Women back to business with Turkish social venture YenidenBiz
Emrah Güler - ANKARAHaving worked in top executive positions at major corporations in Turkey for 15 years, Eylem Yalın left the workforce to tend to and spend time with her newborn child. “When I was ready to go back to work, it was very clear what I wanted as much as what I did not,” she said. What Yalın wanted was project-based work in a more flexible structure, which was definitely not compatible with the corporate structures she was accustomed to working in.
Berra Biricik also pushed pause on a high-flying career in finance of 15 years due to health problems at home. After an absence of four years, Biricik wanted to bring back her experience and skills to a new model of working, one that was also project-based as opposed to grueling working hours. The similar setback came in a corporate world, rigid and conservative in its structure.
Turkey ranked 125th among 142 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, falling behind Tunisia, Qatar and Nigeria, and barely passing Saudi Arabia. “When women first enter the workforce in Turkey around age 24, the ratio of women in the workforce is around 37 percent,” said Ayşe Güçlü Onur, a partner at the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder, based in Istanbul. “However, just after they start having children, say after the age of 25-26 and beyond, this ratio drops to 29 percent.”
Güçlü Onur cited the primary reason for women not being included in the workforce as “attending to their children and other home related duties; this group accounts for more than 65 percent of all women not working.” She also decided to take the matter into her own hands, helping women in the area in which she felt sure-footed, the corporate world, as one of the founders and the chair of YenidenBiz, a social venture engaged in propelling talented women into the workforce.
“Our goal is to build a community around executive women who want to be back in the workforce and to ensure that they feel empowered to do so,” said Güçlü Onur, speaking on YenidenBiz’s mission. “We also want to demonstrate to the corporate world that these women are as employable as others and that they also have a stake in making this happen.” The literal translation of YenidenBiz is “us again,” a reference to women returning to careers. “It also means, ‘a new us,’ alluding to changed, evolved or refreshed attitudes and expectations,” said Güçlü Onur. “It also alludes to ‘us back in biz’ - as in ‘back in business.’”
Alternative models of working
Güçlü Onur realized “there was a big void and a serious social need” when, in her current position, she was often approached by women who wanted to return to work, and when she generally was not able to help them through the regular executive search process. “Unfortunately employers have tended to frequently de-prioritize women who have been away from active work for six months or more,” said Güçlü Onur.
The “big void and serious social need” also meant that there was a “huge unutilized capacity, as these women had tons of talents that many corporates, small and medium-sized enterprises, entrepreneurs, NGOs and others needed.” The next step was YenidenBiz coming to life in late 2013, with a strong volunteer force of some 30 people becoming the major workforce today.
“We have a committed team of big hearted volunteers who put 10-plus hours of work every week into YenidenBiz, in a pro-bono fashion,” said Güçlü Onur. “We are organized across a number of work streams, including human resources, candidate development, marketing and PR, IT, funding and corporate relationships – quite like a professional organization.”
The HR team, a group of human resources ambassadors working pro-bono, is the backbone of YenidenBiz. “The first goal is to get to know the person better, given that she meets our criteria [10-plus years of work experience, university degree, being away from work life for at least one year],” said Güçlü Onur. “We then conduct a competency-based interview to assess their competencies and readiness to go back. Depending on our findings, we may direct them to certain employers and/or direct them to our training, mentoring or coaching programs.”
YenidenBiz has organized more than 50 trainings and workshops to date. There are more than 300 CVs in the group’s database, with 42 women placed into jobs since the venture’s inception, women who held positions like marketing director of Bacardi Limited or HR head of the historical Darüşşafaka Association. While the model definitely fills a social void, YenidenBiz’s approach to work life is visionary, seeming to have a grasp on the changing dynamics in a new world. Searching for and offering alternative working models is a priority for YenidenBiz.
“Making women return to work also involves enabling them with more flexible working arrangements,” said Güçlü Onur. “These could be in the form of part time work, flexible working hours, or project-based work, among others. We find that companies are still experimenting with these different mechanisms and we want to be a catalyst in this case as well.” YenidenBiz seems to have proven to be more than a catalyst. Hooray to “a new us,” and to women “back in ‘biz.’”