Podcast: reacHIRE’s Addie Swartz on Leveling the Playing Field for Women

Working Woman

Transcript

Mark:

Welcome to PeopleTech the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Mark:

My guest today is Addie Swartz. The CEO of reacHIRE. They recently launched a new product called Aurora, that aims to help women build up their soft skills for business using content, advice, and community. Aurora impacts, employee engagement and instills a sense of belonging by helping women feel more connected to their peers and more confidence in their work. We’re going to talk about women returning to work, the challenges they face and how they can develop their careers on this edition of PeopleTech.

Mark:

Hey Addie, it’s nice to see you. So can you tell me about reacHIRE and Aurora?

Addie:

Sure. So I have been on a mission to help women of all backgrounds reach their potential and to give people second chances. And so about 10 years ago, I had the idea that, wouldn’t it be great to create a formal on ramp for people who had taken time off, for whatever reason. And so reacHIRE was born to create that on ramp, to help people that had been sidelined for either personal reasons, health reasons, family reasons, or other, get back into the workforce. Over the last 10 years, we’ve learned so much about what it takes to help individuals, both men and women, succeed coming back into newer environments with different skills, building on new tech skills and going into new industries that didn’t exist when they left and with using new technologies that didn’t exist when they left. And having them be super successful, that we bottled it up into a digital platform called Aurora, which helps more women from different backgrounds grow and thrive at every stage of the Pipeline.

Mark:

What led you to develop Aurora? Was there a need that you saw to be filled or was it just, you thought it was a better way to enable and empower these folks?

Addie:

Yeah, no. Well, I have two daughters and a lot of my companies, I’m on my third company now through my entrepreneur career and each has been inspired by different times in my life and the different needs that I’ve identified either with them or for them. And I really felt like there wasn’t a roadmap for how you actually navigate corporations. And this next generation of people were just getting dumped into corporate America with not a lot of perspective or guidance. And so I felt like, “Wow, we knew so much about taking people that had been out of the workforce for so many years and putting them back in. That secret sauce could most likely help people that were just starting their careers and in the middle of their careers, do a better job of navigating them.”

Addie:

And it’s that formula or recipe of personal connection, peer support, curriculum, and professional development, like really learning what it means to be a leader and how you show up as a leader. And also having that personal executive guidance that can really offer you some perspective and help you avoid the hard knocks that somebody that was before you had, that really informed me about building out Aurora.

Mark:

How’s the reaction been?

Addie:

Super exciting. So I think in this world where career paths or non-linear, we’re now in a world of hybrid work, people with the pandemic have really been isolated in their homes and that connection into other individuals and colleagues across the organization, is far more limited. There needs to be new tools and new technologies that really help better support and create connectivity and belonging. And that’s what Aurora is all about. It’s this opportunity to layer on coaching, group connection, some professional development, and just common sense feedback from peers, all in one place that both in a nonlinear/linear fashion, can really help drive better career outcomes, more loyalty, more connectivity, and more long-term retention.

Mark:

Let me step back a bit and ask you about reacHIRE, as opposed to Aurora. What kind of reaction do you get to reacHIRE’s mission? Do executives take it seriously at the companies you approach or are they just trying to pretend they’re taking it seriously?

Addie:

Well, I think that we started out almost 10 years ago and we have definitely had our early adopters. People that said, “We’ll try this. We’ll take four people and see how it goes.” But we’ve really evolved and our corporations have evolved with us. And we view it as a true partnership of workforce planning. You always know there are certain jobs that you have, especially both on the tech side and then just in corporations. How do you actually take people with a certain skillset, repurpose them into new industries and add to their skillset, but with their past seasoning, enable them to actually contribute significantly? So, it has taken a while. I think that with a very tight economy and a job market, the way it is, people are more open minded now to thinking about trying. We have a test drive model where we not only are experts in recruiting/identifying great talent whose skills can be transferred into these new jobs and different jobs, but we actually support them along the way with coaching, the Aurora platform, that helps the returners get back. So it’s the surround sound approach that really makes a difference.

Addie:

So corporations like T-Mobile, Wayfair Fidelity, Inmar, a cybersecurity company, and lots of others, have really embraced this because they’ve seen the power of bringing a cohort of people in, having them be specially selected, specially trained, then getting that support along the way. So they truly are a cohort and a community that is doing it together. And the retention is really significant. So over 90% retention of these incredible people that have years of experience, but with the right support system, with the right technology tools. I mean, we all use Zoom, right? Think about the power of Aurora and the ability for many organizations to embrace Aurora to help more of their underrepresented groups, grow and thrive. And so technology should be enabled by people in a way to really change outcomes.

Addie:

And if we really all care about DEI, we need to take action. There’s something that Peter Drucker said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” We need to do different things. We’re in a different world now. Hybrid work is here to stay. We’ve seen in some markets where if you don’t have 100% remote job, people won’t take it. They’ll look for 100% remote job because they don’t really want to go into an office, which has its own other problems. I don’t really necessarily agree with that entirely, but we really need to take action. We need to think differently. We need to harness the technology that’s out there, to create environments that are community supported and allow people within an organization to connect with each other for more support

Mark:

You launched this in the midst of COVID I think. And I was wondering what impact did that have on Aurora, on the company, the market? It seems like it would be a tough thing to navigate with all you’ve got going on.

Addie:

Well, I think that, they say when a door closes, a window opens. And I had to say that we sort of formally launched it February 11th, 2020. It was about three weeks before the pandemic officially shut down corporate America, as we know it. Heck and the world. And it gave us a chance to really think about what we were doing and how we could expand our offerings. So when we first launched, it was really an early career platform for women who were just starting their careers, to help them better navigate, because we know that women fall behind early and they never catch up. It’s the famous McKinsey Women in the Workplace Report, that shows every year that more men get promoted to the first level of manager than women. And if you actually look at the trajectory, if you can’t make it equal, then you’re never going to catch up.

Addie:

And that’s sort of, what’s been the case for the last X number of years. With the pandemic it’s even been made worse. But so the pandemic made us take a step back. We already were piloting the program and the platform in a handful of companies, so that didn’t really stop those pilots. And we did some great research on the efficacy of the platform, which is super exciting. But it also gave us a chance to go, “Wait a minute, here, all those mid-level women that are leaving the workforce in droves right now, because of all the responsibilities they have with their families and their loved ones and other responsibilities, just making it very difficult for them to stay in their jobs. Why can’t Aurora be available for them?” So it instigated more innovation and Aurora now is for early career women, women of color, women mid-career, and other underrepresented groups. And we have a track for returners as well.

Addie:

So really we have a goal for making Aurora ubiquitous tool for all underrepresented groups. Right now we’re focused on maybe a little bit north of 50% of the population, but the pandemic really offered that opportunity for us to expand our platform.

Mark:

Do you ever see Aurora becoming a general tool, not just for diverse communities?

Addie:

Absolutely. We have something called the 10 Minute Career Workout. Who has time for anything, let alone thinking about their career? But you might be in a line at Starbucks and have 10 minutes that you could on your phone, do something to empower yourself, navigate through a difficult issue that you’re faced with, or just want to get or give some advice to somebody else and help them along the way. So we really believe that Aurora could be a tool that everyone could take advantage of and help them better leverage their career journeys.

Mark:

How much support does Aurora need inside a company? I think, is it something that can go into, let’s say someone in human resources and they can roll it out and get it adopted or does it need serious buy in from the C-suite?

Addie:

No, it’s really easy to implement. And we have two offerings. We have our enterprise platform that can be offered through an ERG. So hundreds, thousand people at a time can be on the platform. And then we have Aurora Accelerate Program, which layers on top of the platform, this great leadership development opportunity and experience that allows women to grow and thrive with a senior executive, who’s already gone through and succeeded in corporate America, who’s now guiding them and coaching them on how to be more successful. So it’s really simple to execute and basically we can get hundreds of people on the platform, simply. It’s just a matter of making sure that we don’t hit the firewall when we send them the email to invite them and then we do the rest. And we have great performance statistics to show the impact the program is having and has had, not only in use of the platform, but the efficacy of the program overall and the growth that the individuals are getting and sharing as they go through it.

Mark:

So where do you go from here? Where do you want to bring Aurora and bring reacHIRE? What are your plans?

Addie:

Well, I really feel that what we know, is how to drive belonging and retention. And I think that’s something that everybody talks about, that nobody really has a handle on. There’s platforms that give you points if you show gratitude and if you appreciate your employees and those are all great. But how do you actually physically help somebody grow and thrive and manage through different challenges? Corporate America is complicated and complex. And how do you know which opportunities to take? How do you know how to better navigate around different people that maybe have a different way of working than you do? We feel that people need support. We know coaching is so powerful, but it’s not about coaching somebody out of an organization and thinking about what they want. We coach in cohorts. Aurora is a virtual experience where you’re with a group of other people within your organization.

Addie:

You’re building bonds across time zones. You’re building bonds across units within the company. And you’re learning from each other in addition to learning from an executive, in addition to learning from the platform curriculum and the group sessions that we have. So, what I want to see, is that more people realize their potential. That more people are able to stay and thrive. We know that not everybody stays, right. We know that people, especially women, when they hit bumps, they often exit. We want more people to navigate. It’s almost like a GPS system. We want to be able to help them maneuver around those obstacles and see that those challenges become opportunities. That’s the power. And so it’s almost a different mindset. It’s thinking, how does an organization partner with their people to have more of them succeed? Not doing it an old fashioned way where people are more competing and there’s only room for a few people.

Mark:

Addie, thanks very much for your time today.

Addie:

Thank you so much, Mark.

Mark:

My guest today has been Addie Swartz, the CEO of reacHIRE, and this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of Recruiting Daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcast.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

Image: iStock

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