in good company // issue no. 04 // jennifer gefsky
Who: Jennifer Gefsky, Co-Founder of Après
What: Attorney, working mom, wine enthusiast, gender equality advocate
Where: New York City, NY
All photos courtesy of Après
In the eyes of most people, Jennifer Gefsky is the poster child for success. An accomplished attorney in her own right, smart, educated, mother of three, and committed wife. But like a lot of women, she too made the decision to leave her demanding career behind to raise her children, and when the time came to re-enter the workforce, it proved to be more difficult than she expected.
Jennifer is a woman on a mission. In May 2016, she co-founded Après, a digital recruiting platform that connects high-calibre women looking to re-enter the workforce with diverse job opportunities. Their website offers inspiring content, tools to successfully navigate their transition, career coaches and a diverse job market.
This is a hot topic and one that is taking the media by storm, in a good way. More people are asking the question: Why is it so hard for educated, experienced women to re-enter the workforce after taking a leave? And do they even have the resources to do so? Jennifer and her co-founder Niccole Kroll are just a few of the people changing this landscape and so far, they seem to be garnering lots of attention. And so they should.
I was truly inspired to not only find out about Après, but in chatting with Jennifer who is kind, funny, professional, open, honest and passionate about her mission. You might want to listen up!
What inspired the name and the start of Après?
The name was inspired as what I viewed as the demarcation of a woman's life. For me, I had started my career then I had kids and realized what happens now?! Everything was next and after and I didn’t want to do something that had been done before. I wanted to do something that allowed women to grow - its all about what comes next and what’s after. It fit with our mission and whats interesting about what we're doing is that we are attracting women who are also still working. Its going to be about women like myself, but how can I do something that is a bit more palliative to my lifestyle.
Après has been coined the "LinkedIn for women". Is this an accurate comparison?
Well, Fast Company coined that term, but our biggest mission is to be a connector of people - mostly women - remaining small and humble, creating a community of females and resources for its members. Women still feel like it's their responsibility to manage the house and take care of the kids, and some women are OK being stay-at-home moms but others need more in their life and for them, its fulfilling to be in a cooperative work environment. Après is a space where they can do that, while getting the tools and resources necessary to find the job for them.
You have quite the impressive background, having worked as VP & Deputy Counsel for the MLB (Major League Baseball Association). What was it like working in a predominantly male environment?
I loved working for the MLB and the environment was great during my tenure. Both my bosses had wives who were stay-at-home moms, so they have never gone through what I went through, which was a love for my career. They are amazing and are incredibly supportive of what Après is doing. We have actually partnered with them as an employer and we recently hosted an event where they were part of a panel discussion.
What do you feel you could have done better to balance work/life/motherhood when you previously worked as an attorney?
In hindsight when I was with the MLB, I didn’t stand up enough for myself or find a better situation that was more palpable for me at the time. I pushed myself a lot and definitely would have done things differently. I truly was the cliche and wasn’t giving enough to any part of my life. The past decisions I made with my career I am to blame. I had no female mentor and needed to reach out to someone who could help me, so with Après, we hope to change that for women.
How do you balance your time between 3 kids, work, family and any spare time you may have?
It's always an effort to balance my time but its doable and I always make the effort to do so. I have a 2.5 hour commute each day but I’m very efficient and extremely productive. Don't get me wrong - it's exhausting and nothing is easy or perfect but you do the best you can. You just have to find what works for you because every situation is different. When I’m with my kids, I’m 100% there, its quality time and always my top priority. My husband and I always have a date night reserved each week and similar to how I spend time with my children, we are fully present and its only us so we really have one-on-one time.
Do you think companies in North America are doing a better job at providing options and flexible work hours for women with families, or is this still very uncommon?
In their defence, companies are often blindsided by the whole "women returning to work" believe it or not and these women are a successful group that needs to be recognized. There are more Generation X females opting to do just that compared to the baby boomers generation because most of those women opted to stay home and raise their families.
As a whole, I think companies are doing a better job at this, but I think they are also doing this more for the millennial workforce and not for moms who desire to work outside the home. They are after all, a new generation wanting more and expecting more to balance both work/life.
The workplace as a whole is shifting. You can see it happening and we’re just beginning to see major companies making that shift, like Facebook and Google for example. It will be harder for them to recruit down the road because people won’t want to work for companies that don’t allow flexibility. And let's not forget the fathers too! They want to be involved in raising their families and want to know that its OK to leave the office at 4pm to be at home with the family. Plus, technology has made it easier for us to do so - we are constantly connected.
Secondly, there's not an easy way to reach these women, and thats what Après is trying to do so that women can have a platform and employers can find them.
Après recently launched in May 2016. What are your long term goals for measuring success?
Our long term goals are to partner with as many forward thinking companies as possible and increasing our membership base, put on more events with companies but also grow with women who have kids. We have over 50 corporate profiles on your site and are currently hiring corporate development people in Pennsylvania, San Francisco and Los Angeles so lots of growth happening indeed!
(And yes, Après Canada will definitely be on the radar in the future once we get through the launch phase.)
What sort of advice would you give women, who are leaving the workforce (for any reason), in order for them to keep up their skills if/when they decide to return to work one day?
- Don’t let your business network die!
- Keep up with your personal networks (yes, this does include PTA).
- Keep a running document of what you’re doing. Years go by and 5 years later you can’t remember what you’ve done.
- Beef up your skills as well. Take courses online and continue your education when you can.
- You're your own personal brand and you want to keep that up so make sure your social media platforms are what you want them to say about YOU!
- Do stuff that is exciting and interesting. When I was not working, I became a fitness instructor with Flywheel Sports. When I launched Après and had to be in front of media, that skill set helped me so much because I had to speak in front of people. I continued to develop my skills which has proven to be priceless.
Do you feel most women want to re-enter the workforce because they feel they've lost their identity or because of financial necessity?
I think most women re-enter because of financial reasons but the fact that most households are dual income. Women outlive men and pensions are either slim or non-existent, so that second income is financially necessary. They are 3X more likely to meet the poverty level in their 70’s for that reason alone. Scary! Its important to reconnect with that person you identify with and its important to have balance, if that's what you desire.
In Simon Sinek's book "Leaders Eat Last" he talks about leaders and organizations who are committed to creating environments in which people naturally work together and do remarkable things. Can you share a story of where you had a remarkable working experience?
Our team at Après is to me, the most remarkable working experience I’ve had. We are very mission driven and its exciting to be a part of that. I’ve never experienced that before and its fun but equally motivating. It's more enjoyable to be surrounded by women who are enthusiastic and who have their eye on the prize while equally supporting one another. That is remarkable to me.
You hold an important leadership role. What do you think makes a great leader?
Someone who is able to listen and not be afraid to lead at the same time. You’re not a person who’s going to dictate results but also not afraid to make a decision. People should feel included in the decision. I’m OK making mistakes and you learn from those failures and to me, that is not a sign of weakness.
What are the top 3 business books you would recommend for women?
- Confidence Code by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
- The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg
- Finding Time: The Economics of Work Life Conflict by Heather Boushey
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?
For me, it was when I decided to start Après. I’m not an entrepreneur at heart, I'm definitely more corporate and structured and I value financial security. However, I had the desire to do something great, where I could use my past experience as a launch pad while helping solve a problem I knew was very relevant to our society and women today.
What are three qualities you look for in the tribe of women you surround yourself with?
- I only surround myself with people who are supportive.
- I only surround myself with positive people. This is extremely important to me.
- Being around go-getters. I was at an event recently where Diane von Furstenberg spoke and she said it so well. "Stop blaming your parents or circumstance and just move on. Take control of your life."
Is the risk really worth the reward?
For me, yes it is! It's incredibly hard to work for what you want but its incredibly rewarding in the long run.
When have you been the most satisfied in your life?
Early in my marriage I was really satisfied but its not like being satisfied as a mom. I’m in a different space now than when I was back then but extremely satisfied.