FLEXIBILITY IN WORK THAT WORKS
Jennifer is the Founder and CEO of tellent and a mom of two children. tellent is an online resource and technology platform dedicated to helping professional women and employers find, fill and create flexible work. She is on a mission to make work, work better for women and advocates with the government, business and industry to create greater, and more equal, access to opportunities. Jennifer was educated in Canada and launched her career overseas in International Business Development. She has lived and worked in New Zealand, New York and London and now calls Toronto home.
In this episode:
- The “idea” of being fully present in our work life & family life is much easier than the implementation.
- Flexibility in the workplace creates opportunities for a highly talented & often untapped group of women who want to be engaged & to lead in their careers.
- When looking for flexible work get clear on what you want, connect with your network, do your research, & be prepared.
- Leverage your existing network. Start with the people who already know, like, & trust you.
Connect with Jennifer:
- Facebook Group: tellent – professional women pursuing career and life ambitions
Email: [email protected]
Free Resource: Workbook – How To Negotiate Flexible Work:
On this episode of The Part-Time Jungle Podcast, I had a great conversation with Jennifer about the disconnect between the idea and implementation of being fully present in our work life and family life. We also talked about how flexibility in the workplace creates opportunities and Jennifer shared some strategies to implement when negotiating for more flexible work. We chatted about leveraging your existing network as part of your job search and a whole lot more!
If you prefer to listen, check out Episode 25 of The Part-Time Jungle Podcast.
Jennifer was so much fun to talk to! You can feel the joy and passion that she has for the work that does with her tellent community. Jennifer is committed to making work better for women!
IT TAKES TIME
Jennifer started tellent four years ago when both of her kids were at home. She said that she really struggled. It took her two years to figure out that she couldn’t do both well. At the beginning, she tried to get work done while her little ones were napping or while they were playing quietly for 15 minutes.
THE JUGGLE SUCKED AT THE BEGINNING!
What Jennifer found was that her mind was never fully on what she was doing and she felt like she was failing at both work and parenting. She found it incredibly stressful. Even just sitting down to respond to an email, getting her thoughts in order, and communicating her message was so hard. Jennifer would get interrupted or would expect to be interrupted. If she was playing with her kids, in the back of her mind, she would be wondering if someone had responded to the email that she had sent earlier. The cycle of thinking about one thing while doing another thing led Jennifer to really not be present.
From this struggle, the key learning for Jennifer was to not try to do both. Instead, she tries to just be very present with what she is doing. When her kids are in school, this works well. She can work while they are away at school and she can be with them when they’re at home. This provides a nice, easy division.
When COVID hit, though, Jennifer felt like she was right back to where she was before. She regressed in her business progression because she became a full-time mom, teacher, and business owner all at once! Jennifer’s juggle got very chaotic. It threw her back into this very stressful place again with trying to manage it all.
What Jennifer had to do again was to separate the two things to make sure that she was being a hundred percent present for both. She asked herself where she could create time to do her work. Jennifer started getting some work done before her kids got up in the morning. She also distinguished tasks that she could do when she was with her kids and tasks that she couldn’t do with her kids. Tasks that Jennifer can do with her kids include things like folding laundry, prepping dinner, and going out for a walk together for some exercise.
IDEA VS. IMPLEMENTATION
It’s easy to say “Be present” and it’s another thing to do it. Jennifer struggled with how everybody says things like “Be present” and “Quality over quantity time with your kids”. Being able to transition and be clear that she couldn’t do certain things with her kids and work at the same time was one thing. Actually getting to the point where Jennifer felt like she was present, was another. Jennifer is happy to say that now she is more present both at work and with her kids. However, this wasn’t something that just came to her or that was easy. This was something that she had to work on and practice.
WHAT IS IT THAT I WANT?
Knowing that she wouldn’t be productive helped Jennifer to become more fully present in what she was doing over time. When she was with her kids, she wouldn’t be having fun if she was thinking about work. If she was trying to work when her kids were there, she would be struggling to attend to the tasks at hand. Jennifer also worked with a mindset coach who shared an impactful tool. This was to ask herself, “In this moment, what is it that I want?”. If she wanted to play with her kids, she would just stop thinking about everything else and just play with her kids.
THE START OF TELLENT
tellent, like most businesses, started out of a need. Jennifer had returned to Canada following a 12 year career overseas. She and her husband had a one-year-old and she was pregnant with their second baby. She thought that no one would hire a pregnant lady so she might as well throw herself into parenting and renovating their new house. After having her son, Jennifer thought about the fact that she had been out of the workforce for three years and now had a gap on her resume. Her kids were 18 months apart, her husband travelled and worked a lot, and, at the time, Jennifer didn’t have a network in Canada.
LOOKING FOR WORK
Jennifer asked herself if she wanted to work. Her answer to that question was a resounding yes! Jennifer has always loved working and being challenged. When she started looking for what could come next, she wondered what she was going to do and how she was going to find that next job. When she looked around, she really couldn’t see anything that would give her the career opportunity and progression that she wanted. She also couldn’t find the flexibility that she was looking for to be the kind of parent that she wanted to be.
FLEXIBILITY IN THE WORKPLACE
People look for flexibility at work for all sorts of different reasons. For Jennifer, flexibility was something that she wanted because she wanted to be a present parent. With her husband travelling a lot, she wanted to have someone solid in the house. There were lots of employers talking about diversity and inclusion and getting women into leadership. However, they were really looking at one end of the spectrum, which was getting women on boards and to senior leadership or on the other end, which was looking at new graduates.
WHAT WASN’T BEING TALKED ABOUT
There was no one really talking about the extremely messy middle. Jennifer thinks of this as women whose priorities are changing. This might be because of kids but it could be for other things as well. We can spend so much time working hard in our careers and then, we look up, have a look around, and wonder if this is what we want. There were these shifts and changes taking place but no one was really operating in that space and advocating for support with this in companies.
Jennifer did some research by interviewing a number of women in her community about what they would need to stay engaged in their careers and to be inspired to lead however leadership looked to them. The key thing that kept coming up was flexibility. Jennifer also did some research online and found that PricewaterhouseCoopers had actually put out a report that showed that in order to attract experienced female talent, the number one thing that the talent wanted was a culture of flexibility and work-life balance.
FLEXIBILITY WASN’T A PART OF THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Four or five years ago, even if companies did have a culture of flexibility, they weren’t talking about it or advertising it. When Jennifer looked at a job posting, she could not see herself there because she didn’t see anything about flexible work hours. She also didn’t see anything about remote work or the ability to work from home. Jennifer saw nothing that showed her how inclusive the company was and how they made sure that they were keeping their female talent. Nothing like this was advertised in the job descriptions that she would see.
COMPANIES MISSING OUT
For Jennifer, this indicated that these companies were missing out on this whole group of talent. There were women who would love to do a particular job if you just showed them that they had a place at the company by talking about how they could thrive. It could be the kind of role that could take someone to where they wanted to be. The job could allow them to still do what they wanted to do and to lead the kind of life they wanted to lead. This could be living in a farming community and wanting to tap into some business networks. It could also be wanting to be able to pick your kids up from school.
Jennifer saw this big gap in the market and thought that this was an opportunity to jump in and to start making those connections. She started with a newsletter where she collected jobs, collected names on a newsletter, and then circulated them around to make these connections. This wasn’t a very good business model because it didn’t make any money. However, with her kids home with her at this time, making these connections became a
real passion project. She knew what it felt like choices are limited. With what she was doing, the payment she got back in return was feeling like she was giving women more opportunities. Jennifer was connecting them to opportunities where they would feel really good and maybe even more free in going after what they wanted to go after.
APPLYING FOR A JOB
When Jennifer’s kids went to school, she wondered if she should get a J-O-B or continue with what she was doing. She applied for a job, went through the process, and came to the point of negotiating flexibility with the position. The company gave her some concessions but it felt more like accommodations versus a culture of flexibility.
MORE WORK TO DO
With this, Jennifer realized that there was a lot more work to be done terms of advocacy, changing mindsets, and raising awareness about how workplaces still aren’t working for women. Going through the process of applying for a job really affirmed her commitment and mission to doing what she had been doing. Jennifer launched the job board and the tellent community. Now, they are making strides and having successes!
YOUR JOB SEARCH
Tips for staying positive and focused:
- Don’t take it personally. It is a competitive job market right now with lots of applications and full inboxes.
- Remember that you have great skills and the right kind of experience.
- Surround yourself with cheerleaders and other people who are going through the process. This will keep you positive and moving forward.
- Look beyond job postings. Only 40% of jobs are actually posted online or advertised which leaves 60% not advertised. These are jobs on the hidden job market.
- Connect with other people and get networking. This means being of service to others and building relationships. The more you get to know other people, the more you are able to make connections and recommendations. People recommend people they kno, like, and trust.
NETWORKING AFTER A CAREER BREAK
If you’ve had a career break and feel like you have lost your network from when you were working before, start with the moms at the park that you talk to everyday. What do they know? Who do they know? What did they do before? Talk about what you want to do. People might not even know what you do or what you want to do. Having these conversations at a bare minimum, facilitates making connections. As well, it feels good to help other people. Maybe there can be an introduction. You can have conversations with your family or the people at your exercise group. It doesn’t have to be big. You can start small.
THE SAME STATISTICS
In Jennifer’s tellent community, she sees the same statistics with job postings. tellent get’s people to let them know how they’re doing, the jobs that they’re getting, and what they’ve been applying for. Of the people who successfully land jobs, 40% come from applying online and 60% are through connections. The latter includes word of mouth recommendations and reaching back to old contacts.
LEVERAGE THE PEOPLE IN YOUR CORNER
Jennifer reminds us that with our friends and family, we already have a leg up because they already like, know, and trust us. They will have no problem recommending us even if we shouldn’t be recommended! You already have people in your corner and you should leverage that!
LOOKING FOR FLEXIBLE WORK
- Understand what it is that you want. It is so much harder to negotiate when you don’t actually know what you want. How do you want to work? What are the things that are important to you? Write it all down.
- Connect with your network. Who do you know that works from home right now? What is it that they do?
- Do your research. What kinds of roles are in the highest growth rate right now in terms of remote work and careers or professions that you can do from home?
- Research the organization. See what their policies are, what they offer, and what they are telling the world that they do.
- Speak with others in the organization. Who else is working flexibly? How do they make it work? What was the process that they went through?
- Be prepared to present your case and to negotiate. Flexibility has to work in a negotiation for both parties. Make it easy for them to say yes. Create a strong enough case and make it really hard for them to say no. Think about the key things that they need to hear from you in order to say yes. It needs to be a win-win situation.
- Be prepared for pushback. This can happen if a company is unsure about flexible work. So have that in your back of your head. Don’t be afraid to pause and say, “Let me think about it”. You can also ask questions such as: How could this work better for you? What would make you feel comfortable? What would you need to see from me in order to have this happen? What if we trialed this? Asking questions is a really good way to understand where their comfort level is, where their discomfort level is, and to come up with solutions. It can strengthen your case for flexibility as well.
Jennifer has heard from employers that, for the most part, they want people to ask questions especially if you are looking for more flexibility in your current position. They’ve invested a lot of time and money in training you and supporting you to be where you are. You hold a lot of institutional knowledge and expertise. Employers want people to ask questions because you can work together to solve the problem and they don’t want to lose you. The worst case scenario, when you ask a question or for more flexibility, is that they say no. Then, at least you know.
Jennifer loves making connections and bringing people together. She feels that collaboration is key. If you try and do things on your own, you can. However, it’s going to be so much harder than if you work together with a group of people who want similar things to you, who have a generous spirit, and who show up in a positive way.
THE TELLENT COMMUNITY
In the tellent community there are entrepreneurs, freelancers, job seekers, and coaches. There are women who are looking for all kinds of different things including part-time jobs, full-time jobs, remote jobs, freelance and contract work. There are also women who don’t know what comes next. They don’t fit into any one category. These women are at a spot where they know that they want something different, they want it to be flexible, but they don’t know what that looks like. They are at a pivot point in their careers. The community is able to support them on this journey to finding work that works for them.
WORK THAT WORKS
Work that works for you is going to be different than work that works for someone else. What we each want out of life and what leadership looks like to each of us, is going to be completely different as well. Your version of success is going to look different than somebody else’s.
WHAT HAPPENS IN TELLENT?
There is lots going on in the tellent community! There are open office hours and coaching every Thursday by one of a variety of coaches including mindset coaches, life coaches, career coaches, leadership coaches, business coaches, or even a PR coach. It is an opportunity for you to show up and to ask your questions to whoever’s hosting that week. There are “Ideas Labs”, which are an opportunity to bring a new idea to a group, to test out the waters, and to have a brainstorming session. This helps with refining ideas and building a network of input and support moving forward.
One woman in the community was looking to make a transition from full-time work to going out on her own which can be quite difficult. Jennifer suggested that she freelance on the side with her accounting expertise while getting started with her nutrition business that she was really interested in. She came into the tellent community in March and quit her full-time job in the early fall of that same year. She is freelancing on the side with an organization and job that she got through a connection made at tellent!
Another woman had had a career break of six years. She came from a technology background but she wanted to go into interior design. She was a part of a bi-weekly networking call. There were eight other women on the call who were able to connect her with three different interior designers so she could explore what it’s like to make that career transition. She ended up working with one as an apprentice, getting mentorship, and then, a job. The community was able to help her to make that connection and she was able to pivot her career into something completely different!
COLLABORATION OVER COMPETITION
Jennifer says that the pie is big enough for all of us and if it’s not, we’ll make a bigger. It’s not like you’re taking something from me or I’m taking something for you. Jennifer sees that in the tellent community as well. Copywriters refer work to other copywriters because it’s not for them, it’s not a good fit, or they’re too busy. They’re actively helping their ‘so-called’ competition in getting more contracts. There is even one copywriter who is mentoring other copywriters in the group and sharing their skills and knowledge. Jennifer says that in this day and age, the idea of competition is outdated. The only way to move forward is to work together.
WHEN TO INTERVENE
One thing that Jennifer has struggled with as a mom is sometimes understanding or knowing when to intervene on behalf of her children and when to advocate for them. Jennifer’s kids are five and seven and her daughter, the older of the two, has high anxiety. She and her husband learned this when she was in daycare and they got some people to come in and help them.
JUNIOR KINDERGARTEN AND GRADE ONE
When Jennifer’s daughter started JK (Junior Kindergarten), they were prepared. They let their daughter’s teacher know how she could engage her and help her learn and integrate. She did really well and the growth they saw in her was amazing. When Jennifer’s daughter moved to Grade One, Jennifer again reached out to the teacher and her daughter had another good year.
Then, Grade Two came along. There was COVID, her daughter didn’t have friends in her class, and Jennifer was feeling stressed out. Her daughter seemed fine. Jennifer wasn’t sure if she needed to keep preempting the school year with a conversation with the teacher and setting expectations before things had even started. She wondered if she should just let it go naturally? Jennifer decided to let it go and that ultimately, didn’t go well.
NAVIGATING THE “SHOULDS”
There’s what your head says and what your gut says. Jennifer’s gut was saying to protect her daughter but she listened to the “shoulds” in her head. A week and a half later, Jennifer talked to the teacher and asked her to please help! It is difficult to know when to step back and when to get all involved. It’s tough to navigate all of the “shoulds”.
YOU ARE WHERE YOU ARE MEANT TO BE
Jennifer says that you are exactly where you’re meant to be right now for whatever reason. You are the most important person to a number of people out there. Don’t forget that. The value that you bring to your household and to your family and work will come. If you’re looking for work and you’re not there yet, jobs will come. The opportunities are out there. Figure out what you want. If you find that hard or challenging, talk to someone. Talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to a career coach, or join the tellent community! Talk to someone. Figure out what it is that you want and not what you should be doing.
Thanks so much to Jennifer for this fantastic conversation and thank YOU for tuning in!