The RM Podcast: Break the Bias for Women of Color

Symphony Talent
March 8 ․ 44 min read

Happy International Women's Day!

Today is about celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. 

The current state of women in the workforce: 

  • Women who left the workforce during the pandemic:
    • Roughly 3.5 million mothers with school-age children either lost jobs, took leaves of absence, or left the labor market altogether, according to an analysis by the Census Bureau.
    • Millions of women are sitting out the job market recovery while caring for relatives, searching for affordable child care, reassessing their careers, or shifting their work-life priorities.
  • Women in leadership roles:
    • 8% of CEOs are women.
    • Two Black women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies

The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a disproportionate blow to women of color, as evidenced by the dramatically dwindling number of black and brown women in the workforce. As a direct response to the impact of the pandemic on mothers, particularly mothers of color, The Mom Project founded RISE, an equity-focused upskilling program.

Debbie joins Chandra Sanders, Director, RISE, and The Mom Project to discuss how we can take action. 

Chandra is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion champion on a mission to create economic opportunities for moms and women of color. As Director for RISE, the inaugural initiative from The Mom Project’s not-for-profit arm, MomProject.org, her goal is to empower moms and women of color through transformative upskilling programs. 

We have tons of work to do before we can truly “celebrate” International Women’s Day and women’s history month. Listen in to learn more on how we can all work to “Break the Bias for Women of Color in Today’s Workforce.” 

Debbie Tuel:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the RM Podcast. I'm your host, Debbie Tuel. I hope that you are ready for an all new lineup of experts, who are itching to step out of the parameters of traditional recruitment and talent acquisition speak, and get real on what it means to recruit on a worker economy and quite frankly, an upside down world. Let's dig in together. You guys, today is March 8th, which means it is International Women's Day. A day about celebrating women's achievements, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality, #breakthebias. And yet, stuck in my head is the Paula Abdul song.

Debbie Tuel:

I just can't help it and I will spare you from listening to me sing, but we take two steps forward, we take two steps back. I know you guys know the song. As much progress as we've made, the pandemic has uncovered the disproportionate burdens that many women shoulder in caring for children, or aging parents, and highlighted the vital roles that they've long played in America's labor force. To put it mildly, this is a very personal topic for me today. During the pandemic, roughly 3.5 million mothers with school-aged children either lost their jobs, took leaves of absence, or left the labor market altogether, according to analysis by the Census Bureau.

Debbie Tuel:

That doesn't even count women like me, who took steps back in their career. I went from full-time to part-time because I had three school-aged children that were schooling from home for a year and a half during the pandemic. And doing that, along with the full-time job, was just too much. And many, in fact, millions of women are sitting out the job market recovery while caring for those relatives. They're searching for affordable childcare and reassessing their careers, or they're shifting work-life priorities. When we take a look at other areas where we're looking for improvement, we see that women have really grown in leadership roles, and yet still only 8% of CEOs are women.

Debbie Tuel:

And of those, only two black women CEOs are running Fortune 500 companies. We still have a huge pay gap. The gender pay gap hasn't budged in 15 years and the World Economic Forum says it will take 135 years to reach global gender parity. The United States is still the only industrialized nation without a federal paid family leave policy. So one in every four American women returns to work in just 10 days after giving birth. I was really fortunate when I had my three kids to work in an organization that had paid leave, and yet I still had to come back to the workforce after six weeks. There is so much that we can do raise the awareness, celebrate women, and take action for equality.

Debbie Tuel:

And we are going to talk about just that today and how we can break the bias. I am so excited to be joined today by Chandra Sanders, the founder of Heels N Hustle and the director of the RISE project at The Mom Project. Chandra, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us.

Chandra Sanders:

Thank you for having me.

Debbie Tuel:

Absolutely. Chandra, I am so excited to have you here today. It is International Women's Day. The work that you guys are doing at The Mom Project, I think is so inspiring for women like myself in the workforce that maybe leaving the workforce to raise children and looking to come back in. Share with our listeners a little bit about The Mom Project.

Chandra Sanders:

The Mom Project is a digital talent marketplace. The leader in connecting highly qualified women, highly qualified female talent, to companies that understand diversity and want to promote and include diverse women in their pipeline. We are on a mission to connect our community of over 500,000 women to a billion dollars of economic opportunity in the next two years.

Debbie Tuel:

That is an ambitious mission, but also one that is so important right now. We've talked about it on previous episodes, but I just want to rehash it for those who may be joining and listening for the first time. We have seen over the last two years, unprecedented numbers of women leave the workforce. And in SHRM's latest report taking a look at BLS data, they said that from February 2020 to January 2022, all of the men that left the workforce, whether it be by their choice or not, have regained those jobs numbers-wise.

Debbie Tuel:

And yet women, we are still 1.8 million short of women in the workforce two years after this pandemic started. To put that in perspective, we had really strong growth in January 2022. We would have to have that same rate of growth for the next 10 months just to get back to status quo for women, which breaks my heart. I know it's obviously a mission that's really dear to you. Share with us a little bit about what you guys are seeing at The Mom Project. Why are women leaving the workforce? And more importantly, why are they hesitant to come back?

Chandra Sanders:

So there's still a lot out of uncertainty with the pandemic. There are still people getting sick. There's still kids who have to quarantine. There's still daycare center challenges. These are reasons why women are hesitant to get back into the workforce because if we have to take off, if we can't work remotely, we don't want that to count against us.

Chandra Sanders:

And so we need to make sure that when we do reenter the workforce, that we are entering into a safe space that is flexible, allows her flexibility, but allows for us to continue to be parents and deal with those shifts as they happen without being red flagged.

Debbie Tuel:

Yeah. I can speak to this firsthand. I've got three little boys. When the pandemic started, we're talking about preschool, and I had a first grader, and a second grader. So I've got one child that can barely read and now needs to learn how to use a computer, and read, and write all of their lessons, and one that's not in school. That stretched on for me for 18 months because in Boston, our schools didn't go back. I had three little boys that I'm trying to educate at the same time as continuing to do my job with a husband that's continuing to do his job.

Debbie Tuel:

There's got to be flexibility. And now, here we are two years later, and we're still seeing that at any given time, your child could be at close contact and all of a sudden, they're out of school. What are you supposed to do as a working parent? And so love that you guys are seeing that and on a mission to fix that. I would to dive a little bit into what does that mean for talent acquisition professionals? How do they help support women that are looking to come back into the workforce?

Chandra Sanders:

As we said earlier, 2.4 million women left the workforce due to the pandemic, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Many of these women aren't returning into their same roles or returning into their same industries.

Chandra Sanders:

They're having to pivot. There are many instances where women have spent 30 years in marketing, and now can't get back in marketing due to many reasons, ageism being one, which is a whole nother story. However, 

Debbie Tuel:

A whole nother podcast.

Chandra Sanders:

A whole nother one. But we need our talent acquisition partners to look at these ladies who are pivoting holistically. Look at their transferable skills, allow them a chance to pivot. I started my career a long time ago as a high school Spanish teacher, but made several pivots because someone took a chance on me, and they opened the door for me to access different types of opportunities. They looked at my attitude, my aptitude, my transferable skills, and allowed me to continue my career and to grow, and so that's what we need our TA to do now.

Chandra Sanders:

Look at these ladies holistically, give them a chance. They may not fit a job description 90%. They may not even fit 80, but being a mom, and I say this all the time, moms are the C-suite of their entire family. We do everything and so there are so many transferable skills in being a mom. We can take all of what we do at home, all of the value that we have at home and provide at home, and we can provide that same value to companies. We just need those companies to give us a chance, believe in us, and open the door for us.

Debbie Tuel:

Absolutely. And speaking of pivoting, you've obviously made several pivots in your career. I would love for you to share with the audience, how did you find out about The Mom Project? How did you start working at The Mom Project and what pivots did that entail for you?

Chandra Sanders:

Pivots are fun. Like I said, I started my career a long time ago as a high school Spanish teacher, but pivoted a few times to leading product development at multiple Fortune 100 companies. And so that's what I was doing. I was working as a senior consultant for a company, but me, I got laid off during the pandemic as well. And so I was searching for a job, did just a simple Google search for jobs. That's what you do.

Chandra Sanders:

And found The Mom Project because I knew in searching for a job, that I didn't want to have to sacrifice my family for my career or sacrifice my career for my family. I needed something that was going to work together, because I haven't worked in an office since I had my last kid in 2017 and I didn't want to have to sacrifice that. The Mom Project provided me an opportunity and I secured a job at The Mom Project three weeks after being laid off and now I'm here.

Debbie Tuel:

Amazing. And I am excited to share with our listeners, the project that you are working on at The Mom Project. As we were preparing for International Women's Day, we immediately thought of The Mom Project and the work that you guys are doing to help women in general, but specifically women that are looking to get back into the workforce.

Debbie Tuel:

And then when we found out about the RISE project, we're like, "First of all, how did I not know about this? And second of all, we've got to get Chandra on to talk about it and share with our listeners because they likely don't know about it as well." So what is the RISE project?

Chandra Sanders:

Yes. So RISE is a transformative upskilling program. And I have to say it's a transformative upskilling program because there are many upscaling programs out there. But this one's transformative because we understand that it's not just the certificate that is going to give our community what they need to be competitive in the workforce. It is the programming that we have placed around, it's the framework that we have placed around our upskilling program, which includes the support, community support, holistic support. We're doing confidence building. We're providing them with resumes that are proven to stand up against different applicant tracking systems, especially if you have a career pause.

Chandra Sanders:

We're providing them with interview prep, one-on-one support, and women of color. Moms and women of color, we give everything that we have to everyone else, everything and we don't really save anything for us. But this is a space where moms, women of color can come together and have something for themselves, continue their career, build bonds with all the other women in this program, and elevate herself, her mind, her soul, all of these things along with her career. And so that is a little bit about what RISE is.

Debbie Tuel:

Amazing. And let's dig into that women of color piece of it because as you dig into that BLS research that I was mentioning earlier. In case you're not familiar, the Bureau of Labor Statistics for those that are listening. They actually dug into the numbers of growth, as we were looking into people coming back into the workforce. And they said that the largest piece of data that was alarming and the biggest impact was the dramatic drop of black women in the workforce.

Debbie Tuel:

I know that you guys have done your own research into why have we lost so many black women in the workforce and women of color, in general, and why are they not coming back? So share with us a little bit about the 2022 RISE Impact Report, the research that you did, and the findings that you found?

Chandra Sanders:

Yeah. So like I said, the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women of color, and me being one of them, I was blessed to find The Mom Project. But I was also blessed to put myself in position, and give myself skills, and ensure that I was always in a position to get a job. And so that's what we are doing with RISE. Four million households depend on a black woman's salary.

Chandra Sanders:

So if a black woman is not working, her kids are suffering and that could be a never-ending cycle of poverty. That's what we don't want. However, because of the pandemic, many black women were in roles that they weren't able to work in remotely. They didn't have any flexible options and so they couldn't remain in the workforce, which is not right.

Debbie Tuel:

No, and that impacts our entire economy. If you are listening and you are not a woman of color, you've got to realize that this stretches beyond the individual. This impacts every aspect of our economy. It's important that this become a group effort to get that population back to work.

Chandra Sanders:

Oh, yes. And so, again, that is why we are doing what we're doing with RISE. We are providing them with no cost upskilling opportunities to get skills, in which they can work and have the opportunity to get jobs that are in tech, which is where the flexibility is. And that is honestly, where the economic opportunity is. And so we're allowing them to get skills part-time in six weeks to six months.

Chandra Sanders:

These skills include project management, UX design, data analytics, IT support, Salesforce administration. Truly, highly sought after skills that can put these ladies back into the workforce, put them in a position to win so that they can find those roles, in which they can work flexibly. Have those options so they won't have to choose between either staying home or working.

Debbie Tuel:

You just touched on something, Chandra, that I don't think many other organizations are doing, which is not just, "Hey, we need to get these women of color back into the workforce, but we recognize that there is a gap in the market for what these women need to get back to the workforce."

Debbie Tuel:

And you're doing some work around helping reskill that talent. Share with us a little bit more about why. What are you guys seeing? What made you say, "Hey, look, it's not just about getting them back, but we've got to actually do some work here to get them prepared to go back?"

Chandra Sanders:

Yeah. And yes, it's not just about getting them back. We've all been through a lot of challenges in this last couple of years. We have women in our program, who have lost their husbands due to COVID so they're left home with small kids. They've lost their parents, they've lost their jobs. Some of them have lost their sense of self-worth, and they feel invaluable and they shouldn't. Now, that's what we've put this program around, because we take a holistic approach to this because we know that women of color for years have been underrepresented and kept out of certain spaces.

Chandra Sanders:

That's why we've had to create this program with all this programming around it, because it's not just about the certificate. They need the confidence. They may not even have the network that they need to know what it's like to work in the tech industry. They haven't had that exposure. So we're connecting them with mentors at Fortune 100 companies. We're giving them that experience, we're giving them that exposure so that they can get that job. They can sell themselves in their interview. They can be confident in themselves especially. We have many success stories of women who have been out of the workforce for a while, came and upskilled with us.

Chandra Sanders:

Took advantage of all the program that we had, such as confidence building, interview prep, support that we were providing them, and have gotten jobs with no problem making very close to six figures, very close, with being out of the workforce for a while. And so that's like an automatic value-add confidence booster. And now they can take all of that and bring it back, and help the next person come along as well. So again, this is why we're doing it. We know it's not just a certificate, but it's about everything else because the pandemic's not over. There's still things that we have to face outside of this upskilling program.

Chandra Sanders:

Other challenges that we have to overcome in the world. But in this space, they can feel safe, and confident and know that they have a community around them, and a company that is going to fight for them, and provide them with not just the reskilling, but with confidence, holistic support, and also job placement at the end.

Debbie Tuel:

I really wish I had a soundboard right now so that I could hit the cheers, and applause, and standing ovation. You're right, the pandemic's not over, but this work that you are doing was much needed pre-pandemic and will span well beyond the pandemic. And for those that are listening that may not know, The Mom Project has been along for way before the pandemic.

Debbie Tuel:

The RISE project was in response to the number of women of color that dropped out and weren't coming back, but this is such an important thing for us to be talking about and addressing. And if I am listening right now and I want to get involved with the work that you're doing at RISE, what do I do? How do I get involved?

Chandra Sanders:

Visit momproject.org and there's a little button there. It says partner with us, contact us, just send us a quick email and we'll reach out and set up some time. We are looking for partners. We're looking for women to join our program. We have a huge goal. We need to upskill 10,000 by the end of 2023, which I know we won't have a problem.

Chandra Sanders:

But however, we need partner to come along this journey with us because we can't do this alone. We need allies, we need partners, we need companies that believe in what we're doing. And who truly want to diversify their pipeline and allow for access for women of color, who have been traditionally underrepresented in these spaces.

Debbie Tuel:

I'm going to shift this a little bit, Chandra, because I think there's another side of this that we can't ignore is you mentioned that in the RISE Impact Report, you guys saw that 94% said that the absence of flexibility was a major obstacle to them coming back to the workforce. But at the same time, we are also seeing and we just know historically, that it is going to put us at a disadvantage if we are not getting the face time that our male colleagues are getting. How do we balance that?

Debbie Tuel:

I'm not expecting you to have the answers, but I think we as women, take so much on our shoulders to, "I've got to be responsible for my children and making sure that their health and wellbeing during this crazy time is okay. I've got to make sure that everything at work stays afloat." And we will automatically take ourselves back mentally a step in our career because of it. And I think this is going to have really, really major rippling impacts for the next five to 10 years. How do we help that from not happening?

Chandra Sanders:

I feel like we may put too much pressure on ourselves as women, but there is a balancing act. I have not worked in an office since 2017 and that has not stopped me from growing, because my companies that I've worked for has allowed me to make connections and build relationships. And they cared about my trajectory, and they've connected me and provided me with opportunities.

Chandra Sanders:

So we need these companies to understand and build programming around keeping women in the workforce. Yes, we can't always pack our bags and go to the office, or go to an onsite meeting or all these things, but there still should be some type of cultivation, some type of resource for women so that we are not left out. This has caused a huge back slide in workplace equality.

Debbie Tuel:

Absolutely.

Chandra Sanders:

And so we have the potential now, we have the opportunity now to shape the future's stay of the workplace and we have to do it right. I say it all the time, I say all these things all the time. It's like you can't put new wine in old wine skins. Everything's new now, we can't go back. We won't be going back to what it used to be. If you have a chance,

Debbie Tuel:

You're speaking wine, you're speaking my language. Yes, good analogy.

Chandra Sanders:

But we have a chance. We have an amazing opportunity in our hands right now to truly make the future of the workplace inclusive for women, inclusive for women of color, and flexible. And bring the human experience back to work. We are not in a place where we can separate being human and being at work anymore.

Debbie Tuel:

Empathy.

Chandra Sanders:

Have to work together.

Debbie Tuel:

Empathy 100%. I think flexibility is the key there. We're not saying that women don't want to be in the workplace. They just need to have the flexibility to where if they have a kid at home, that they don't have to be in two days a week. So this hybrid model concept is not going to work for them. It needs to be that flexible ebb and flow of, "This is what's happening right now in my life and I can't be in the office, but I can still 100% be effective and an over producer."

Debbie Tuel:

And giving that empowerment, having the empathy for the situations that they're in, and really being able to lift them up and support them in those flexible models, I think, is key for organizations who really want to have an impact with their workforce.

Chandra Sanders:

Yeah, exactly. And we say it all the time about women and moms. Our allies may not like that so much, but honestly, it's for everyone. Everyone needs flexibility. We have been through so much mentally in the last few years, everyone needs some time.

Debbie Tuel:

Yep.

Chandra Sanders:

Everyone needs to be able to have a little control over their schedule.

Debbie Tuel:

Yeah.

Chandra Sanders:

For your mental health.

Debbie Tuel:

Yes, absolutely. Chandra, we could keep going on and on. I'm loving this conversation. I think that our listeners are going to get so much value out of listening to this. We were also talking too of the fact that our audience is primarily recruiters, tele and acquisition professionals, and they are majority women as well. And we are seeing these stats that are coming out of how hard it is to even recruit recruiters right now, and that recruiters don't want to do recruiting. I think we're forgetting the shortsightedness of, "Hey, look, all of this comes together," and we're talking today about women in the workforce.

Debbie Tuel:

We're talking today about how it's disproportionately affected women of color. I think we need to take our lenses off and say, "Hey, look, this is a broader issue. And it is something that we need to see the nuances to, but we need to address all aspects of this. And really be able to put plans in place that are going to sustain us beyond the pandemic. That are going to sustain us in this new workforce that is happening right now." This isn't going away. This is going to be an ongoing need. We've also realized that guess what? We can be productive in this model so we don't have to go back.

Chandra Sanders:

No, we don't. That's just almost like abuse to make someone go back.

Debbie Tuel:

Yes, it is. So we are going to rap with our rapid fire questions. We love this piece of it because it gives our listeners just some ideas of like, "What else could I be doing? What else should I be doing? I like Chandra a lot. I want to do what Chandra's doing." So here we go. All right. What is the one book or podcast that you have read or listened to in this past year that you would recommend to our listeners?

Chandra Sanders:

The Energy Bus by John Gordon. This is one of my favorite books because you want to make sure that you are always as best as you can, exuding positive energy and not allowing energy vampires to suck out all of you.

Debbie Tuel:

What you put out into the world, you get back from the world. Yes, The Energy Bus.

Chandra Sanders:

That's my book. Yes.

Debbie Tuel:

Awesome. And who's the author of The Energy Bus? You've got it in front of you, but since our listeners can't hear it.

Chandra Sanders:

John Gordon.

Debbie Tuel:

John Gordon. All right, there we go. We also, every episode have the next guest or the current guest ask the next guest a question. So we're going to start with a question that came from Brian Sommer, who we had on last episode. I've got to say, talk about kismet or whatever you want to put out there, but he didn't know you were going to be our guest, and yet this is so perfect for you.

Debbie Tuel:

And his question is there's so many new advancements in technology that are coming into the HR area, and they're going to require new skills like stem, and degrees that we don't have for things like machine learning, and data analytics, and big data. So he would like to hear about what we are doing to reskill women in business so that they can be equal players and partners?

Chandra Sanders:

This is the perfect question. I am on a mission right now to create these opportunities for women and women of color. I am upskilling at this present time, over 3,000 women in data analytics, in UX design and all of these tech trending stem type of roles. Yeah, I'm reskilling them now so that's what we're doing. We're preparing them, we have a goal to upscale 10,000 by the end of 2023 and place them in jobs. We are already on this mission.

Debbie Tuel:

Love it. So Brian, if you want to know, go check out The Mom Project, go check out the RISE. And if we can scale that, if we can double down on that, I think it's going to do us all well.

Debbie Tuel:

What is your question for our next guest? We are going to continue to focus on women in the workplace throughout the month of March so what would be your question for the next guest?

Chandra Sanders:

How are you finding your forward?

Debbie Tuel:

Ooh, I like that. How are you finding your forward? And who is the one person that you think everyone should follow?

Chandra Sanders:

My favorite person is Bozoma Saint John, and she is the CMO at Netflix. I love her so much because she's a badass, authentic executive who's never let any of the naysayers stop her. She's had a non-traditional path and so she's just one of my favorite people.

Debbie Tuel:

Awesome. We will get her Twitter handle and link it in the podcast notes. So if you are listening and you're like, "Yes, I need to follow her," go click that. And what is the next cool piece of technology that you've seen that you are excited for?

Chandra Sanders:

I am very into VR and the metaverse, surprisingly. I was hesitant for a minute but I am very into it. I really like the VR experience. It's a little weird at first, but just all of the possibilities that you can experience with that headset on with whether it's gaming or wellness. Oh my God, I'm so in into it right now.

Debbie Tuel:

I've got to say, we did get a Quest, as did most people for Christmas this year. Santa was very good to our boys. And I was like, "What is this thing? Why is Santa doing this to us? Why am I doing this to myself?" And then you put it on, you're like, "This is amazing. Yes, I will play Beat Saber 10 times more. I love it, yes." Chandra, for those that are listening, they want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Chandra Sanders:

You can find me on LinkedIn, Chandra Sanders, or you can find me on Instagram at Officially Chandra.

Debbie Tuel:

Officially Chandra. Amazing, Chandra. Thank you so much for joining us today. It has been such a great conversation and look forward to working closer with you and The Mom Project moving forward.

Chandra Sanders:

Thank you. Thank you for having me. I had a great time.

 

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