things they were doing. And it really made me feel empowered to say, I'm not going to shy away from this.

And I actually put on my resume the volunteer work I did during my career break, to this day, it's still on my resume, and to this day, it's an important part of what I talk about at any job interview, as I was introducing myself, you mentioned I'm now at Guardian Life, part of my introduction to the organization, I talked about it, and I talk about it proudly, and it's such an important part of my journey now.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, so much of what you're talking about resonates deeply with me, so I guess I wanted to understand a little bit more, or just maybe highlight when you're telling your story because so much, so many of us have a story, but you had this experience where other people were validating it, not only validating it, but celebrating it, and sometimes,

we're living our lives and we're doing these things that we do and we don't recognize, we can't get outside ourselves to recognize that. So, just you recounting it, feels like such a powerful moment. Question for you is that what happened next and did you have more conversations and tell people more about your background?

You said you changed your resume. What were some of the next milestone moments?

Jennifer Andrews: Right. So, you know, the first thing, literally, post conference is I updated my resume. I began to tell more people about the fact that I was doing this and began to talk more I think, proudly about my career break and continuing to share with my network

that this is what I want to do. And again, my network came through for me and I got connected to the Credit Suisse Real Returns Program through my sister in law who worked at Credit Suisse at the time. She's Oh, you're telling me you want to go back to work. Maybe you should look into this program.

And. I guess that the rest is history. So I applied for other things along the way, but this was the perfect re entry moment for me coming in with a cohort of people and really feeling like you had a community with you as you're on this journey, with other people who had similar kind of angst about doing this, who felt that maybe they weren't as relevant as they had once been.

So it was quite empowering. I did a, I guess training program when I came out of college, when I worked at IBM. Yeah, I lovingly say it's like a middle aged training program, where it was very, in some ways

Carol Fishman Cohen: Call it mid career career.

Jennifer Andrews: It was , ok, mid career training program.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. you know what?

I, Jennifer, I just want to stop you for a second there because I'm realizing, I want to paint a picture for our audience about what the landscape of career re entry programming looked like in 2014. Very different from where we are now with so many programs and the whole language about career re entry and normalizing career breaks.

That's the world we're living in now, but in 2014, I think Credit Suisse was one, that program was one of five nascent programs. I think Goldman started in 2008 and then we had the recession. JPMorgan started programming at the end of 2013, and then in 2014, Credit Suisse, MetLife, and Morgan Stanley started their programs, and it was like a huge milestone.

I remember watching on stage, people from the first cohorts of, for these programs, and I think a little further along with Goldman's because it was older, talk about how they returned to work through these amazing, transformative programs. And that's when I had a light bulb moment thinking, wow, we have a critical mass of career re entry programs in financial services.

Maybe we should take this concept to another sector. And that really began our conversations with the Society of Women Engineers and the very start of the STEM Reentry Task Force, which focused on the technology wave of hiring. So this was a different time and the idea that you heard about this program and you applied and you got into it and you're one of the, you're the second cohort, really a transformative period for the companies, for employers as well as for the individuals.

Jennifer Andrews: Yes, because you're talking about these returnships. It was like, what is this? Whereas now when you talk about it, people have generally heard about it because, all these major firms have versions of it. But at the time, yes, it was a novel thing that not many people had ever heard of. And so I feel really fortunate that I was able to find a program, get into the program and be able to relaunch my career in such a really empowering and positive way.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, let me ask you, since you have that opportunity to retrospectively to look at the evolution of the program since you were in it at its very beginning, can you talk a little bit about the elements of the program and how did you see it change over time or the people who were in it, did you, was there commonality or did you see some evolution in any respect?

Jennifer Andrews: So I guess broadly, and I think it's probably true for a lot of these programs, it's a finite period of time. The one I was part of was 11 or 12 weeks, and there were some classroom training that we all went through together. So just ensuring that we understood the kind of technology and the language of business,

because whenever we left, we could have left, a couple of years, it could have been, you know, a decade. So things change quickly. So ensuring that we understand the current suite of Microsoft offerings, video conferencing, things that may have changed some prior to us taking that career break.

So we did all of that kind of baseline work, did a lot of work on kind of what the company was all about and introducing us to the company and how they make money. And then we spent time with, so we basically had projects with different departments. I came on, I went into the HR group in their diversity, equity and inclusion base with, and I had a specific project that I was working on and had milestones to help accomplish that project during that period of time.

And, in some ways you have to think about it as a, really long interview process, because you're being evaluated the whole time, but you're also evaluating the company because it's, some folks in my cohort at the end of it said, this is an incredible opportunity, but it's not the right thing for me.

And and they chose either to go someplace else or they felt that maybe they weren't ready to come back. And then others found either opportunities in the groups where they had done their project or other place within the organization. So it's not just a one way street. We're we're interviewing the company and the company's interviewing us during this period of time.

We have this cohort that we can go back to and connect with and say are you struggling with this? Am I, yeah, are you like nervous about this? So you have this, group of people where you can just let your hair down and just really say what was going on and you felt you knew that you all in it together, which was like really empowering and helpful during the process.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, you know you think about this. This is a significant personal and professional transition that's happening simultaneously, depending on what your career break is for if it was for childcare your family is transitioning along with you, there's a there's a lot going on and this, the idea of being in a cohort is powerful.

I, I wrote an HBR article about the power of the cohort in career re entry programming. And, a couple of things have evolved. We're seeing more and more that people making the decision at the end, that they decide that they're not ready yet. We're seeing that less and less. And I'm guessing over time, people are more informed about what the process is and where they are in the process.

And so we're seeing that. And I also see in a number of companies that either they're shifting to a, what we call direct hire model and getting rid of the returnship, the internship component, because it's been such a successful model and the conversion rates are so high, and we have a lot of data now.

And the perception is that, oh, maybe it's not as risky as we originally thought to engage with people coming off of multi year career break. So I think that's important. And the other evolution we've seen is more of a rolling admissions kind of structure instead of people coming in in cohorts. And so then you might think, wow, they're losing that benefit of the cohort.

On the other hand, they're joining a community. And so we look now at the returners within an organization as a community. And that's been helpful too.

Jennifer Andrews: So just touching on that, I think that's really true because yes, I was part of a particular cohort, but all the cohorts come back together as you new returners were starting, we would come in and talk with them.

And so absolutely, my experience as well, is that became less of, oh, you're part of my class, you're part of this community and absolutely. I'd say what I've also seen is, my cohort happens to be all women for all different reasons that came back. But later on, there have been more and more men.

So it's much more gender diverse. And I'd say it's also been much more racially diverse. I was unique in my cohort that I was the only Black woman in my cohort, but I'm seeing much more diversity, at least my experience at my time at Credit Suisse, with the folks that are choosing this and that are utilizing.

So that's exciting for my work that I do, obviously, as a profession and society in general that, so many people from all different backgrounds have found this beneficial.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Absolutely. And we're seeing that same increase of, in diversity. I think the percentage of men has, It's doubled in the last five years of attending our conferences from 7 percent to 15%.

And we have a diversity lead at iRelaunch whose focus is specifically to focus on underrepresented minorities and communities to diversify our pool because we know that employers, we're major feeder of candidates and participants into the program. So the more diverse our pool is and the more diverse the pools are that are in the company programs.

So I'm really glad you, you highlighted that. Are you still in touch with your cohort or any individuals from there?

Jennifer Andrews: Yes. unique situation with Credit Suisse in that we're it's no longer exists in its former form, but even given that, we do try to still stay somewhat connected. I definitely check in on folks on LinkedIn and see where they're all going and they're soaring in their careers, whether it be, at UBS or other places.

So we haven't gotten together recently and this might be an excuse to say, Hey, it might be time for coffee or a drink after work, but we definitely have stayed connected with one another and always still supportive. Whether or not we stayed in the same company or not, it still is this kind of shared bonding experience that we all had together.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Absolutely. And that's, it's so important. and it just speaks to how deep those connections are when you're in the shared experience. Jennifer, can you talk a little bit about your new role and, your transition into a new organization?

And actually, could you comment on your mindset now, being back in the workforce for eight and a half years at versus when you made that, that original, move to, to come back in.

Jennifer Andrews: So, well, one, I have to say, if I, went back to my 2014 self, she would not have imagined that this is possible.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly.

Jennifer Andrews: To be completely honest. I think, if time travel is possible and I could have spoken to that version of me, I'd say, okay, you're just making that all up. It's, it's beyond what I could have imagined at the time, where my career has gone since you sitting in at your conference, honestly.

So I think that's tremendous. So I say to all of you listeners out there, just dream big and soar and just take one step after the other, and before you know it, you'll be eight, nine years later, and you wouldn't even believe where you could be now versus where you're worried about, where you are right now at this moment.

It's been an amazing journey.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that, that's fantastic. And, can you tell us a little bit about your role, what you're doing now and how your experience at Credit Suisse made you such a perfect, candidate for it?

Jennifer Andrews: So I think, my work at Credit Suisse, obviously, it was the kind of place where I took the understanding of equity inclusion I got from being a volunteer at an independent school in New York City to corporate America, obviously there's differences there. that led, gave me an opportunity to really hone those skills, really think about how do you apply it within the organization. I had great partners and, my last leader in particular was phenomenal.

I think she really helps me grow my career significantly and really helped me prepare, get prepared for what I'm doing today with, which is actually leading the efforts here. I led a region, we were a global company, I led a region by the time I left Credit Suisse, but now I'm leading it for the entire company and being able to step back and think about, okay, so how do I really want to approach this work? And what is it that you want to have? And how do we really make lasting change? Because for me, it's really about how do you really change the behaviors, the processes and practices and the procedures within the organization, so that everyone has the opportunity to have a more equitable and inclusive experience. And so really, the fact that the leadership here at Guardian really has bought into that and is really supportive of me beginning to execute on that is really exciting to me. It's a new challenge. it's a new journey, but it's, at this point I'm like, okay, so if I can go from where I was 2014 to now, I am just saying the sky's the limit on what's next for me. So I'm really excited about the future.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's wonderful. And thank you for reflecting on that. I have to believe that our, in our audience listening to you talk about this, I, they're just so inspired, and really in, probably in awe, because, if you think about it, if you were just starting your relaunch and you were listening to you talk about where you are now, you would be like, I want to be her, you know, that's,

Jennifer Andrews: I mean, I, I understand what you're saying though. It makes sense because as I said earlier, I would not have believed myself at 2014 that I'd be doing this today. So I understand that. So I will take that in.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, exactly. And any other comments, before we, I have this one final question that, that we ask all of our podcast guests.

And it is, what is your best piece of advice for relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today? But are any other comments that you have as a result of this conversation?

Jennifer Andrews: Well, one, which we talked about, is absolutely use your network. That is your greatest asset. Don't be afraid to tell everybody you know that you're trying to do this. I think that's so, so important..

And then the other thing that I did when you know, my self confidence was like a little bit low, and I'm like, okay, so can I really do this? I actually went back to people I used to work with in the past and I asked them to kind of remind me, kind of what do they like or appreciate about working with me?

It was extremely like, empowering and enlightening. I went back to like, my old manager and old colleague and what they told me, well, I kind of forgot about a lot of it. And it really just helped me think, say, okay, so, you know, I had, I was adding some value and there were some important things I did, some important attributes that they admired and respected.

And I have to remember that as I'm kind of trying to reinvent myself and get back out into the workforce. So that, those two things I'd say were really, really important to me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that you did that. You know, we talk about this idea of people from the past having this frozen in time view of you.

And I, I also found that to be incredibly empowering in my own relaunch journey, because I remember I felt like, wow, people are more enthusiastic about me returning to work than I am.

Jennifer Andrews: I understand that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. It was very helpful. Jennifer, thank you so much for having this conversation today.

Jennifer Andrews: Thank you. And thank you all you did in helping me to get me to where I am today.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We were, we're just so excited to see you as an example of what is possible when you relaunch your career. So thanks Jennifer for joining us and to our audience. Thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories.

I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co founder of iRelaunch and your host. And I want to remind our listeners to go to to access our many return to work tools and resources and sign up for our mailing list so you can get our weekly newsletter talking about all the opportunities in career reentry jobs and programs.

Thanks for joining us.


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