For years, Cynthia DeMonte’s professional frustrations sat on a slow simmer. Not that you could tell by her résumé. A strategic planner and marketing/PR ace with niches in business development and crisis communications, DeMonte held staff positions at a number of prominent companies, climbing the corporate ladder—only to find it was ugly at the top. “I was a senior vice president, and men were constantly asking me to type things!” she recalls. DeMonte was also appalled by what she saw as a widespread “anything to get the business” mentality. “You cannot tell a startup you’ll have them on the cover of Fortune within three months,” she says. “It’s unscrupulous.”
The boiling point came when DeMonte helped broker a deal that earned the client more than $150 million. “My firm received a huge fee, and the owner of the agency put his hand on my shoulder and told me how ingenious I was,” she says. That ingenuity went entirely unrewarded at bonus time.
“I felt taken for granted and unappreciated,” DeMonte says. “I was sick of working 12- to 18-hour days, killing myself to fulfill promises that could never become reality, sick of defending excess billable hours, sick of turning work over to junior people, only to jump back in when problems arose.”
Gender discrimination, an absence of ethics, and flat-out unfairness run amok. Many workers can relate. And if your experience doesn’t mirror DeMonte’s, perhaps you bumped a glass ceiling, were unexpectedly downsized, or couldn’t obtain flexibility needed to tend to your family. Women can devote half their lifetime to an industry only to feel put down, get fed up, and—like DeMonte—walk away. Or stay for the salary and benefits and suffer the disheartenment.
For many midlife women, the search for What’s Next is tough—whether you hope to get a foothold in today’s gig economy as a consultant, launch a business in the same or related field, or find a new, more gratifying full-time position. We could almost laugh when advised to “drop everything before 2000 from your résumé,” wondering when “seasoned” became a dirty word. We become convinced that popular employment websites are black holes.
“I wanted to work, really work, and use all the wisdom I’d acquired to create benefit for the world,” DeMonte says. Today, she’s doing just that, with her own LLC. She has the desire, the drive, and the chops. She also has The Second Shift, an innovative professional platform that’s helping skilled, talented, experienced women find work they want to do on their own terms.
Second to None
Talk about mothers of invention. When Jenny Galluzzo, a journalist/TV producer, was ready to reenter the workforce after becoming a mom, she was stymied by the lack of flexible prospects. Gina Hadley, a marketing pro/entrepreneur, was in a similar boat. They knew options had to exist, so in 2015 they founded The Second Shift to help women find worthwhile, well-paying part-time roles, interim fill-ins, consultancies, and special projects. Fortunately, Galluzzo and Hadley discovered that opportunities did abound, that companies were eager to hire reliable initiative-takers with serious track records. A simple, supportive, and user-friendly job-matching platform, The Second Shift took off; now it’s being discovered by not-ready-for-retirement players, downsized dynamos, empty nesters—you know: us.
“What makes our platform exciting for women in their senior career is that the companies that come to us are self-selecting to reach older professional women with specific expertise and experience,” says Galluzzo. “Many women who’ve reached a level in their hard-driving careers now want to take time to enjoy their success, yet still use their skills and experience.”
Here’s how The Second Shift can be a midlife career woman’s dream come true: You undergo a four-part vetting process (10 years’ experience, minimum, is mandatory). Once you’re a member, you develop a profile that’s more than a list of positions and responsibilities—it’s who you are and why you’re awesome. Then, via a proprietary matching algorithm, you’re alerted whenever an opportunity arises that suits your skills.
Meanwhile, diverse businesses—from Fortune 500 firms to startups—post their projects. Like what you see? Pitch yourself with a proposal, setting your own rates and schedules. Should a deal be struck, The Second Shift handles all the dreaded paperwork, from invoicing to tax documents. Yes, they take a cut: five percent of your project fee (and 15 percent from the business that signs you on), but membership is free.
There are lots of great gigs on The Second Shift, but landing them can be competitive. “The biggest fear companies have in hiring midlife women is that you won’t have direct experience with new productivity and communication platforms,” says Galluzzo, reporting that Slack, the cloud-based set of team collaboration tools and services, is a “must” productivity and internal communication tool. Also important are the remote conferencing services of Zoom and the Google suite of products like docs and sheets. She advises taking classes to gain a knowledge base and hands-on experience in those areas. In addition, she says, don’t snub your juniors: “Take younger colleagues to lunch to ensure you’re up-to-date on the rapid changes to tech platforms and workplace strategies so when you interview you’ll be on point about all current trends.”
Companies may also be concerned that senior-level women are more comfortable in strategy positions rather than rolling up their sleeves. “Show potential clients that you are a doer, that you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty,” Galluzzo says. Most of all: “Play up your experience, don’t downplay it.”
A New Balance
The Second Shift proved to be a godsend for Cynthia DeMonte. While her own company soared at first—ultimately to the tune of a Madison Avenue address and earnings of $1.2 million a year—at age 45, she chose to have a child. That was a joy worth slowing down for, but then came the Great Recession. She noticed a mention of The Second Shift on a pal’s Facebook page, clicked on the link—and got busy again. “The Second Shift was the only place I encountered where I could find truly meaningful projects with interesting goals and objectives,” DeMonte says. “The platform provides all the tools you need for success, from pitching the project to advice on working it, and they get you paid.”
Among the best gigs she’s landed lately is an ongoing one for an international cultural exchange program. “It’s extremely challenging and fulfilling,” she says. “I’m making a difference and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
The bonus is balance and, finally, freedom. “Being able to pick my own projects, having that flexibility—to spend time with my child, to travel, to breathe—is beautiful. My son has visited 18 countries; we’ve had unforgettable moments as a family,” DeMonte says, enthusing, “I have a life!”
A native Brooklynite, Nina Malkin has written for everyone from hoity-toity fashion magazines to trashy tabloids to the New York Times. She’s the author of six books, including the paranormal romance novel Swoon and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.