Julie Marx, the executive director of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Women Work, said she and her co-workers were disappointed when women completed the organization's work-readiness programs but sometimes couldn't find jobs.
"When a woman graduates from our class, although she's ready to go back to work, she does not have a professional network," Marx says.
The organization teaches résumé building, interview skills and computer literacy; it's geared toward women who are re-entering the workforce — perhaps who've raised children for a number of years, are coming out of a divorce, or who have been laid off. And, Marx says, because research shows that 80 percent of people get their jobs through a professional network, her organization developed a mentoring program called "3 Cups of Coffee."
"It introduces her to a woman who is in her job sector who has taken on the role voluntarily of helping her enter into networks of people she knows who might be able to help," Marx says.
Research shows gaining a professional network and learning how to use it is particularly important for women. Because of the way women have been socialized, learning to ask a professional connection for help or even a job can be challenging.
"Having that confidence to do certain things in your life that helps you be recognized as someone who is high potential, it all goes back down to: Are you seeking out opportunities for yourself?," says Ayana Ledford, executive director of the Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society (PROGRESS), at Carnegie Mellon University. PROGRESS teaches girls and women how to negotiate and was founded by CMU economics professor Linda Babcock, whose 2003 book, Women Don't Ask, highlighted the gender divide in workplace negotiations.
For the 3 Cups of Coffee program, women meet with their mentors for three one-hour sessions over a cup of coffee. (Crazy Mocha and BNY Mellon underwrite the hot beverages so the program costs nothing to either mentor or mentee.) And so far, the program's manager Kathi Finch says that it's been a success.
"As a result of their mentorship, 83 percent of [mentees] reported improved networking skills," Finch says. "Seventy-four percent improved their confidence and self-promotional skills ... and 21 percent improved their social-media skills, with emphasis on using LinkedIn to establish a personal brand and conduct professional networking."
But that's just the anecdotal evaluation. Finch says that within the program's first year, of the 86 enrolled mentees, 74 percent of them were working within six months after "their final cup," and they earn an average wage of $18 an hour.
"3 Cups of Coffee is effective because women are sitting down with a caring, compassionate professional who can give them very specific, tailored guidance," Finch says. "We know that so often it's not what you know but it's who you know in terms of finding a job."