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Canton Residents Help Women Rediscover Their Workplace Potential

August 1, 2016 Business, Community No Comments

UP LogoBy John Fitts

While workplace equality, flexibility and creativity have come a long way, there are still significant challenges for those women who perform at high levels but take time off to focus on family life.

A benefit corporation run by Canton women has worked to reduce barriers affecting this demographic and on Aug. 4 will host its first networking meetup in Hartford.

“What Untapped Potential is trying to say is those gap years are valuable; your lifespan is long to contribute,” said company founder Candace Freedenberg. “Taking that time out to be an immersed, focused parent is valuable as well.”

Incorporated in August of 2015, Untapped Potential is part of a new breed of benefit corporations that add an element of social enterprise to a traditional company structure.

Freedenberg and her partner, Christina “Christy” Mitchell, each have highly technical skills, and experience with the challenges of workplace demands, family life and community engagement.

Freedenberg is a technologist with advanced engineering degrees and experience at Fortune 500 companies. Mitchell has Computer IT and law degrees and has worked for corporations such as Cigna, UTC and Rite Aid. Both women live in Canton.

Untapped Potential, working with coaches and other talented professionals, is looking to create a “community outlet” that helps women keep up their professional skills and engagement during those “gap” years.

Women make up 51 percent of the workplace and outpace men in education but time away often hampers their efforts when re-entering the workplace, Freedenberg said. While there are multiple factors, one is a bias against women – and men – who have that “gap” in their resume due to family or creative pursuits, she said.

“We’re working to erase that barrier that businesses see and really highlighting that these women have value,” Freedenberg said.

In fact, during those years, women learn maturity, multi-tasking and program management. Tasks such as the Parent Teacher organization or co-chairing an event are learning experiences, Freedenberg added.

But the time away can lead to other challenges as well. Sometimes the women don’t feel ready to jump back into a full-time job and often they aren’t up on the latest technologies and trends.

Untapped Potential is taking a multi-pronged approach to helping these women by offering “experiential engagement,” networking, and skills development.

On the engagement side are the company is offering a Flex Return Initiative and Maternity Match.

The Flex Return program is designed to help women gradually assimilate to the workplace or even take advantage of challenging, but short-term or side work in an expanding “gig” economy.

An exciting trend is the popularity of what Goldman Sachs has dubbed “returnships,” Freedenberg said. Under that the trend, large New York City banks and consulting firms are realizing it pays, in many ways, to recruit or re-recruit highly skilled women who have left the workplace.

While many Connecticut based women aren’t ready to move to New York or Chicago to find the perfect job, Untapped Potential is working with local firms to offer placement that works with local women and businesses.

“What Untapped Potential wants to do is bring that capability, that kind of program to multiple businesses in Connecticut, as our starting point,” Freedenberg said. “We don’t want this demographic to miss out on the fact that there are more flexible opportunities than ever.”

Having successfully placed two women already, Untapped Potential is looking to expand that with a Flex Return pilot program this fall, involving 5 to 10 matches. The program will help women reach their potential and facilitate the search for businesses, who often don’t have the means to run such a program themselves, Freedenberg said.

Another focus of the company is the Maternity Match program, which is designed to work with women while they are on maternity leave. This allows companies and a woman on leave to stay in touch, keep up with changes and make workplace re-entry a smoother transition.

“It allows that employee to play an advisory role, still engage with their team and feel engaged,” Freedenberg said.

She also hopes it helps with those companies who said they support women on leave but find that they often don’t return to work.

Skills development and networking are other components to Untapped Potential. Working with area professionals and coaches they will offer professional development, workplace tools, online learning, coaching, peer engagement and mentor programs.

The company’s first Networking Event, Tap Into Your Potential, takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 4,  at reSET Social Enterprise Trust – 1429 Park Street #114, Hartford.

The free program will feature Avon resident Susan Rietano-Davey, of Flexible Resources, and Kelley Biskupiak, Personal and Professional Life & Women’s Leadership Coach.

Biskupiak, who operates http://www.beyoubravely.com, also lives in Canton, and it was one of her sessions that helped motivate Freedenberg to start her social enterprise company.

“There was such high-caliber talent in that room that really wanted to engage in a professional capacity,” Freedenberg said. “I saw that as untapped potential from an economic standpoint.”

On Aug. 4 the event will offer women the chance to hear from the coaches and professionals as well as from each other, which itself can be a motivating factor. The event will be followed by other opportunities, including short course offerings, to help women make that transition at their own pace.

Freedenberg encourages women to attend no matter where they are in their career or family life.

“This is our first meet-up, or networking session, to support women that way and just have the conversation,” she said. “We want them to have the conversation so they can keep their professionalism engaged, even if they are going to focus on their family during these years.”

And for those who are ready, their will be women who can tell them just how possible it is.

“We have some mentors that will be there that are excited to say it was hard for me but you can do it,” she said.

To register for the event, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tap-into-your-potential-tickets-26485373465

See more about Untapped Potential at http://www.upotential.org

Additionally Theresa Sullivan Barger, also a Canton resident, has written an in-depth feature on the company and some of the women they’ve helped. That story can be seen here.

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