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Sara Lee Courts Stay-at-Home Moms With Paid Internships

Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes Talks About Returnships, Work-Life Balance

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Sara Lee Courts Stay-at-Home Moms With Paid Internships

Sara Lee Corp. CEO Brenda Barnes

Photo courtesy of Sara Lee

Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee Corp. offers paid internships to professionals who have taken time out of the workforce. The program is aimed at stay-at-home moms interested in rejoining the workforce who have 5 to 10 years of professional experience in roles such as marketing, sales, human resources, law, finance, operations or information technology. Sara Lee is open to the paid internships leading to permanent employment.

In part, the "returnships" program was informed by Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes' personal experience with a career break to be with her three children. Brenda Barnes stepped down as president of PepsiCo North America but while she was a stay-at-home mom she served on corporate boards and taught. That experience set her up to return to an even higher profile position at Sara Lee.

Brenda Barnes, 54, discussed Sara Lee's returnships program, work-life balance and the Mommy track in an exclusive interview:

What advice would you have for other working moms trying to make it in corporate America?

I always say to women that the choice is yours as to what you want to do. You have to decide your list of priorities and what's important to you. You have to make the tradeoffs because there are tradeoffs. Once you decide which ones you want to make, you get comfortable with them and understand there are consequences of whatever decisions you make.

And then navigate it. You be the one in control of how you navigate it. If a person decides they want to step out for a while and think through it and are doing it for the right reasons, feel great about it. Feel great about it and enjoy it and see how you can make the best use of that time.

If you decide you're going to work, figure out what you're going to give up. What will you have not make the list, because not everything can make that list. Be very disciplined about it so you make sure you're getting to your priorities.

What do you hope to achieve through "returnships" at Sara Lee?

Our objective is really to find great talent…. It's tapping into a pool of people out there that might not be so readily accessible, or they might not know how to find us.

There are a lot of talented, experienced women and for all the right reasons -- like I think my reasons for leaving were right -- chose to spend time with their family. … Many of these women, when the time came that they wanted to go back to work, they had a hard time getting back for a couple reasons. Companies didn't really open the door to them. If they had a choice of getting someone coming from another job, that was always an easier decision.

The second reason is that sometimes women might lose their confidence. Can I still do it? The answer is of course, yes you can, but if you've been away from it for a while, you may have those doubts.

I did notice that Sara Lee isn't on the list of Working Mothers best 100 companies. Why not?

We don't aggressively pursue getting on these rankings. That's probably our own lack of marketing of who we are and what we do. My long-term goal is to be a company where the best talent wants to work and once they work here, they find every reason to want to stay here. That to me will make us totally successful. This is part of that -- if we're flexible and can accommodate all kinds of differences, by the way, gender, racial, different experiences, different levels.

The culture should allow that every day 50,000 people come to work. They bring excitement and energy and passion with them. They bring their brains and they bring their hard work and they enjoy it. If you can imagine that happening all the time, oh my gosh, I think it's unbeatable.

What do you find the biggest challenge in trying to balance work and family?

Time. Time. Balance to me, that’s all it is, time. You can do both, you just can't do anything else. Everything else has to go, including sleep. … After I had children I became a better time manager. I was more disciplined in how I spent my time. I also got comfortable saying, "I'm not doing that, I'm not doing that," and not thinking about it.

How did you fit it all in, when your kids were little?

I would get up very early and work at home until the kids would wake up so I could see them before they went to school. Then I would go to the office. My visible time in the office wasn't as great but I tried to do the work around them or do it at night when they were sleeping.

To apply for a returnship, visit the Sara Lee corporate Web site.
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