Sarah Ligon ’03, Writer

Rejoining the Workforce

Wellesley's Magazine originally published this story, On the Relaunch Pad in 2016.


In the years after she graduated from Wellesley, Danya Underwood Rivlin ’99 put her professional life on hold to be home with her children. But after seven years as a stay-at-home mom, she was ready to return to the workplace and began interviewing. Last November, having been passed over for a couple of jobs for which she was well-qualified, Rivlin wrote a self-described “cry for help” on a popular alumnae Facebook group. “Can I still have a rewarding professional life ahead of me?” she asked. “Where do I start?”

Rivlin was in good company. She was one of the more than 2 million American women between the ages of 24 and 54 who the United States Department of Labor says are unemployed and looking for work.

Of the dozens of alumnae interviewed for this story, many chose to take time off to care for a child or a sick parent. For others, it was a necessity driven by the high costs of child care or the inflexibility of the work world around the responsibilities of family life. It was a conflicted decision for many, who spoke of their alma mater’s emphasis on women’s professional success and the pull of the College’s motto to minister to a wider community. And whether they saw their time off as a luxury or a necessity, all of them acknowledged it as a privilege not shared by most working women. For Rivlin, even the term “time off” is a misnomer. “Time off from what?” she asks. “I feel like I’ve worked harder in the last seven years than I’ve ever worked in all the rest of my life combined.”

Whatever their feelings about their career breaks, at some point they all wanted to return to work. The statistics, however, can be discouraging. The Center for Talent Innovation, founded by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and author of the book Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, surveyed thousands of “highly qualified women” in 2004 and again in 2009, after the economic downturn. The latter survey found that 89 percent of respondents said they wanted to return to work, but only 73 percent of them succeeded, and only 40 percent found full-time jobs. A CNN headline in 2013 put the case more bluntly: “Moms ‘opting in’ to work find doors shut.”

Of course, re-entering the labor force is not an issue only for mothers—or even only for women. In today’s economy, career breaks of any sort can seem insurmountable. But just as Wellesley alumnae have earned a reputation for being successful at launching careers, they have proved no less successful at relaunching them.  Read the rest of the story on Wellesley Magazine.