in good company // issue no. 05 // tami m. forman
Who: Tami M. Forman, Executive Director, Path Forward
What: Non-profit CEO, Mom, Advocate for Gender Equality, Wife, Storyteller
Where: New York City, NY
All photos courtesy of Tami Forman/Path Forward
In the third (and final part) of my series on women returning to the workforce, I wanted to look at how a nonprofit organization can make an impact on this hot topic. In our last In Good Company feature, I looked at the impressive work that Jennifer Gefsky is doing with Après, but now I wanted to shift the focus to another amazing lady doing something similar in the nonprofit sector.
Tami Forman is the Executive Director of Path Forward, a nonprofit focused on providing internship programs aimed at women who are interested in returning to work after a career break. She is building the organization from the ground up, working with donors, partners and participants to fulfill the organization's mission.
This is just her day job too.
Tami is also the mother of two, a wife and business woman who spent the past decade as a tech marketing executive at Return Path and prior to that, worked in publishing. She has learned to balance it all and now, she's on a mission to help others get back into the workforce to help find their balance.
You have an impressive background, from publishing to web editorial positions to having spent well over 10 years at Return Path in marketing and communications. What lead you in this new direction with Path Forward?
When Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg told me he was launching a nonprofit dedicated to helping women get back to work after time focused on childcare, I had an immediate need to get involved. When he offered me the chance to lead the organization I just leapt at it! It was the perfect mix of everything I’m passionate about and love doing. I couldn’t have designed the more perfect job so the transition for me was a no-brainer.
Tell me about Path Forward and what the inspiration was behind starting the organization.
The original return to work program that Path Forward runs was an internal program at a software company called Return Path. They wanted to bring more women back into technology roles and the idea of a mid-career internship was one that everyone felt very enthusiastic about. Eventually they brought other companies into the mix, including PayPal. At this point, it outgrew what could reasonably be handled by a corporate HR team, so Return Path's CEO, Matt Blumberg decided to launch a separate nonprofit to empower companies of all kinds to launch and implement return to work programs.
Path Forward launched in 2016 but what are your long term goals for measuring success?
First and foremost our success metric is the number of participants who join a company as part of a return to work program and the number of them that find their ideal job at the end of that program. Our current success rate is about 90% of the people who’ve participated in our programs, were employed within about 8 weeks of completing the program. Most of them - 85% - were offered jobs where they did the program. So our second metric for success is whether or not the companies we work with are finding great talent that they want to keep. So far, our success strongly suggests they are.
Finally, we also want to change the culture, of the companies we work with and more generally, to be more supportive of moms and other caregivers. And just more supportive of HUMANS! Everyone is entitled to live a rich, full and whole life doing what they love, whatever that may be. Changing culture is harder to measure, but still vitally important to us as an organization.
Path Forward is a nonprofit organization and raising money is necessary to do your work. Has it been easy to find donors to support your mission?
I’d never say it’s easy to raise money, but we’ve found some enthusiastic supporters. Everyone knows someone who has taken some time away from their career to care for children, so it’s an idea that resonates widely. We have partnered up with companies like PayPal, SendGrid, GoDaddy, Moz, Zendesk and Instacart to name a few.
What do you think are the top 3 reasons talented, educated women leave the workforce?
Well, for one I think some people want to spend more time with their children, especially when they are young. They take that time away even if they could get every workplace accommodation that you can think of. But I also think a lot of women who stay end up quitting out of frustration because of a workplace that is just not willing to give the kind of flexibility that would make all the difference in the world.
Finally, I think the cultural narrative tells us, over and over and over, that we can’t do both. It’s hard not to internalize that and start to believe it. My biggest piece of advice to women is to question the narrative – constantly. Who says you have to make homemade cupcakes for the bake sale? Do you like making cupcakes? If so, great. If not, buy the cupcakes and pour your energy into things that you love instead. But it really is a constant battle.
There has been a lot of (great) noise on this topic of creating better work environments for professional women & moms, allowing flexible schedules for more balance and creating platforms for those who want to return to the workforce after taking time off. Why now more than ever?
I think there are two things pushing this trend. First, companies are (slowly) starting to realize that they generate better results when they have more women at all levels and that it’s hard to attract and keep women without adding these practices. In the US, 80% of women become moms by the age of 45. You can’t keep women if you aren’t doing more to support moms. But the second trend that I think is interesting is that more men are coming to ask for and even demand flexibility in order to be fully involved dads. As it becomes less a “mom” thing I think it will become more widespread. Companies will have to accommodate parents if they want to compete for talent.
A Harvard Business Review article written in 2005 called "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success" inspired me to discuss this topic. I believe companies like Path Forward and Après were created specifically to address this issue. Do you think we have come far in the 11 years since this article was published? Or do we have a long way to go still?
I think we still have a long way to go. I talk to women all the time and the bias and discrimination they face when they are trying to re-enter the workforce is just incredible. We are making progress though and I think the shift is happening, but it never happens as quick as we'd like it to.
Do you think companies in North America are doing a better job at providing options and flexible work hours for men and women with families? Or is this still very uncommon?
The data is very muddied because the research suggests Americans are more overworked than ever – more hours per week, no vacations and to hear people talk you’d think that was true.
But the BLS Time Use Survey tells a much different story. The 2014 survey found that people who were employed worked 7.8 hours, on average, on the days they worked. Given that there are 24 hours in a day – even if you sleep for 8, that still leaves you with 8 hours for your family or whatever is important to you. That’s hardly unbalanced!
How do you balance your time between 2 kids, work, family and any spare time you might have? Is your schedule flexible?
At the risk of turning off every reader you have, I just don’t agonize over this so much. I always say that my job is demanding but also flexible and was fortunate to experience working with Return Path, where they had such a rich culture and offered their employees the flexibility between work and home life.
I can take an afternoon off to go to the school for a writing celebration. And then there are the days that I’m up at 4:30am to catch a flight. One isn’t good and one isn’t bad. I do have help, both in the form of a caregiver we’ve had since my daughter was born (she’s now almost 9) and a very, very supportive husband, who is equally dedicated to their care and we both make an effort to be an important part of their lives. I hate the concept that my husband is “supportive” (though he is!) when he’s being a good dad. We don’t applaud moms for supporting their husband’s careers because we just assume they do.
Why do you think it’s so hard for women (compared to men), to find work after leaving the workforce? What's your experience with this?
It’s just as hard for men who’ve taken time off from their career to find a way back in, they just do it much less often. There is even evidence to suggest it’s harder for men because the bias against men who defy gender norms is much harsher. And that reality makes men more reluctant to take time off and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You recently spoke at DistruptHR in NYC and gave a talk entitled Making Space for Moms in Today's Workplace. You speak on the tradition of the 'ideal worker' - the person that comes in early, stays late and has no distractions outside the office. You go on to explain how companies that base performance on 'hours in the seat' are not good places for women. Explain this theory a little more and how we need to change this mindset in today's society.
Any company that focuses on hours worked is not going to be a great company in the future. Too many smart and talented people won’t want to play that game, because they know that it’s not a good way to really measure success and they aren’t willing to give up important parts of their personal life in order to play the “face time” game. We already see exceptionally talented women leave the workforce because of this. But, traditionally, men were more willing to do what needed to be done within the traditional office culture to succeed.
I think as men’s attitudes shift and companies face difficulties attracting and retaining talent, they will realize that a culture that focuses on results, however they are achieved, is more successful.
Do you feel most women want to re-enter the workforce because they feel they've lost their identity, want more work/life balance or because of financial necessity?
Yes, yes and yes. All of those. The middle one is interesting to me – there are some women who spend time at home and find that 100% time on family is not the right balance for them. Or, put another way, it was the right balance for a period of time and now they are ready for a change to how they apportion their time.
As someone who is expecting her first child at 39, and who quit their executive job to move to a smaller city to be with her partner, what sort of advice would you give me?
Get the epidural!
After that, just know that you can do it. You really can. I think knowing you can do it and you can have it all and that you are just going to figure out what that means for you and how to do it is so important. I think women waste so much energy asking “can I or can’t I?” instead of focusing on “how can I?”
(thanks for the advice and I agree!)
What are the top 3 business books you would recommend for women?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
StartUp CEO: A Field Guide to Starting Up Your Business & Website by Matt Blumberg
I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam.
That last one might not technically be a business book, but it’s the best book on work/life I’ve ever read.
I'm a big believer in 'ah-ha' moments, that timing is everything and things happen for a reason. What has been your biggest ah-ha moment in life?
That I really could not care what people I don’t care about, think of me. And, I can even sometimes not care what people I do care about think of me. I have to live my life the best way I know how and hope it all works out. Optimizing for the happiness of others doesn’t work. Optimizing for your own happiness, ironically, is the best way to spread happiness to others.
Words of wisdom indeed!
What's the one word of advice you would give your younger self?
Stop worrying so much! It will all work out.
What inspires you and motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
The notes I get from women who tell me how great they are doing in their new jobs. And the heartbreaking ones I get from people in markets we don’t yet serve who want help. That keeps me going.
Is the risk really worth the reward?
When have you been the most satisfied in your life?