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Sarah Duenwald and Nancy McSharry Jensen of ‘The Swing Shift’: “Make Me Smart”

Nancy: I’ve got two! First, work with people you like and on business and ideas you care about. Every time I went against this dictum, I ended up being so unhappy. At Microsoft, I worked on many different products with varying degrees of personal happiness. When I landed on the SharePoint team, I liked the […]

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Nancy: I’ve got two! First, work with people you like and on business and ideas you care about. Every time I went against this dictum, I ended up being so unhappy. At Microsoft, I worked on many different products with varying degrees of personal happiness. When I landed on the SharePoint team, I liked the management, my teammates, and the mission of the product. It made every single day a pleasure. Second, be brave and try new things. At IDC, I worked on the East Coast and saw the software industry exploding on the West Coast. I took a chance to head west and pursue those opportunities, and thought “If I hate it, I’ll just go back home.” Best decision I ever made.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Duenwald and Nancy McSharry Jensen, authors of “Back to Business: Finding Your Confidence, Embracing Your Skills, and Landing Your Dream Job After a Career Pause” now available

Nancy McSharry Jensen is CEO and Co-Founder of The Swing Shift. She’s built her career establishing new and emerging businesses, including at International Data Corporation where she opened businesses on both coasts, and at Microsoft where she launched operating system, server and early SaaS products, including SharePoint’s market introduction. She served as account director at Sterling Communications, and was featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, at Seattle’s infamous F-Bomb Breakfast Club and at the Female Founders Alliance Champion Awards. Nancy believes that women shouldn’t be penalized for taking care of their families and is committed to getting women into the workforce on their own terms and seeing 100% pay parity achieved.

Sarah Duenwald’s career over the last 15 years has focused on revenue growth operations in the technology consulting industry, including at ADP, where she managed a team of business development representatives, and as a senior manager for a Gaming Technology Consulting company. Throughout her career, she has won multiple Presidents’ Clubs and various awards for revenue achievement and client growth. After the birth of her second child, Sarah took a brief career pause, and then, as fate would have it, met Nancy. They co-founded The Swing Shift shortly after to pursue their passion for helping women in career transition. Today she heads up Operations, Programming and Partner Relationships and believes it’s imperative to change the perception of the modern workplace and works every day to empower women to take control of their careers.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Nancy’s career was in enterprise software marketing and market research, and Sarah’s was in consumer gaming business development. We met four years ago while Sarah was transitioning out of business development but wanted to keep her hand in the paid workforce, and Nancy was working to get back in after a five-year break. We experienced firsthand just how difficult it is for women to re-engage with work and wanted to do something about it. We compared notes on what we wanted in our home and work lives and came up with The Swing Shift. From there we’ve worked with hundreds of women who want to take breaks and return, or switch roles or careers. We got the opportunity to share our learnings in our book and e-learning course published by HarperCollinsLeadership.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The job search process is a game where the rules made by corporate hiring managers and HR technologies aren’t friendly to the 45% of women who take breaks. We’re turning that upside down by empowering people to engage in the job search process fully prepared to work around those gatekeepers. We teach people who are looking for work the tricks of the job search trade, including discernment, personal branding, social media, community and connections.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first launched our company, The Swing Shift, we realized it was a bit of a tongue twister and required a proofread to make sure no embarrassing typos happened. More than once we signed off as The Swing Sh*t. You can imagine how mortifying that was, and today, we can finally laugh about it, ha!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

We’ve had so many people help us as we’ve built our business. Two that pop to mind are Colleen O’Brien from M12 Ventures and Britt Provost at Accolade. They’ve been incredibly generous with their time, sharing both personal and professional experiences and guidance, which allowed us to grow. A great example is in how Colleen talks about making career shifts. We get many people who want a wholesale restart, going after both new roles and industries. Colleen’s description of how she considers this, keeping one foot in something she knows while putting her other foot into something new reshaped our thinking and explanations about how to go about doing this.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

The current pandemic is certainly a negative disruption, crumbling whole industries including in-person retail, travel and hospitality, and sending home millions of working parents who’ve either been laid off, or just can’t take the competing demands at home. At the same time, there have been positive aspects. Company leaders are seeing firsthand what the competing demands are on working parents when they are working, educating and caregiving all at the same time at home; and how technology and corporate culture does (and sometimes doesn’t) work to facilitate that work. We hope that this will help them make cultural changes that better accommodate caregivers’ roles back into the workplace when the pandemic eases up — and reconsiders how it shapes the future of work for its working parents.

Disruption is fantastic when it results in improved conditions for people and businesses. At the same time, there are almost always pitfalls as a result of that disruption.

Disruption is the catalyst for growth and can result in long-term improved outcomes for people and businesses. It’s vital for individuals and companies to start embracing change to help them navigate their way through extreme chaos.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Nancy: I’ve got two! First, work with people you like and on business and ideas you care about. Every time I went against this dictum, I ended up being so unhappy. At Microsoft, I worked on many different products with varying degrees of personal happiness. When I landed on the SharePoint team, I liked the management, my teammates, and the mission of the product. It made every single day a pleasure. Second, be brave and try new things. At IDC, I worked on the East Coast and saw the software industry exploding on the West Coast. I took a chance to head west and pursue those opportunities, and thought “If I hate it, I’ll just go back home.” Best decision I ever made.

Sarah: I’ll chime in on the third one: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Every day since the launch of The Swing Shift in 2017 I find myself having to do something I’ve never done before and taking on new challenges, big and small. While it can be stressful, I’ve also never had this much satisfaction or success in my work either. Many mentors have said put yourself out there and take big swings in order to make big leaps. It couldn’t be more true.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re working on a corporate Career Break Initiative. Designed for bold, forward-thinking companies that want to provide a realistic and rewarding career path for the duration of an employee’s career, the mission of this socially responsible initiative is to enable employees — especially women — to take time off in order to care for children, loved ones, or themselves due to health issues. This dramatically and positively directly impacts the 45% of women who have taken a career break and the future 61% of millennial women who plan to raise families. This will enable them a speedy path back to work, which is otherwise filled with barriers and uncertainty.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

One we’re discovering as we launch our book and e-learning series is that social enterprise issues regarding working parents, especially mothers, were invisible to the average corporate structure until the pandemic highlighted them. We can’t tell you how many men we’ve talked to who are astounded by the challenges working parents face because all of a sudden, it’s right in their home, every day. In comparison, working mothers nod in solidarity.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Nancy listens to Marketplace’s “Make Me Smart” religiously. Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood’s overviews of what the impacts of current events on the economy are just so on point. Sarah’s a big fan of Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. He does in-depth interviews with a variety of guests including experts and academic thought leaders. It’s a chance to learn about entirely new businesses, industries, personalities and topics in an entertaining way. A few of her favorite past guests include Adam Grant, Angela Duckworth and Heather McGhee.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We would love to be at the forefront of corporate thought leaders which incorporate women’s needs for pauses in their careers into their workforce, from recruitment to retention to retirement. Our goal is to de-stigmatize the career break and embrace that employees need time away to care for families and themselves throughout the lifetime of their careers and shouldn’t be penalized for doing so.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney.

It’s easy to have the ideas, plans and strategies, but if you don’t start, those are all dead in the water. We’ve found that being an entrepreneur is a delicate balance between being a “thinker” and a “doer.” You may need to go back and forth at times, but the key is to know when you’re overthinking something and when executing on the information you have is good enough. This is also true of the women we work with returning to work or making a career change. Many times they get caught up in the idea and planning stages of their return instead of just taking action.

How can our readers follow you online?

@theswingshiftco on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and by visiting http://theswingshift.co or www.backtobusinessbook.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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