With my book underway, I’m interviewing many people who know firsthand the trials and tribulations women experience with life’s “you never knows”. Every year LouAnn Bloomer, the CEO of TBICO in Danbury, Connecticut, helps more than 500 women move past unexpected adversity, and she has some simple, but powerful lessons for any woman facing any challenge at any time.
TBICO is an acronym for “The Bridge to Independence and Career Opportunities”, and in 2012 I wrote about the organization in my blog post, “Helping Women Help Themselves”.
When TBICO was founded in 1993, it was primarily a “welfare to work” program focused on women who had always been in the lower economic strata. Over the years TBICO has also had a strong alliance with domestic violence centers—helping battered women get back on their feet. But now LouAnn says that her non-profit serves GEDs to PhDs: the difficult economy and job market has brought many once higher-income women to TBICO’s door.
About half of the women who attend the six-week business training course are from middle to upper class backgrounds gone awry. Most often economic situations have taken a drastic plunge due to a husband’s job loss or a divorce. These are women who, because of assets like a house or a car, are not eligible for state assistance—but from a cash perspective they can hover dangerously close to the poverty line.
Despite dire situations, TBICO is not a counseling center that holds your hand. While some community programs give women the much-needed “pat” or comfort, LouAnn says that TBICO’s objective is to “push”. She acknowledges difficult situations, but then quickly moves to a more “Go Girls” empowering mantra: “Get over it. Get out of it. Get out of your own way.”
In my older and wiser years I’ve realized that even those who appear to live a fairytale existence struggle with at least one big challenge. Indeed, no one escapes life’s twists and turns. TBICO is a good reminder that we can’t choose our fate, but we can choose how we respond—and take action.
At TBICO “action” is the operative word. With the organization’s training and approach, more than 60% of the women (many who have been out of the workforce for a decade or more) have administrative to mid-level career-building jobs (not retail jobs in the mall) within three months.
As I listened to LouAnn describe the success of her program, I thought about the fact that she moves women from despair to solid direction in a very short time. How can this be when so many other women are lost in a job search for months or years? When so many other women think they have no chance of returning to significant work after a long hiatus from the workforce? When so many other women stay in a job they do not enjoy because they fear reinvention? When so many other women feel they cannot find the work to improve their chances for retirement security?
My questions were essentially asked and answered in the 2013 Job Preparedness Study, which concludes that job seekers are out of synch with hiring managers–and that “disconnects” between job seekers and employers are the biggest barriers to employment–not the current job market. The study found that managerial candidates feel their biggest strengths are a strong work ethic, ability to work well with others and self-motivation–all of which are attributes (not skills) that hiring managers consider baseline (not cutting-edge) requirements for jobs. What employers really want to see are candidates who have a global outlook, the ability to network internally and externally, a strategic perspective and business acumen. When candidates emphasize their work ethic, for example–and not examples of how their strategic thinking has improved the bottom line–they don’t get the job. That’s an example of poor interviewing skills–not commentary on picky employers or a difficult job market.
In addition to teaching women how to interview and bringing in employers to talk specifically about what they look for in candidates, LouAnn tells job seekers you just can’t give yourself the option to fail–or give up. (In fact, 47% of the long-term unemployed do give up…) According to LouAnn you must really want to improve your situation, be completely focused on your goal and be willing to put a full-time effort toward real progress. She speaks with first-hand conviction because many years ago she was in the same place as the women who come to TBICO. Divorced at the age of 26, she had three children under the age of 5. Without a college education, her job prospects included the local diner—but she got the training she needed for an executive assistant job at IBM. She cobbled together babysitting for her children, drove 60 miles to work and ended her 20-year IBM career in a higher-level community relations job.
In the decade+ I have worked with women, I have not met hundreds of LouAnns. More often I hear all the reasons that women believe their work+life aspirations are impossible or destined to fail. It’s the poor economy, the difficult job market, too many years out of the workforce, age discrimination, outdated skills or experience, too much time in one industry, no chance for flexibility and much more. There’s always somewhere to point a finger…too many reasons that too much valuable time slips by each and every day. The TBICO lesson is that you control the outcome: you can quickly scale any mountain when you take responsibility, determine what you can and cannot change and get out of your own way. —KAS
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