It’s a choice familiar to many Westchester women who decide to have children: Do I continue to work and build my career or take time off to be home with the kids? Ardsley resident Anju Kurian made the latter decision, putting her management-consulting career on hold to raise her sons Jonah and Evan. But when her youngest started kindergarten in 2012 and she decided to return to consulting, Kurian was unprepared for how challenging it would be to get out of mommy mode and back into the workforce.
“I quite honestly jumped in without thinking,” she shares. And while Kurian found a position more easily than she expected, the transition was not exactly smooth. As she explains, “On the work front, many things had changed. Although my core skills were in place, the collaborative way people worked, the tools available, and even [Microsoft] Office had changed. Also, finding the right balance between work and home was difficult.”
Kurian’s experience, as she attests, is an all-too-common one: “Everywhere I went, I met experienced, talented women struggling for an opportunity to make the same transition.” But instead of merely lamenting the scenario, Kurian decided to do something about it. In 2013, with a cohort of six women—including Singari Seshadri, a venture capital professional, and Ardsley-based Dr. Carol Sommerfield, an executive career coach—Kurian co-founded Sparkup, an organization devoted to helping women re-ignite their careers.
Sparkup partners, Anju Kurian (left) and Anne-Barbara Lemmens (right) speaking at a recent event featuring a panel discussion with HR professionals and hiring managers.
Today, Sparkup, which is Westchester-based, has chapters in New York and San Francisco (Seshadrni oversees its West Coast arm), and counts more than 200 total members. The organization, which Kurian calls “a purpose-driven company,” exists to “advise, curate resources for, and build confidence in women going back to work after a career break.” Its core programs include panel discussions, career seminars, professional skills workshops, career bootcamps, and networking/social events, many of which take place at Serendipity Labs in Rye.
“More than anything, our events give our members an opportunity to network with like-minded people who are facing the same challenges of re-entry,” Kurian elaborates. “There is power in knowing you are not alone.”
She and her fellow entrepreneurs’ newest initiative is Sparkup Talent 2.0, a career re-entry accelerator led by Sparkup partner and Rye resident Anne-Barbara Lemmens, an expatriate from Holland, who also works in management consulting. The innovation seeks to connect local companies with Sparkup members via short-term paid work opportunities that could lead to a more permanent arrangement.
“Companies facing the talent war are always looking for good people, but are really unaware of this ‘invisible talent pool’” of women looking to return to work, Kurian confides. “Our members are well-educated, have extensive work experience, and are ready to hit the ground running. They are highly motivated and bring a level of maturity and emotional intelligence on top of their expertise in various industries and business functions. They’ve worked at prestigious companies in senior leadership positions and are looking for an opportunity to use these skills.”
Kurian and Lemmens have been reaching out to local companies across Westchester, Fairfield County, and New York City through their personal networks and are finding opportunities for women in all levels, ranging from business analyst roles to marketing and business development. They expect to have 10 placements by the end of the year and keep expanding the scope of companies they collaborate with.
Kurian knows that women who take time off to raise children and then try to get their careers back on track will continue to face challenges, but she’s optimistic that groups like Sparkup can play a big role in helping women overcome those roadblocks. “Transitions are a part of life,” she sums up. “But they are not meant to be navigated alone.