I didn’t study journalism in college, so when I decided to pursue a career as a journalist, I thought the only way I could become a writer was by going to graduate school. (Spoiler: I had a great time and learned a lot, but I was wrong—and I accrued quite a bit of student debt along the way.)
What I learned afterward was that there are countless people who’ve taken non-traditional paths through their careers, and that sometimes, you can lean on the companies you’re interested in to show you the ropes, or even pay for your career change.
This is especially true for women. (Again, lucky me.) With the recent push for more diversity and inclusion in the workplace, companies are queuing up to provide resources to women who want to enter male-dominated fields, start new businesses, or even go back to school.
Hiring to train
It seems counterintuitive to hire someone who isn’t qualified for a job, but if you’ve ever been a hiring manager, you know sometimes the best candidate is someone who fits the office’s culture, not the position’s exact job description. That’s why apprenticeship programs—where the company hires candidates first, then trains them after—at places like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and Visa are so compelling: They open the door to candidates who, though they don’t have a specific background, are passionate about making their new career stick.
For women, this is great news because many of the companies that offer these programs are in the tech industry, where women are still underrepresented. The Airbnb Connect program, for instance, taps people from underrepresented backgrounds with mid-level workforce experience (about two to five years) in non-technical jobs to join their engineering and data science teams. The new hires learn on the job the skills they would have learned in the classroom. Other programs at Pinterest and LinkedIn offer mentorship to self-taught coders and coding bootcamp grads so they can gain the practical experience they need without having to get full-fledged degrees.
Putting diversity first
Sometimes a career change isn’t about finding a new job—it’s about creating one. For women entrepreneurs, grants offered through the Girlboss Foundation, Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, GrantsforWomen.org, and others, offer a huge leg up in what is most definitely still a man’s world. In fact, women’s clothing retailer Eileen Fisher awards a total of $100,000 to up to 10 women every year, and Amber Grant Foundation awards $2,000 to different women-owned businesses every month.
There are also other initiatives in the works that help women looking to branch out on their own. In New York, the medical marijuana industry is proposing an “inclusive legalization program” that would offer $25 million in zero-interest loans to minority and women business entrepreneurs. That legislation hasn’t passed yet, but other similar programs have been around for years now. Think of Google’s Made with Code program, which in 2014 started offering three months of free coding classes to women and minorities. It’s programs like these that diversify our offices and help women find careers they love.
Supporting working moms
MotherCoders itself has been around since 2015. The program now boasts graduates working at places like Google, Airbnb, and Code for America.
Schooling the competition
No longer is “we’ll pay for your college” just an incentive to join the military. Companies offering tuition reimbursement abound—Ford, Home Depot, BP, and more. Will they pay for you to get a degree that will change your career? Not always. Many require company approval of the courses or for the course to be related to your current job. That said, learning new transferable skills (for free!) is a great step in a new career direction.
For women in non-salaried positions, there’s good news here, too. Hourly and salaried employees at Chipotle can take high school and college classes on the company dime, and at Starbucks, benefits-eligible employees can apply to have their full-time college tuition covered.