CINCINNATI — Brieana Hall was torn.
After 15 years working for Cincinnati-based data science company 84.51° in a job she loved, she longed to be more present for her children as her son prepared to enter kindergarten.
“That just felt like a whole different ballgame to me with school hours and thinking about before care, thinking about after care,” she said. “We moved to Cincinnati, my husband and I, for our jobs. We don’t have family here. We’re not from here, and it just was the right time to think about prioritization.”
In April 2019, Hall quit the job she loved to stay home with the children she adores. As grateful as Hall was to be able to make the move, she said, it was scary.
“The thing that was always my main hurdle was the fear of future career. Especially working at a technical company, the relevancy of skills. You have to stay up to date, and that’s expected of you,” Hall said. “I’m a massive introvert. Networking is not easy. And, you know, I loved my company. I’ve worked in a professional capacity longer than I’ve been a mom. I kind of felt like, I’m a better professional worker than I am a mom.”
Now Hall has found a place that allows her to have the best of both worlds: Reserve Squad.
Formed in October 2020, Reserve Squad is a company that aims to stop what its founder and CEO Teresa Tanner calls “the leaking talent pipeline.” Reserve Squad does that by keeping employees attached to their companies – and available for temporary assignments and work – when they leave full-time jobs to care for children or meet other personal obligations.
“When I was in corporate America, I saw that we had this leaky pipeline. There were so many women that were opting out of the workforce at mid-career and it was hard,” said Tanner, who was executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Fifth Third Bank before she left to form Reserve Squad. “It was hard. It was hard on companies to lose that talent, and it was hard on women because when they made that choice, unfortunately, it came with some pretty stiff career consequences. And so I began wondering how this could be solved and how we could do this better and how we could create new work structures.”
She came up with the idea to create what are essentially in-house temporary agencies for corporate clients.
Reserve Squad ensures that formerly full-time employees – called “reservists” -- stay connected to their employers and provides the reservists with personalized development plans, access to education and training, optional project-based work within their companies, volunteer opportunities and membership in a life-coaching group.
“Our mantra is, why are you letting these people go? We shouldn’t be talking about on ramps and off ramps,” Tanner said. “Just move them to a different lane, keep them engaged with you in a different way. And that way when they are ready to come back to traditional work, you have that relationship with them and then can continue to contribute.”
Overcoming the ‘either-or’
While Reserve Squad doesn’t have any corporate clients yet, Tanner said the company is in serious talks with several corporations that have expressed interest.
Corporate leaders are especially interested now because of the toll that the COVID-19 crisis is taking on working women, Tanner said. Consider:
· Roughly 80% of the 1.1 million job losses in September 2020 were among women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
· By October 2020, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force than there were in October 2019, according to that same government agency.
· And in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey of 2,002 adults, 35% of women surveyed who had reduced their work hours to care for a child or family member said that decision hurt their careers overall.
“COVID hit, and what I already saw as a big problem became a humongous problem,” Tanner said. “What we’ve seen happen this year to women has just been really eye-opening and frightening.”
Hall left her full-time job before the pandemic and was navigating her children’s needs during the pandemic like so many other moms. Around June of last year, though, she got a text from Tanner, whom she had met through a mutual friend.
The text simply said, “Hey, know a data scientist?” with a smiley face and then asked if Hall would be willing to work on a project.
Hall completed that first project for Reserve Squad, and Tanner hired her as the small company’s director of customer experience. In that role, Hall works about 20 hours a week when her son is in first grade and her daughter is at preschool.
“When I picked up my first project, it just unlocked something in me,” Hall said. “It made me realize how much I’ve been missing that to the point that it likely weirdly felt like some kind of self-care.”
Reserve Squad recognizes that most businesses aren’t structured with the needs of women in mind, said Nicole Armstrong, founder and CEO of Queen City Certified, an employer certification and leadership program for gender equity in the workplace.
“The concept of Reserve Squad is great,” Armstrong said. “It allows people to both focus on their families and also on their careers and not feel like they have to take a complete step back from their careers. It overcomes the either-or situation, and I think that’s going to be equally important for both women and men.”
While so many unpaid caregiving responsibilities continue to fall to women, Armstrong said she’s hopeful that will change now that the COVID-19 crisis has shined such a spotlight on the disparity.
‘We have to rebuild’
As more men become responsible for caregiving, options like what Reserve Squad offers will be good for everyone, she said, especially as employers begin to realize that old notions of “the ideal employee” don’t work for many people.
Many workplaces still view that “ideal employee” as someone who can work long hours and has a partner at home to take care of the kids and other household responsibilities, she said.
“Any solution that makes it possible for somebody to have access to opportunities and access to a promotion and access to a career is something we would recommend,” Armstrong said. “This solution addresses a problem with the system.”
Ashley Keating has three young children and has been able to continue to work full time because of the flexibility she has as chief financial officer for CincyTech, a position she has held since 2016.
Before working at CincyTech, Keating spent 10 years working as a certified public accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s largest professional services networks of companies.
As much as she enjoyed her time at PricewaterhouseCoopers and appreciates the opportunities she had there, Keating said that leading a small team at CincyTech has made it much easier to balance work and family.
Reserve Squad can provide a way for more women to have that balance, she said, and for big corporations to hold onto the talent they have trained. Keating learned about Reserve Squad because Tanner is her neighbor. CincyTech is not an investor in the company.
“What I think Reserve Squad allows is more breathing room,” Keating said. “I don’t know what the future will bring. We’ve all learned that through this pandemic. But if I can set myself up to have as many options as possible, I will be in a better place. And that is what I think Reserve Squad can help do, really, is give people that breathing room so they have flexibility and optionality as life continues.”
Although Tanner is just getting started, she said she thinks Reserve Squad should be in every Fortune 500 company.
“I spent 30 years in corporate America. I had a great career. I loved my job. I loved what I did,” Tanner said. “But year after year, I saw such slow progress for diversity. And whether it’s women or people of color, we have to step back and ask, ‘why are we not making progress?’”
Tanner said she believes the reason is because companies “keep trying to tweak this game around the edges.”
“It doesn’t work,” she said. “We need to throw the game out and we need to create a new game because the game we’re playing just simply wasn’t intended for everybody to win. When we are faced with something like that, we have to rebuild. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to rebuild the workforce structures in a way that really helps everyone thrive.”
It has already helped Hall.
Now she spends time helping Tanner build Reserve Squad when her kids are at school, and she can focus on being mom to Will and Annabelle when they’re home.
“I didn’t want to not work,” she said. “I’m just so grateful that I am where I am now.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 20 years. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.