June 2016, Rita Kakati Shah, a former fast track finance and healthcare professional, experienced a rude awakening…
at a networking event in preparation for reentering the workforce following a 3 ½ year timeout, she confidently sported a name tag with the acronym SAHM (Stay-at-Home Mom). When a fellow networker asked her what it meant, Rita spelled it out. To her shock, the woman turned tail and walked away.
The networking event represented the first actionable step on her career reentry journey and Rita, who had arrived with high hopes, was unprepared for such a negative reaction. “I could have gone home and cried,” she says, but instead, instead asked the other woman why she had run off. She answered that because Rita hadn’t been working, she feared they would have nothing in common worthy of a conversation.
”I was flabbergasted,” says Rita. “Investment banking was nothing compared to what motherhood requires. Patience. Diverse skills in organization and leadership and the supreme negotiation savvy to take on anyone on the planet.”
But she quickly discovered that it didn’t matter how well you’d done in the past—whether you were the top performer in a group of traders, or responsible for the largest volume of sales closed. If you were a mom who took time off to raise kids or a member of the sandwich generation providing care to an aging parent, people only looked at your “gap,” not your credentials. “There’s a stigma attached to the fact you haven’t been earning a paid salary…and potential employers have the sense that you’ve been doing nothing,” says Rita.
Having experienced the joys, as well as the tribulations, of motherhood, Rita knew that women like her do a lot more than nothing during their time out of the workforce and decided she would take on the challenge of changing that perception.
Her journey to this point had started in her head and heart two months earlier following a solo trip to India. After spending a week she spent laughing and reminiscing with old friends and colleagues, she remembered the person she has always been. Motherhood had not only filled her with joy, but the experience had also accelerated her personal growth. She felt uplifted and liberated and with much to offer a potential employer.
However, her experience at this networking event set career reentry on a different path. And so the seeds for Uma were planted.
Women’s issues have long been important to Rita, and she received the prestigious Citizenship and Diversity Award for her outstanding contributions to women’s initiatives and diversity during her almost ten-year tenure at Goldman Sachs in London. She had also overseen the European Women’s Network and served as global liaison for the Asian Professionals’ Network until transitioning to the pharmaceutical industry. Then relocation to the states, marriage and raising two kids, now two and four, had inspired her to take a timeout. Now, she was committed to helping other talented women who were feeling—and being—disrespected in the professional realm. With a mission to bring talented women back into the workforce, Uma, named for the “Goddess of Go-Getting” as Rita calls her, provides networking events and educational sessions and works with companies to foster cultures inclusive of the mentoring and flexibility conducive to women sharing work and family responsibilities.
The company also cultivates relationships with employers to curate job experiences suitable for returning professionals, or Uma fellows. These are short-term fellowships, or Umaships—paid positions that allow a “soft reentry” to the workplace. While several months of temporary work may lead to a permanent fulltime position, the Umaship is a great way to sharpen your skills and become familiar with a company to determine whether it’s personally a good fit.
Rita says it’s difficult to go straight back to regular hours not only because of the added responsibility of family on the home front, but also because of a woman’s absence from the daily regimen. “In many cases, Umaships with their soft reentry offer an easier commute or allow an Uma fellow to assume less functional responsibility than she’d had in her pre-timeout role.”
In some respects, Rita likens the work reentry process to dating. If you don’t develop a relationship, you go back to networking and the social scene.
“While exploring going back to work with a smooth reentry is a benefit of an Umaship, it is not its sole purpose,” she says. “It’s as important that women feel empowered because they took the risk to resume their careers.
“A confident mindset is imperative,” says Rita and references the Uma tagline: Be Bold. Be You. Be Uma.