Is it time to rethink your 9 to 5? Women who changed careers midstream to follow their passions tell us how they did it.
Long gone are the days when a woman gave up her job upon marrying or having a child, or even two. In a study released this past March, Statistics Canada revealed that 82 percent of 25- to 54-year-old women participated in the labour market in 2015. But that doesn't mean we're proverbially chained to a steno pad and a desk; in fact, we're embracing the changing workplace landscape that includes opportunities to work from home, to work part time and to work in cottage industries. And beyond that, women are inspired more than ever to start their own businesses and pursue their career dreams.
There's plenty to consider when turning a passion into a career: everything from registering a business name to surveying your target market to, perhaps most importantly, selling yourself as a leader. Los Angeles–based business coach Nicole Jansen, a Toronto expat who has helped thousands of people make career transitions and launch entrepreneurial ventures over the past 25 years, says she asks clients to think about their greatest strengths. "That way, you can position yourself for a job you'll excel at," she says. "Your résumé is a sales piece and you're the product."
Something entrepreneurs often lack, adds Teresa Clouston, executive vice-president of business and agriculture at ATB Financial, an institution that provides banking products, service, investment advice and solutions in Alberta, is a strong handle on finances. "Profits don't guarantee the success of a business. Cash flow in and out is key to plan, understand and manage," she says. "Your banker, accountant and lawyer are powerful allies. An entrepreneur should proactively lean on them for help."
Don't discredit your time away from work, either, says Jansen. "If you were taking care of family or aging parents, position it as a choice you willingly made. The household is a business, too; never discount the value of being the CEO of that."
Volunteer work is another area women tend to understate, says Sheila Musgrove, an author and founder of Tag Recruitment Group in Calgary. She says some moms have "the most incredible volunteer experience hidden in their résumés. They'll say they volunteered at ABC Foundation, but when I dig deeper, I realize they helped raise a half-a-million-dollar investment!"
Phoebe Fung, Calgary
When Phoebe Fung left a lucrative 15-year career in Calgary's oil-and-gas industry to open up Vin Room, she had no experience in the restaurant business—but she did have a healthy appreciation for wine.
It was 2008 and Fung had taken a one-year sabbatical to travel the world. What she discovered was a love of wine. "I had every intention of going back to work," she says. Instead, at a little wine bar in Houston, over a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, she hatched a plan to open Calgary's first wine bar. "I felt we really needed this in the city and I would be the one to make it happen."
Nine years later, the 46-year-old restaurateur has three locations—including one in Calgary's airport—with a total of 70 employees. "There has been a lot of learning, but I don't have any regrets," says Fung, who struggled to get financing due to her lack of industry experience. She was able to negotiate an agreement to obtain financing as long as she committed to her shareholders and the banks not to take a salary for the first two years.
Not being afraid to seize opportunities to expand or change course, as Fung did, is vital, says Rebecca Liston, a business consultant and coach in London, Ont. "An entrepreneur has to be driven and focused but also flexible to move with what's happening. Being open to new possibilities is where the secret sauce to success really is."
By seeking out industry professionals she admired and offering them ownership incentives to leave their current positions and join the startup, Fung convinced a small team to take a risk on a newbie. "There's something very fulfilling in doing what you're passionate about and being able to control your destiny," she says.
Jane Canapini, Toronto
For 56-year-old Jane Canapini, the editor of the website Grownup Travels, that destiny was sealed the first time she went backpacking in Greece and Italy after university. "When we landed in Rome, I felt like I belonged and ended up moving to Italy for two years," she says. "I was bitten hard by the travel bug."
Canapini eventually went home to Toronto and spent more than 25 years in the advertising industry. But when she lost her job as a creative director five years ago, she decided to start blogging about her first passion. "I've been telling people the best places to visit for as long as I can remember," she says. "I realized I could be sharing that knowledge with a wider audience."
In launching her latest venture, Canapini says she was fortunate to have the financial support of her husband as a safety net, in addition to the ability to supplement her income with freelance jobs in advertising. "If you persevere and put yourself out there, the work will come," she says, adding she's getting more paid travel assignments and press trips.
Andrea Raco, Barrie, Ont.
Andrea Raco was a successful commercial insurance broker before she took 10 years off to raise four children and deal with serious health issues (she and her husband had both been diagnosed with cancer during that time). When the kids were in school full time and she felt ready to go back to the daily grind, the 46-year-old mother faced a dilemma. "I was earning a fair salary before, but I no longer had a professional licence and would have to retake my exam," she says. "I'd lost any seniority and would be starting over in an industry I had never been passionate about."
More and more companies in Canada are recognizing the value of their female employees and creating initiatives to ease their transition back to work after taking time away. Women aged 25 to 29 have been outpacing men in graduating university for more than two decades. "Women represent 60 percent of university graduates in Canada. They are a highly educated and motivated group who also represent 47 percent of the workforce, yet they are underrepresented in leadership roles," says Tanya van Biesen, executive director of Catalyst Canada, a Toronto-based nonprofit organization focused on helping women excel in the workforce. "Several companies have return-to-work, or on-ramp, programs. An excellent example in financial services is called Return to Bay Street," she says. This national program was founded in 2010 by Women in Capital Markets, and it offers, among other things, a minimum four-month full-time employment contract with an affiliated financial institution, plus $5,000 toward education.
In Raco's case, re-entering the job market was an opportunity to step back and figure out what she wanted to do—and it turned out it wasn't in the insurance sector. Instead, she focused on building a course that would take women through the self-evaluation process she had experienced. "I got specific about my values, what was rewarding for me and what I could offer to others as valuable," she says. Raco launched her business as a personal success coach two years ago and revels in helping women find their career niches. "The best advice I can give those re-entering the workforce is to take some time to reflect on the long-term effects of the choices you are about to make. You are at a crossroads in your life and have the perfect opportunity to reinvent yourself."
HOW DO I PREPARE TO MAKE A CAREER CHANGE?
Keep up on trends
"In preparing to make a career change, stay aware of trends. There is so much free and useful information online, from e-books to podcasts to courses in every subject," says L.A.-based business coach Nicole Jansen. "Find out all you can about an industry, and refresh your skills so you're relevant and can add great value to potential companies in your field."
Write a rock-solid résumé
That's how you'll land an interview. "People think we read résumés like novels, but 80 percent are rejected within the first 11 seconds," says Calgary-based recruiter Sheila Musgrove. Rather than filling a résumé with job titles and bullet points, state achievements, noting statistics and targets reached whenever possible.
Get a mentor
Everyone needs advice and support. Most transitions require adjustment, even when they're welcomed. Having trusted people in your inner circle will make the process easier.
WHERE DO I FIND MY DREAM JOB?
Use your digital presence
Don't underestimate social media, says L.A.-based business coach Nicole Jansen. "Potential employers and recruiters will search you online. Make sure they find you and that what is revealed casts a positive light on you, your skills and your professionalism." Use sites like LinkedIn to join groups categorized to your career and sign up for alerts for positions.
Do your research
Look for lists of top employers in your area or industry to find companies that may not be on your radar, says Calgary-based recruiter Sheila Musgrove. Check their websites for job postings.
"You have to be visible to the people who could hire or introduce you to your next great career opportunity," says Jansen, noting that networking events are ideal for building connections. "Most jobs come through word of mouth." Check your local chamber of commerce or entrepreneur organizations for other female business owners and learn from them. "As you build your passion into a business, surround yourself with a network that can give you candid feedback," says Calgary restaurateur Phoebe Fung.
HOME IS WHERE THE WORK IS
According to research by Statistics Canada, in 2008, 1.7 million Canadians worked from home, and of those working from home who are self-employed, women outnumber men (67 percent versus 56 percent). While a home office cuts commute time and provides flexibility—in addition to saving you a fortune on your work wardrobe—it's not for the easily distracted. Here are expert tips to ensure that your deadlines aren't sabotaged by your current TV addiction.
Dedicate a workspace
Even if your living area is small, devote a section for working, complete with a desk and an ergonomic chair. Your back will thank you.
Stay in the office
Resist the urge to tackle chores or run errands during business hours. Just as you would in an outside job, set office hours and stick to them.
Do not disturb
Tell family and friends you're not available at certain times of the day. Put a sign near your workspace stating the same.