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“On the way to work” is a social project fostering female empowerment by supporting the professional development of women on the Polish labor market. Organized by Henkel in cooperation with Women’s Place Foundation, a Warsaw-based NGO, the program focuses on the professional activation of long-term unemployed women by helping them to overcome psychological barriers and build their self-esteem. It is not about the perfect CV but rather about strengthening the women’s confidence and self-belief while equipping them with a supportive social network.
“I would like to go back to work, but I don’t know how to get down to it… I’ve had so many years’ break, I feel like I can’t do anything anymore.” These are the words of one of too many women who left work to take care of their family and children. “If someone only cooks, cleans, and takes care of a child for a few years, it is often as if they lose access to that part of themselves that is responsible for other competencies. They have the feeling that this break in their work disqualifies them absolutely,” said Agnieszka Kramm, psychologist and psychotherapist and Head of the Women’s Place Foundation – a Warsaw-based non-profit organization acting for women’s personal and professional development and for the equalization of their opportunities in society.
Women who remain unemployed for more than twelve months need to overcome many barriers, often of a psychological nature, on their way back to work.
Dorota Strosznajder, Head of Corporate Communications at Henkel Polska
One of the reasons why women remain outside the labor market for a prolonged period is their assigned social role related to taking care of other family members: children or the elderly. “Women who remain unemployed for more than twelve months need to overcome many barriers, often of a psychological nature, on their way back to work,” says Dorota Strosznajder, Head of Corporate Communications at Henkel Polska, who recognized this problem and reached out to the Women’s Place Foundation. Together they brought to life the project “On the way to work” in 2013.
The main objective of the program is to equalize women’s opportunities on the labor market and to support their professional development, by helping them to overcome psychological barriers and to equip them with a series of skills that support their comeback on the labor market. The program is dedicated to adult women with secondary education or a university degree, living in the Mazovia region, who have been unemployed for at least one year. Every edition of the project lasts three months and takes in a group of 20 women, offering them 200 hours of classes entirely financed by Henkel.
“I believe what women need is psychological support – strengthening the sense of their own resources and community with other women. They want to, but they are scared – scared and lonely. They come to us after five, ten or even fifteen years’ break from work,” said Agnieszka. “If a woman has her partner’s support, it is much easier to get out of unemployment, but conversations show that this usually isn’t the case. At the same time, they feel great pressure from society. On the one hand, they are confronted with the myth of an ideal mother and wife, who cherishes the home fires, and on the other hand, with the myth of a success woman, who has three children and her own business,” Agnieszka explained.
“So, it is very difficult for them to leave home, but the most difficult thing to break is the feeling of great isolation. And this is what we have focused on – most of the activities in the project are group and integration activities and it turned out to be an absolute bull’s eye.“
What motivates the project’s trainers, coaches, psychologists, and organizers? Touching stories such as those of Marta Staniszewska and Aneta Marciniak, women who have overcome their barriers and found their self-esteem through encouragement and support, are the reason everyone involved is so invested. “It is a wonderful experience because they generate a huge field of energy. I always think it would be worth taking pictures of them before and after the project – they change so much,” said Agnieszka.
“I had been working in the financial sector for years, but this job did not suit me well and I felt resigned. Additionally, I had the feeling that I devoted quite a lot of time to my family and that I really needed to do something for myself. The first and probably the most important thing for me in this project is group support and continuous contact with other participants, because we keep on helping each other even now. Moreover, I was encouraged and have managed to change the perception of myself on the labor market. I have understood what I really want and need. I am currently holding talks with a clothing brand and I will open their store in my town.”
“It is wonderful that the program’s workshops are free of charge. I am aware that it would be very expensive if I had to pay for all those classes on my own. Frankly, I would not be able to afford them. I had been working in corporations for years when I realized that I did not want to return to a big company, that it was high time to launch my own business. Initially, I was thinking about a store for Amazons – women affected by breast cancer – since I am one of them. I noticed a niche worth exploring and I wanted to take care of women – to make them feel worthy and not socially excluded. Finally, I decided to open a lingerie shop for all women.”
Through “On the way to work,” Henkel is supporting the professional development and opportunities for women on the Polish labor market – strengthening Henkel’s commitment to sustainability and strategic objective to promote a diverse culture within its organization. It is an opportunity to implement social engagement and allows Henkel female managers to be socially involved.