Re-entering the workforce after a time away is never easy—but can be notoriously difficult for working moms. Despite the wealth of knowledge, skills and experience women bring to the table, too many find starting a job hunt with a resume gap showing a discouraging proposition.
Enter Gwen Wunderlich and Dara Kaplan, founders of the New York City-based public relations firm Wunderlich Kaplan Communications (WKC). Inspired by women around them facing difficulty finding jobs—as well by the 2015 film The Intern,—the pair decided to tackle the problem creatively, launching what they call an Enternship.
Unlike your run-of-the-mill internship, which caters to the young, entry-level workers, the WKC Enternship is designed specifically for women of all ages looking to hone new skills in order to re-enter the workforce. The New York City-based six-week program at WKC teaches women a variety of skills in PR, tech and social media, including how to create PR campaigns and, of course, make connections.
To find interns, Gwen and Dara put their own talents to work to promote the concept. "We blew up the press, and we put it on our Facebook pages," explains Gwen. "That first week, we got over a thousand shares, around 300 comments and over 500 likes."
The firm chose eight enterns, including a lawyer, a former CNN producer and a stay-at-home mom. Ninety-percent are working moms—and all are over age 40. "What I found, through the almost 600 email cover letters I received, is that these women feel defeated," says Gwen. "Ageism has really gotten to them, and they just feel like Am I worthless at 54? Am I over the hill at 52? Why will no one hire me at 43? I have been doing this for 20 years, and I have 20 years of experience over younger people. Am I that irrelevant?"
Now in its fourth week, the program has covered branding, writing pitches and press releases as well as planning media events and social media—and attracted job opportunities and offers, too. "We had a call from a woman who owns a PR firm. She said: 'As soon as one of these women graduates from your six-week course, I’m interested in hiring her. Tell me who the best one is and get her in for an interview,'" says Gwen. "We’ve also been able to set them up with a few jobs, including writing and freelance graphic design. We’re really trying to get them back into the workforce with our connections. Our end goal is to help place them."
For the fall, WKC is expanding its offerings to include a video series as well as a four-week night class seminar held at its offices, called PR 4.0 and Social Standards: The Next Generation.
Having now worked with both younger and older interns, Gwen says she's begun to notice generational differences: "The truth is, younger interns don't have a lot of wherewithal. They don't really know what's going on. These [enterns] don't have time to waste. They’re taking it very seriously."
Likewise, experienced workers come with certain advantages for employers. "There’s a sense of security when you hire somebody of a certain age," she notes. "The younger generation sees more possibilities of what they can become, and because of that, they don’t want to settle in one job. They’re always looking for what’s next on the horizon. But these women [say] 'I have my home base here. I want to bring my skills and my knowledge to a company I like.' And you can feel that."
Entern Phyllis Pacifico-Cohen, a freelance art director from Westchester and working mom of three, heard about the program from one of her daughters. When the ad agency where she worked for six years laid her off, Phyllis began to focus on her business, Pacifico-Cohen.com. Initially unsure of what to expect as an entern, she says the experience has been a confidence builder as well as a skill builder. "Between freelancing and interviewing, it can get a little discouraging because I think my work looks younger than me," she says. "When I show up to the interview, I can kind of see the disappointment in their faces that they expect for me to be a 30-something, which I'm not. A recurring answer from talent acquisition is they don’t think you're a "good fit." I think it’s their loss, but these women at WKC, they get it.
"I just hope that it’s a growing trend," adds Phyllis. "I'm really hoping that with the internships, more women will grow the conversation of ageism. It’s just another taboo we need to destroy."
If you're in the New York City area and are interested in becoming an entern, WKC is accepting applications for its fall program this September, which you can apply for by emailing email@example.com with the subject line ENTERNSHIP.