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Portland mother on a mission to help other caregivers reenter the workforce

Heather Kenvin is founder of and career coach at Cardigan Associates. She started her business in the summer of 2021 to help mothers and caregivers get hired again.

PORTLAND, Maine — A woman who lives in Portland is on a mission to help other women who have taken time off from traditional jobs reenter the workforce when they're ready to do so.

Heather Kenvin is the founder of and a career coach at Cardigan Associates, a business she launched in July 2021. She launched the business because she said she saw a need for help for women who had taken time out of the paid workforce — whether that was to stay home with kids, care for a relative, or because they were sidelined by the pandemic. She said with everyone she spoke to, she noticed a common theme.

"There was this thread among women [of] a lack of confidence, even among women who had pretty fancy resumes," Kenvin said.

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For her, that revelation is a personal one. Kenvin has a bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College and a master's degree from Harvard University. Despite these qualifications, she found it was difficult to get hired again after taking a little more than a decade off from work to raise her son. She said when it comes to caregiving, women typically take on a lot more of the responsibility.

"It’s still largely women who are the ones who are picking up the slack," Kenvin said.

Through Cardigan Associates, Kenvin helps women review their resumes and practice for interviews. For her, it's all about helping them reestablish their confidence and realize they bring important skills to the table.

"I think there's a ton of multi-tasking that happens when you're a parent because you're dealing with someone whose needs really have to be met immediately," Kenvin said. "You figure it out."

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Kenvin helped friend Julie Cook regain her confidence — and in turn, she ended up landing her dream job working as general manager at Mae's Cafe and Bakery in Bath when it sold to new owners in the fall.

"I think my favorite part of what I do now is connecting with the community," Cook said. "We have the most incredibly nice customers."

Cook's path to this role definitely wasn't straight. She worked in advertising and marketing in New York City for years, with some names as big as Martha Stewart. Then, she unexpectedly had four children in five years. She left the workforce in 1995, and when she tried to reenter it years later she found everything had changed.

"I was told by every single person that I met that I had no credentials," Cook said.

She did the only thing she knew how to do: she started from scratch.

"I literally started over," Cook said. "I mean, I think my children made more money than I did on my first few jobs."

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Rebecca Smith is a current client of Kenvin's. She got laid off in February 2020 due to budget cuts and then moved to a different state to help support her mother. She said she didn't want to go back to work then because she didn't want to get her mother sick; but after about two years of living off of her savings, she said she has been scrambling to find a job.

"I’m finding it much more difficult than I expected," Smith said. "It is frustrating and concerning because I do need to work."

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On the national stage, The Mom Project has been working on similar measures for about six years, helping women find flexible work opportunities with employers that understand the value of having mothers and women in the office. Pam Cohen, chief research and analytics officer for Werklabs of The Mom Project, said the demand has been "overwhelming." 

"We’ve had 800,000 to a million women on our platform at any given time," Cohen said.

Cohen added it's important women are open and honest with employers about the flexibility they would like in their schedules later on in the interview process. She said women should have confidence in their unique set of abilities. 

"Moms returning to the workforce really help create an empathetic working environment," Cohen said. "[That's] something people are looking for in droves now."

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You can read more about Cardigan Associates here and The Mom Project here.

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