Our team recently read this article and it got us fired up!  On the heels of Equal Pay Day last month, we want to do our part in making a difference so we set out to talk to an organization in St. Louis that is supporting women and working mothers in a very creative way.

Meet Megan O’Loughlin, Leadership & Organization Effectiveness Consultant at Ameren.  We were introduced to Megan by a longtime friend Anna Lehrke who sat on the Lewis and Clark SHRM board with our very own Marcy Whelan.  Anna is also a Leadership & Organization Effectiveness Consultant at Ameren and we will get to hear from her too!

What led Ameren down this path?

As part of their Diverse Pipeline Strategy, Ameren is focused on building a diverse, innovative, and engaged workforce. The Bright Return program is designed to transition experienced professionals who have taken voluntary career breaks, often women who left to care for family, back into the workforce.

Megan shared with us that Ameren partnered with The Mom Project and iRelaunch to kick off their “Bright Return” – they are one of the first organizations in the region to have a return-to-work program like this.  The project kicked off in early 2020 and they set out to find a small cohort of individuals to participate in the pilot program.  They also worked with different departments within Ameren to determine who might  want to participate in this unique new initiative

The Mom Project helped Ameren with sourcing, recruiting, interviewing and building brand awareness through communications. The iRelaunch partnership provided insights from other organizations with similar returnship programs to help Ameren shape the program. They were able to learn from organizations like Dell, Johnson and Johnson and Apple through iRelaunch. 

Candidates for the program came from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances – some left the workforce to care for children, some were caring for aging parents, some made a career transition and now want to get back into the line of work where they started.

 Learn more about the cohort participants on The Mom Project Blog!

The cohort of six began their journey in September 2020 and concluded in March 2021 – they are happy to report that five of the six participants have converted to full time employees in the role they trained in.  One team member extended her contract in another department with the goal to convert to full time employment.

Program Details

The Bright Return program is open to all job seekers (not just women!) who are looking to return to the workforce who have had a minimum two-year career gap and at least five years’ of relevant experience.  The goal of the program is to convert participants to full time upon successful completion of the program. 

Holly Pyatt, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant at Ameren was the lead partner from the Learning and Development team supporting the design and delivery of this engaging program including structured learning and development support during their returnship from onboarding to completion of the program. The participants received a welcome box with books selected by the L&D team that would be used throughout the program.  The program was purposefully designed in a cohort style so that participants could travel this journey together.

Day One consisted of orientation and an outline of what to expect next which included monthly lunch and learns on a variety of topics such as emotional intelligence, presentation skills and other helpful topics for individuals re-entering the workforce. 

Building a Support System

What participants found most impactful about the program were the relationships they were able to build with their mentors.  Participants were thoughtfully paired with two mentors – one technical mentor appointed by their leader and one peer mentor who would help with networking and creating a sense of belonging with the organization. 

Anna Lehrke was a peer mentor to one of the pilot participants.  She shared that it was an enriching and wonderful experience to be part this woman’s journey.  Anna also had the opportunity to deliver some of the lunch and learns that were part of the program.  The mentors received a guide to assist them in cultivating a relationship with the program participants but the terms were flexible to meet the needs of the individual. The participant Anna was paired with had her degree in engineering but had left the workforce to care for a family member and be a solopreneur, starting her own travel company! 

Anna played an important role in connecting this talented participant to leaders at Ameren where she was exposed to the diversity of work across the organization. This participant was really curious how she would feel about being back in a technical role but was pleasantly surprised to learn there was so much more to it that she would enjoy – strategy, innovation, and more that she had come to know and love with owning and managing her own business.

Anna had a lot in common with this participant as she too left the workforce for some time to care for her mother.  She eventually made her professional pivot back to Ameren after caring for her mother.  Anna shared that had she worked for Ameren at the time she feels she wouldn’t have had to make the decision to leave her job – that Ameren would have found a way to work with her to balance her caregiving responsibilities. 

Another interesting surprise about the program was the attention that it received internally.  Employees shared how proud they were that Ameren was investing in diverse talent through a creative returnship program like this. It also showed current team members that Ameren recognizes the importance of balance with work and family obligations throughout life changes!  Business partners and leaders were all invested in the program and committed to making this a success. 

Hear from the participants – “What has been the MOST VALUABLE aspect of your experience in the Bright Return Program so far?”

Ameren’s culture is so diverse and the people are very open minded. That helps in expressing your views and also easily fit in.

The Ameren culture has been welcoming and supportive. The mentors have really gone above and beyond assisting with this transition to Ameren.

I think the Bright Return Program is an amazing program and concept! I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this program and part of Ameren. I can definitely tell there’s a lot of hard work that goes into putting this program/experience together.

Having the opportunity to learn about Ameren and learn the specifics of the role, hopefully proving that I can be a valuable asset and good fit for the company.

The Ameren culture combined with the welcome mat of the Bright Return Program has allowed me to return to the workforce feeling empowered.

Ameren will be kicking off their second cohort in September and it will again run through March.  They are looking for 6-10 participants

Do you know of other organizations in the St. Louis area or beyond that support women and working mothers? We want to get to know more of them!